• Conflicted Future

  • General discussion about working in the railroad industry. Industry employers are welcome to post openings here.
General discussion about working in the railroad industry. Industry employers are welcome to post openings here.

Moderator: thebigc

  by ALP45DP 4515
Hello, I'm having a bit of a issue deciding what I would like to do with my future. As of now, I am in my first year of college as a biophysics major, and although I love the course material, I am NOT happy. The thing is, I would like to work in the railroad as an engineer for NJT, it's been a dream of mine since I was a small child, inspired by my uncle who worked for Conrail (now CSX). However, I am in school to eventually become a trauma surgeon, essentially to please my parents who are not happy with my desire to become an engineer for NJ Transit. I come from a long line of doctors, lawyers, and various healthcare professionals, but I want to be different, I'd rather be at the controls of an ALP46A where I feel I'd be most happy. I've always admired and respected the strength and speed of trains, often sitting in my backyard as a small child and watching them speed by on the M&E Line but I don't want to disappoint my parents and I'm beginning to become stressed out, hence why I am coming here for the honest opinions of you all.
  by Hudson2640
I was in a similar situation as you. I come from a railroad family but my parents didn't want me on the railroad. I spent 6 years in college getting my degree in Accounting and my MBA and found myself miserable working at a dead end job making minimum wage. I got my parents changed there minds and I recently got a job with Amtrak. But it took me over two years to land this job. I applied for every conductor, engineer, clerk, and grunt job for every railroad that was in reasonable distance. I went everywhere from Jersey City to Buffalo for hiring sessions (most for NS) and rarely did I get an interview.

If you decide to go for the railroad start looking now while your still in college. If nothing for the railroad ever materializes to can still finish your degree. Just make sure that you know what you're getting yourself into and that you are not over your head. No railroad is going to take you from off the street and put you straight into the engineer's cab. You'll have to start at best as a conductor (or something else) and work your way up. I'd say consider the life style as well but the life style as a trauma surgeon is probably just as bad, but with more money.

My advise is to follow your gut. Weigh the pros and cons of both jobs and determine witch one is better for YOU. Read through the employment section to get a better understanding of what you would be in for. I'd also consider waiting until you get your undergrad. Better to have something to fall back on if something were to happen to you.
  by SemperFidelis
Sir or Madame,

One must live one's life for oneself, and for no one else. I am certain that if your parents truly love you, as I am certain they must, they will be happy with your decision...but only if you are as well.

My family are all United States Marines, but I chose to postpone (...postpone, mind you, not cancel, but postpone by two years... postponement a career choice that required attendance at a service Boot Camp not once but twice...) Marine Corps career to join the United States Army for a few different reasons...was nothing less...than an act of TREASON, COWARDICE, or perhaps an expression of latent homosexuality (my family is not homophobic but times were different, and humor at the expense of homosexuals was much more socially acceptable).

All the jokes were in good nature, however, and my mother and father and brother and sister all nearly burst with pride at the ceremony at Fort Leonard Wood when I became an American Soldier...exactly as they did again years later at Paris Island when I became a United States Marine.

Do what makes you happy and I am certain your parents will be happy for you.

Semper Fidelis
  by gp80mac
Didn't you post about this problem when you were in high school last year? If it wasn't you, then someone in almost the exact same position as you did. Also the exact same "dream" (using that term loosely). viewtopic.php?f=2&t=165217 for reference.

Here is my reply to that one, slightly edited for this post. Pretty much the same thought applies to both:

If your life goal is to be a locomotive engineer, then you're wasting your time and your (or someone's) money going to college. If I was smart enough to be a surgeon, there's no way I'd be a railroader. You better get your career ambitions in order and fast. Decide what you want to do. I really doubt that you will be able to half-ass a college degree in biophysics if you are dreaming of being Johnny Railroader all the time (much less get through med school/residency and all that stuff).

