Hello, and welcome back to Gracie Meets…! I bet you’ve all heard the children’s story, The Little Engine That Could, right? I do think you guys should know this by now. But trains can’t actually talk like in that story. But we also think that trains can’t actually drive themselves either. That’s not exactly the case, though. We’ll talk about that later on in this episode. But I’d like to welcome train conductor Jeff Harrison onto the show today to tell us a bit more about train conducting!
Cover Art: Kyleigh Kinsey. Instagram: @ato._.noodle
Gracie Solomon 00:11
Hello, and welcome back to Gracie meets. I bet you’ve all heard the children’s story, the little Engine That Could, right? I do think you guys should know this by now. But trains can’t actually talk like in that story. But we also think that trains can’t actually drive themselves either. That’s not exactly the case, though. We’ll talk about that later on in this episode. But I’d like to welcome train conductor Jeff Harrison onto the show today. Why don’t you tell the listeners about yourself, I
Jeff Harrison 00:42
worked for the BNSF railroad for 15 years now 14 of those years as an engineer of swapping back and forth between engineer and conductor. And prior to that, I was a crane operator in a chemical plants and high rise buildings in the Houston area.
Gracie Solomon 01:01
If somebody walked up to you and asked about your job, how would you describe it?
Jeff Harrison 01:06
How would I describe my job? It’s a good question. I would say be prepared for the unexpected railroad is 24. Seven us road conductors we don’t we don’t have a schedule. when the phone rings should go to work, you get a phone call in two hours to three hours depend on the location, you’re expected to be at work and prepared to do your job. Weather conditions play a big, big role in our job every day. You know whether it’s hot, whether it’s raining, whether it’s snowing, whatever the conditions are, we will still go to work, we’ll still do our job, I would say be prepared for the unexpected. Always.
Gracie Solomon 01:42
How long did it take for you to learn how to do this,
Jeff Harrison 01:45
there are two training programs that you go through one for a conductor and one for an engineer. The actual training program for a conductor is 13 weeks of classroom and field training. A lot of rules you have to learn our rulebook is about three and a half inches thick. Although we get to carry that rulebook everywhere we go on an iPad, a lot of it you just have to know top of your head, the program that’s 13 weeks. Again, it consists of classroom and field training. And at the end of that 13 weeks, you have one test that one test you score 90% on and that’s it, if it’s an 89, you’ve got to take it over, you get two chances. If you don’t make it on the second trial, which is 30 days later, you no longer work for the railroad. It’s pretty straightforward on that.
Gracie Solomon 02:36
Yeah, that seems a little difficult. You only get two chances.
Jeff Harrison 02:41
As an engineer, you train for six months. And you go to a college, Johnson County College in Overland Park, Kansas, it pretty much the same thing. But you have to take five tests and those five tests begin you have to score 90% on and you have two chances, or it’s into your career. Why do you think this job isn’t normal or mainstream? This job is definitely not normal or mainstream, mainly because of the hours you keep. Again, as I said earlier, it’s constantly changing. You know, we don’t get to stop and take a break if it’s raining outside or if it’s too hot or too cold. We’ve got to keep moving freight. I mean, there’s a lot of people that expect us to get their stuff to them chemicals and products to them all the time. And that’s the that’s our goal is to get it to them all the time. So when you say mainstream, there is no such thing as a holiday, you work around holidays, holidays don’t work around you. Your birthday comes and goes and your work, your kid’s birthday comes and goes your work, Christmas, all the holidays, you know, sometimes you’ll be blessed and get to go to those get to go to those cold days. And sometimes you’re going to be stuck in a hotel somewhere. Definitely not your, your mainstream job where you get to enjoy time at home. So always go go go get to spend time with your family when you’re home resting and that’s when you do it and then move on. After that keep on working.
Gracie Solomon 04:12
I keep going back to fourth reporter episode where Julia talked about how whenever you’re a sports reporter, it’s always you can’t really count on whether or not you’re going to be at someone’s party or at a get together because your schedule is always going somewhere or you have a game to go to. So I feel like this kind of connects with that.
Jeff Harrison 04:38
I can see that I didn’t know about I didn’t think about that. But yes, they spent a lot of holidays, you know, Thanksgivings and big sports day, I can see that.
Gracie Solomon 04:46
You could go back to the first day. What advice would you have given your younger self about this job?
Jeff Harrison 04:54
be more prepared, mentally and listen to the older guys. The older guys have a A lot of knowledge, when you start this job and you’re young person, you immediately think, oh, oh, I’m going to have $150,000 a year job, and you go and spend a whole lot of money. And you go and buy new cars, and new vehicles, and new toys, all that kind of stuff. And then all of a sudden, a year later, hey, business is slowing down, we’re not going to need you for six months or eight months, you’re furloughed, and those bills still keep coming. see a lot of guys get in that kind of situation. The market is so volatile in moving freight, I mean, sometimes, you know, you’re working every day, and sometimes you’re working twice a week. So you have to be prepared for those those times. And safety. You know, you think when you first start, you know, everything there is to know you’ve been through training, that training doesn’t prepare you for the old guy who tells you, Hey, don’t do this, or you’re going to get hurt. And then you turn around it, you know, brew yourself real good, or knock yourself in the head with something because you didn’t listen to what he said. So I think I would say listen to the old man, they might be old and crotchety and grumpy, but I you need to listen to.
