I want to work on the railroad.
September 17, 2016 4:38 PM   Subscribe

Hi, long time reader, first time asker! I'm interested in working for the railroad, and I'm wondering if anyone one has input about getting hired, and more specifically pivoting from a different field.

I am a woman in my early thirties. I'm about to finish a master's degree in an unrelated field. Think something along the lines of museum studies. While I still have a great deal of passion for my field, I'm starting to realize that I may not want to do it professionally.

I've identified railroad work as a possible alternate career path. Some things that appeal are the rules and structure, the safety focus, the benefits, and I also um...just really love trains and have been fascinated by them for a long time. Maybe not the best reason, haha. I'm strong and in good health, single and don't plan on kids, and am very willing to travel. I live in the Midwest currently.

I don't have any logistics or transportation background. I have applied for some jobs but I think I'm not applying for the right ones or not applying in the right way. What is the entry level job for someone who wants to eventually become a conductor or engineer? How to get that job when I perhaps seem to be idk, not the kind of person who would have that job based on my education and resume?

There are some forums on this topic but the people on them seem to be people who have been in the industry for a very long time who think no one will ever get a railroad job again. I know this isn't true. Does anyone have input from personal experience or that of family members?
posted by the offing to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I work in the railroad industry but not for a railroad. The railroad industry is down right now due to the low price of oil (no need for transportation from idle shale operations) and the decreasing use of coal, both are big business for railroads. That being said, there is always turn over in train crews and as far as I know all the Class I railroads are still hiring but at a much slower pace than in the past. I've seen lots of training classes and it's not unusual to have people in their mid-30's or women in the class. Remember though that you're mostly working with high school educated, working class men in a mostly male industry. The jobs are outdoors, even train crews. You will be hot, cold, and wet, often on the same day. You'll be expected to walk a train when it's snowing, raining, 110 degrees. There are very rigid rules, internal, union, and federal that you'll be expected to know and follow. A mistake can cost millions of dollars and/or injury or death. I've seen lots of guys with missing fingers from having their hands in the the wrong place at the wrong time.

If you work your way up the engineer it's possible to make $100K/yr with some overtime. What railroad you work for mainly depends on where you live. In the west it's BNSF and UP, in the east NS and CSX with KCS in the middle. Those are the five biggest railroads in the US and all have dedicated training facilities either in house or in conjunction with a community college or private training center. You will be paid during training.

Have you looked at the career pages of the individual railroads? Here's the one for UP.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 5:18 PM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's the National Railroad Administration's jobs page.
posted by mulcahy at 5:58 PM on September 17, 2016

Don't overestimate being 'not the kind of person.' All kinds of people, men and women, get hired in train service (conductors and engineers). I mean all kinds.
To get hired, first you need to show up when they're hiring. The problem is they don't alert you. So you need to follow the usual job boards, and make yourself known, if only by phone, to a railroad HR office. What you want a tip that they're hiring.
And when they are, it can be daunting, b/c there will be a lot of people there. You just go in and tell them who you are. (MeMail me if it happens, and I may have some insights. Or better yet, know a few women with insights.)
Good luck to you. It's the best job I ever had.
Bonus: Go light on the 'always loved RRs.' On the one hand, yes, everybody does. OTOH, the RR companies aren't looking for hobbyists or sentimentalists.
posted by LonnieK at 6:00 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is one of the forums you looked at the Amtrak discussion one? If not, I would ask there. I've found the folks who post there super kind and helpful (disclaimer, my questions there were about trips, not working).
posted by kitten magic at 1:19 AM on September 18, 2016

There are lots of people who work in the railroad industry and never ride a train. My daughter did graduate work in urban planning with a concentration on transportation. She's working for the DC Metro, but I suspect she could get a job with a Burlington or Amtrak with her background. But it's a desk-bound planning job which may not be what you want.

There are also train museums that might work for you. It would feed the romance without so many of the tribulations (or income, probably).

Meanwhile, for your light reading: Death Rides the Zephyr: A Mystery by Janet Dawson.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:02 AM on September 18, 2016

Knowing a few people that have worked for railroads, be forewarned - you will be at the bottom of the seniority ladder, meaning you're going to get the worst shifts and you may not be home for holidays at all for a few years. This may or may not be a problem for you, but there's a good chance this will be your reality.
posted by azpenguin at 4:08 PM on September 18, 2016

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