And your idea of what the job is and what it is in reality are two different things. It's not like the songs and books or what you dream. It is a tough career and lifestyle - not as tough as being a surgeon I'm sure, but the latter is probably a lot more lucrative and gives you many more options in the long run, if you have the brains for it.

But let me tell you. I doubt you'll find true happiness at the throttle of any locomotive. It'll quickly become just a job, dude. And gets pretty damned boring at times.
  by ALP45DP 4515
I know they'll accept it (eventually) but all of my other siblings went and graduated from college and when I spoke about wanting to work on the railroad, they seemed upset. Btw, this is my first time posting here and I have no relation to the other student who seems to be having a similar issue. :-)
  by tundraboomer
Get your degree, then go railroading.

Being "at the throttle" of a locomotive is only a small part of the job of railroading. You may decide you don't like it, or the lifestyle, but you'll have something to fall back on. It's not for everyone, and "loving trains", or standing trackside and seeing people in the cab of passing locomotives gives you absolutely no idea of what railroad life is actually about. In fact, for many railfans, it's a complete letdown and nothing like they imagined. Always have a 'Plan B' in your pocket.
  by gp80mac
enterprise11 wrote:You seem to be in a good position right now no matter what you choose to do. I'd say finish your bachelor's degree in biophysics, then apply to different railroads in your area. If you find that the railroad life isn't what you imagined or wanted, your degree will come in handy for getting a different job or applying to medical school.
Have to be careful with that. That gap in his education and work history playing Johnny Railroader will probably hurt him if he wanted to pursue a job or med school in the bio-medical-physics field.
  by Engineer Spike
I was in college, but knew that I couldn’t hack a job in an office. I had an uncle who was an engineer. That appealed to me, and I used to go to work with the local railroad crew. Sometimes I’d act as an extra brakeman. The degree was seen through.

Now my 21st. anniversary with the railroad is approaching. It has been a hard career. I have been cut off. held out of service, and been forced to other terminals. This is a fact of railroad life. The good side is that my seniority now has me on one of the highest paid runs.

Some say that is a waste of my education. That is hardly the case. One example is in my duties as a union officer. I also know that life will not end upon retirement. Much thought has been given to future career paths. My logistic degree could be used to follow my grandfather’s career, as a trucking line CEO. I have even considered studying the law.

Over my career, I have seen dozens of guys come and go. Some couldn’t handle it. Others came into better opportunities. My point is that you need to be set up for a flexible set of skills. Who knows if railroading will work out for you. Passenger is more consistent than freight, but you are at the mercy of some lawmaker in Trenton. They might cut the NJT budget, and cut service.

Just remember that this is tough business, as I mentioned. Railroad managers are far from the benevolent Sir Topham Hat. The hours are long, and it can get repetitive sometimes. I suggest finishing school. If you want to give the railroad a try, that would be the right time. You could go back for med school. You could explain the gap in school as raising funds, since you don’t want to carry a high debt load. I’m mentioning this because we have had many inquiries here. Some are guys going through a midlife crisis, and exploring a job change. Many have had a childhood fascination. The hitch is that they have a wife, kids, and a mortgage. Risking getting cut off, while in this situation is not too good. I was already established when I got married. My seniority was well established by the time we had a child.
  by rovetherr
I left college to go into railroading. If I were to have the opportunity to go back and offer young me some advice, I would say stick with the degree. Once you finish college, then pursue a career with the railroad. The degree may not help with initially getting hired into a entry-level job, but it will certainly prove it's value as you work your way up in the ranks. It seems these days it is hard to progress beyond low-level management if you don't have some sort of post-secondary schooling.

And I know it is hard to see right now, but as you get older, the idea of being a lifer yard conductor really loses its luster. I'm just shy of 40, and I already have no interest in pounding the ground for 12 hours a day, week after week. Give me a warm-ish cab, a place to set my coffee, and I'm home!

