Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hard Lessons

A few days ago M. Ross Valentine, "Cinderpath," left a comment under my January 21 post. He noted that he had written an article that was published in Trains magazine entitled Hard Lessons, and suggested that my husband read it. Well, my husband happened to have a box of back issues of Trains in the basement that he had purchased second hand at a railroad museum(no, he's not a foamer, yes, he is a railfan-- I am outting him right now, I suppose). Anyway, he pulled it out and read the article for the first time. It was a great article, very well-written, featuring an excellent self-portrait by the author. If you have access to this September 2002 issue, I highly recommend reading this article. It's good stuff. As a matter-of-fact, if Valentine comes back and sees this entry, I would love to ask him if he has the rights to that photo, and if he could give us permission to feature it on this blog. It's a beautiful self-portrait- the lighting is exquisite.

Six Guys Just Came Off the Furlough Board!

My husband just noticed today that six guys have left the furlough board and are going back to active duty! Yea! These are guys with seniority, but it does give us more hope that all is not lost. There were about 60 guys furloughed in his division, so six going back is significant.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Railroads Should Establish a Voluntary Furlough Board

My husband's last two weeks on the job were spent with several old heads who were envious that my husband was about to be furloughed. These guys have 30+ years of experience on the job. They've taken very little time off, and have labored year after year, working more hours than most people can imagine. They're at the top of the pay scale and have saved up a lot of money, and have had very little free time to enjoy it. They would actually like a year or two off.

Meanwhile, my husband, who needs the job, just got furloughed. The railroad just spent $80,000 (eighty thousand) dollars training him. It's likely that he'll forget everything he learned before he gets called back to work (IF he gets called back.)

They've furloughed 60 guys in his division. There are several HUNDRED guys with 20+ years of experience working.

So the situation begs this question: Why not call for volunteers from the most experienced guys to accept rotating temporary furloughs? Why not LET old heads (who are tired and want a break) take a break to allow younger guys to gain experience? The old heads are at the TOP of the payscale. While the RR does pay guys with seniority for 8 trips per month while they are furloughed, that would be CHEAPER than having them continue working. Meanwhile, the new trainees could keep working under the supervision of guys with plenty of experience who DON'T want a voluntary furlough. Not every old head would volunteer. But we don't need every old head to volunteer. Just about 60. My husband's trainers would have loved a break. Why not allow guys like that to volunteer to take one?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Just Got Furloughed

My husband just got the call that he's been furloughed. He was out of town working at the time the call came in. Now he's driving home through a snowstorm. Who knows what the future holds.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Support a New Conductor

This blog is actually starting to get decent traffic, which is exciting to me. If you like hearing about what it's like for a new conductor in training, do me a favor, and buy the book advertised to the right of this post. My husband's about to be laid off, and we could use the commission! Thanks for being understanding about this shameless self promotion. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Expecting the Axe Any Day

It's so hard to wait for official word that the furlough has begun. I had heard about the Great Depression from my grandmothers, but I never realized how scary it must have been, and how bleak things must have seemed. I have not been healthy enough to work full time. I have chronic migraines. So in spite of a graduate degree, my husband is the only real wage earner in our home. With his furlough coming, things seem bleak. Thank the Lord we have no mortgage, our house is paid for. We bought one that we could afford to cover with cash. We borrowed a tad bit from my mother, but the payments are low. Thank the Lord we don't face losing our house.

My husband has been having a hard week. He's been training with a grumpy old head who made my husband feel like he couldn't do anything right. Two weeks on commuter service caused my husband to get a little rusty on his radio work. He could copy track warrants okay, but releasing them was a different story. It seems that he included all the necessary information, and then some. They want him to say less during his transmissions. He found out yesterday that the grumpy old head is chronically ill, which could be contributing to his abrupt training style.

I credit my husband for sticking it out. Training with the railroad can be tough. You have to work with a lot of different people, and get along with them in close quarters. It's tough trying to figure out what each crew expects of you as a trainee, and just as you learn the ropes of one job you get sent to a different one.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Worried About the Future

It's depressing that my husband is about to be furloughed- just a couple of months shy of getting marked up to conductor. Just when I thought we were going to be able to get medical insurance, the economy tanks. This is depressing.

If the furlough lasts more than a year, the RR may decide to permanently let his whole class go. That's a shame because they've spent about $80,000 recruiting and training every guy in the class.

My husband is going to study his flashcards and notes so that he'll be ready to work if he gets called back.

Even if he DOES get called back, he may have to repeat conductor school- which is frustrating, because he has worked so hard, and usually ties for top scores on everything. He does say, however, that if he gets furloughed for too long, he won't remember much of what he's learned.

You Know You're Married to Railroader When...

... when in the middle of the night you find a man lying next to you and you think, "Why is there a strange man in my bed?" And then when you realize it's your husband, you say, "What are YOU doing here?"

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Great Blog About Being a Conductor

My blog will never be as witty or entertaining as this one. You GOTTA check this one out!

Commuter Services Need to Educate the Public

During his week in passenger commuter service, my husband noticed that new passengers just don't know what they're doing. They don't know where to expect the train to arrive, they don't know where to stand or board. Things get especially bad when there are last minute changes and the train doesn't arrive in their town on the usual track. This leads to people crossing the tracks in unauthorized areas, and trying to board the train away from the platform-- both potentially dangerous scenarios. The conductors are forced to deal with these incidents by refusing to board the passengers-- to teach them to do it right next time, and to avoid providing a bad example to other passengers.

The passengers shouldn't have to go through this. And the conductors shouldn't have to put out fires this way. The commuter services need to provide dynamic signs at stations with more than one track, so that if the train is going to arrive on a different track, passengers can be alerted. Further, billboards should be placed in parking areas, at the station, and at waiting areas to teach the public about how to safely board a train.

I know that several years ago I wanted to take my kids to downtown on the train. I had no idea what I was doing-- where to buy a ticket- where to cross the tracks, or where to stand. I felt uncomfortable the whole time.

I'm going to write a few letters about this situation and at least bring awareness about this safety issue.

A Bright Spot in a Difficult Week

My husband's first week as a commuter conductor trainee was really hard. The cars were overcrowded all week. Regulars were insulted that he didn't remember them. Some people thought they were above having to actually pay for tickets. Some passengers were unaware of which side of the station the train would be arriving on and would run up to the train on the wrong side- where there was no platform. My husband was instructed to ignore their pleas to be allowed to board- because allowing them to board on the wrong side would encourage passengers to continue this extremely dangerous practice.

The bright side was the crew. My husband really thought they were a neat group of people. He found them to be informative, safety-conscious, and gracious. He noticed that they truly did show concern for passengers with disabilities, and passengers who needed a little extra help. They went out of their way to show my husband the ropes. Even when they were forced to assign my husband to his own car due to the crowds, they were very understanding about how overwhelming the new duties were to my husband.

When he gets called back from furlough he will probably be assigned to passenger service for a couple of years. He's not looking forward to that-- he'd rather do freight-- but at least the people were decent human beings. That's the bright spot in a very difficult week.