Gracie Solomon 06:05
Yeah, it’s like, parents, but you’re not related.
Jeff Harrison 06:10
Yeah, I’ve said a lot of the not listening to parents too. So I can relate to that.
Gracie Solomon 06:16
And I know you talked about how you’re never really get set days like holidays off. So how often does your job change?
Jeff Harrison 06:25
I mean, are you talking about like a work schedule, there is no work schedule. changes constantly, as far as the work itself, you know, sometimes say, like, tonight when I go to work, I’ll actually be I think your dad’s working tonight, but I’m not sure. But he’s going to give me instructions on if I’m going to stop and legacy in Louisiana and set out cars, pickup cars, and it may be an unscheduled set out, it may be a scheduled set out, you know, let me know exactly what I need to do. When you’re when you go to work here, you never know what your day is going to consist of where you’re going to stop and pick up cars where you can stop without cars, you know, if your train is going to come apart, you’re going to have to work on and unfortunately, there’s accidents that happen out there, too. It’s just constantly changing, you’ve got to be prepared all the time for different changes, you’ve got to be prepared to handle different situations. Again, the weather change, I mean, sometimes our dispatcher still say you’ve got to stop your train, you’ve got to wash out, you’ve got to be prepared for just about anything that you could imagine that could happen to a vehicle on the road 18 Wheeler driver, we have that same situation going on on a larger scale, because we’re moving a lot heavier equipment. You know, and even even as far as sometimes we have auto accidents, sometimes cars getting away, people getting away, and we have those kind of accidents. So when you’re saying, How often do you deal with change, change starts from the minute that you go on duty to the minute you your shift in, you have to be prepared for change.
Gracie Solomon 07:59
always surprises, man spam. And on the topic of changes, what changes do you think will be made in the next five years for your job?
Jeff Harrison 08:09
A lot, there’s a lot of changes. There’s a lot of automation coming. As matter of fact, we have things now in place where the train actually is like an airplane, it does all its own work. It’s got an autopilot on it. There’s something called positive train control, which makes sure that we don’t make mistakes in the past a red signal, just like we have red signals and green signals and yellow signals just like the car does. And it’s on a bigger scale and a lot more dangerous scale. So they have this positive train control that if you’re not stopping quick enough, it’s going to stop trip. optimizers are autopilot in it, it slows down when you went in, you needed to speed up, we needed to adjust. So pretty smart device of changes that it’s causing, though, are less manpower in the future. There may not be conductors, on Long Haul trains that may just be an engineer because this positive train control and trip optimizer is basically doing the conductor’s job with the exception of setting our cars and picking up cars. And that may be something that there may be extra people at rail stations and sightings and stuff that they will they will pay to wait for us to bring those trains to them and let them do the work. So a lot of big changes coming in the future. The
Gracie Solomon 09:25
railroad. That’s interesting. I didn’t know that. They had things like that would stop your train for you and kind of autopilot that
Jeff Harrison 09:34
trip optimizer has been up and working which that’s your autopilot. It’s been up and working for maybe four years now a PTC maybe three years which is the one that will stop you and not let you pass a red signal and make you slow down when you need to. It’s a pretty neat thing to see on the screen. When it’s all it’s all up and work and you have computer screens now in your engines. It’s a it’s a brainy thing to watch it do its job.
Gracie Solomon 10:00
How early Could someone start this job?
Jeff Harrison 10:02
18 maybe get a job at 18
Gracie Solomon 10:05
Oh, that was pretty straightforward. 18
Jeff Harrison 10:08
Yes man actually know a young man who hired on the railroad when he was 19. Nobody eight to 18 year olds, tired, but that’s the requirement.
Gracie Solomon 10:19
Okay, and thank you for letting me interview you.
Jeff Harrison 10:22
Not a problem.
Gracie Solomon 10:25
I learned a lot about train conducting. I didn’t know that trains had an autopilot feature or about how demanding this job is. Other than that, you can start this job straight out of high school. How awesome is that? This is the perfect job for someone not planning on attending college. There’s only classes that you have to take man the few tests that to hopefully get you in. No normal person could work strange hours or on a piece of machinery that can weigh from 4000 to 20,000 tons. But then again, show me a normal teenager. Thanks for listening. Thanks for tuning in. If you like Gracie meets subscribe so you can listen every time a new episode is dropped and follow Gracie meets on instagram @gracie.meets. Tune in next episode very insightful interview with an attorney