Everything Spike says is true. Its a hard, unforgiving lifestyle. Lots of benefits, but there are lots of costs as well. I had no idea what I was in for when I first started out, I quit after 6 months. It was my dream job, but I had a very unrealistic idea of just how things worked. After a year out of the railroad, I went back in with a more level-headed view, and realistic expectations, and 15 years later I'm still in the industry. But I should have gotten that degree!
  by Engineer Spike
Paddy is right, finish your degree. In school I was first an engineering major. I was having trouble keeping up with the higher maths, so switched to business. In the interim of the major switch, I was talking to my uncle about just quitting. Obviously I knew what I was getting into with the railroad, since I’d been around him forever. He encouraged me to finish school, just as he had. My uncle gave me the advice that if I didn’t like it, I’d still have options.

Maybe sometime I’ll think about moving up. Being a trainmaster is not what appeals, but something like sales and marketing does. This may set me up better for getting accounts, if I do start a motor carrier, as I mentioned. This leads me to the other point. It is very easy to get in trouble. As careful as I try to be, it has happened. That was when I got a CDL. Some guys have been tradesmen. This helps out if you’re out of service, or laid off.

All of the last paragraph is to prepare you for the uncertainty. As my last post stated, it is less severe in passenger. You don’t know how long it will be until the previous generation retires. Sometimes the carrier looks at the birthdays of the present employees, and sees that 10 are eligible to retire within a year, so they hire 10. Nothing says that the guys will go. They may have personal reasons to stay. Now you are barely hanging on. I have seen a few stay 10+ years past retirement age.

This post is in no way intended to discourage you. All I want to do is to point you straight. I was lucky enough to have a railroader family member. You don’t, but I don’t want you to screw up, but be prepared for the real deal.
  by Gadfly
Each situation is different. I grew up in a family turmoil; not strife, but moving very often and traveling a lot. I really didn't have roots, or a connection to a place I called home. And I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do. I rattled around in college for a while, half-heartedly, and mostly to please my parents, especially Dad who had a Masters degree in his field. In one of the places where we lived for about 7 years (3rd thru 9th grade), we were close to the Southern Railway System main line. Pop also farmed because that was the way he grew up. We raised chickens, obtained thru 4-H (remember that?) and raised corn, beans, peanuts, and potatoes. On Saturday Dad would go to Salisbury (NC) to grocery shop for the things we didn't raise ourselves, bank, and to the old FCX (Farmers Exchange) for chicken feed and farm supplies. I liked any kind of machinery--cars, tractors, farm gear, railroad stuff, too. It wasn't I simply was fascinated by that one thing, but it was machinery, and I liked that. So from the age of 9 or so, Dad would drop me off at the passenger station on summer days, and I would sit out under the train shed (its still there!) and watch the switchers and the passenger trains. It was safe back in 1958, and wierdos and perverts were few and far between. Besides, the FCX store was just a block away and Dad wouldn't be long. One day one of the engineers saw me out there watching the trains, and beckoned me over. "Wanna quick ride, sonny"?, he asked. Whaddya YOU think? I was up in the cab in a flash. Then on an other occasion we had some out-of-town guests who came on the train. Because Dad saw my interest in the trains, and the guests were leaving to go southbound towards Atlanta, Dad bought me a ticket to ride from Salisbury to Concord on the Carolinian. it was a short ride (about 17 miles), but I was grinning from ear to ear! :P You're talking about a young, impressionable boy, and for a time I was absolutely enthralled with anything trains. I got books from the library (the Bookmobile about trains. I watched the old show "Casey Jones" on TV, and pretended to be an engineer--TOOT-TOOT! :P

But at the same time I was also fascinated with airplanes. I would sit out in the yard in the green (itchy!) grass and look up in the sky at the contrails and longed to FLY, too. I was also fascinated with radios, and I would sit at Dad's 1940's Philco radio with the shortwave bands. I could spend hours tuning into foreign broadcasts and ham radio transmissions--much to the dismay of my Mom who got tired of the static and "racket" I was making. "WILL YOU CUT THAT THING OFF SO I CAN HEAR MYSELF THINK?!!, SHE'D CRY. :-D

So life went on,. I figured I 'outgrew" those childhood interests, and moved on. By college, I STILL didn't know what I wanted to do. I was floundering around at menial local jobs. The railroad stuff I thought I had forgotten lay dormant until 1976 and events took place that changed my life. It was the Bicentennial Year. The American Freedom Train was crossing the US, and it was scheduled on the Southern Railway Piedmont Division mainline, and would pass right thru my now hometown! I was off that Saturday, and I became exciting at seeing Southern Pacific 4449 pulling this train, I hadn't seen a steam engine since I was small, so a buddy and I bought tickets to ride to Salisbury, and to the very station I had frequented as a child. Riding that train, it was as all the doubt of my future melted away! I KNEW!! Like a lightbulb or a flash went off. Almost from the moment I got off that train to ride the very Carolinian I had ridden at age 10 back home, I began to investigate how I could get hired. Of course, there WAS the money, but more important, the satisfaction of knowing what I supposed to do. I never looked back or considered any other career from that day forth.

By 1978, I was slinging a sledge in a track material yard and in the stores department, handling rail, unloading/loading package switches into gons and box cars. The following year I was working in the office paying invoices, By '81, I was on the Line of Road, clearing trains, working as an Extra Clerk/Agent. In '82
I was at Hayne Yard when the merger into Norfolk Southern occurred working as as Operator or baggage handler for the Crescent.

The work was extremely HARD at times, sometimes we got treated lousy, but, for ME, I wouldn't have traded it for a stockbroker job making a hundred grand. Despite all the bad, I survived it and came away with a lot of memories. I got to see a LOT of machinery and do things I would never see/do otherwise.
The thing is: is it for YOU? There's a lot of uncertainty with a railroad career. Choose carefully!
  by ALP45DP 4515
I've decided to resurrect this thread because I think I have made a decision that appeases both my family and myself. Becoming a doctor is not working out for me, the classes are a breeze but it's just not something I'm interested in (I was very unhappy and my parents saw it). My mom wanted me to follow in her footsteps in medicine but I simply don't like it. I guess you could consider me highly intelligent but I prefer working with machines and problem solving. I recently became a private pilot after undergoing flight training for the last year while still doing online classes at Rutgers so I can still get a degree on my own time. However, NJ Transit has opened up the LETP again so I decided to give it a shot. I submitted my resume and cv and now my application says "Pending Testing" so hopefully I'll get something in the mail that invites me to take the test. My uncle who worked as an engineer for Amtrak and later Conrail provided me with a copy of the NORAC Operating rules and signals which I have been studying.
  by Engineer Spike
Good luck. Keep up with the college classes. Think about picking up a trade somewhere too. You might need to do something like swing a hammer for a few months if you get cut off.
  by ALP45DP 4515
Engineer Spike wrote: Thu Nov 21, 2019 12:07 am Good luck. Keep up with the college classes. Think about picking up a trade somewhere too. You might need to do something like swing a hammer for a few months if you get cut off.
Thank you, right now I really appreciate the luck. I'm waiting on the official letter for testing. The stakes are MUCH higher now because I have to help support my family so that is really motivating me to do the best I can. I applied for asst. conductor and I checked my application today and now they both say "pending testing" so I'll honestly take whichever one I can get provided I ace the testing, pass the interviews, and survive the rigorous training. Things have changed in my life and it's not so much about me as it was in the past but about making sure I can support my family. This used to be a want for me but now it's more of a necessity, and I feel I'm equipped to the challenge. I saw that the pass rate for the LETP is >50%, but I promised myself that if I make it to training, I will be part of the few that make it out successfully. Hopefully for me, there will be clear signals ahead. :wink:
  by choochooman
How much do njt engineers make?