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A Day in the Life  of.....

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A Day in the Life of....

A Railroad Conductor

By "Wayne McMannors" as edited by Peggy Darlington. Comments in square brackets ( [ ]) were added by  Peggy for clarification.)

"Wayne" is a conductor for NJT. This account is a combined account of several days to hide his true name at his request. There are three basic Conductor jobs for NJT:

  • Conductor  In charge of the train. Has job briefing prior to each trip with all of the other train crew members discussing any special station stops, track changes, which cars each crew member will collect fares in, which crew member will get the doors at a short platform station. The conductor also has to "call out" to the dispatcher of the territory (such as Newark or Hoboken) he or she is working to get any special instructions that might be missing from the preprinted  paperwork that has to be looked at when signing up. This type of information has to be passed on to the engineer. The conductor is also responsible for handling any unusual occurrences that require medical or police assistance. The conductor usually works the front of the train once it's in motion. According to the rules, they are supposed to" walk the train" every few stops to keep abreast of things except when the train is packed when this becomes impossible.

  •  Rear Brake  is second in command. They "set up" the train prior to departure. They make sure the lights and heat/ air are working, "cutting out" unused cars, making sure the doors are working, and depending on locations lining up switches and derails and doing a brake test with the engineer. [Required at any change of direction]. Once in motion the rear brake usually works the rear of the train and usually opens and closes the doors except for short platform stations where a Ticket Collector (head Brake)  in the middle will get the doors. At the end of a trip, they have to "tie down the train" by applying two handbrakes so the train wont roll if the brakes bleed and at certain locations they have to apply derails or wheel chocks which also serve to prevent the train from rolling out of control.
  • Ticket Collector or Head Brake  bounces from train to train and have as their main responsibility the collection of fares and little else. They might have to get the doors at short platform stations or open and close traps [ the plate by end doors which is raised to expose the stairs out the doors]   when the train uses a low platform. The downside of this job is having to get off the train in all kinds of weather while the conductor and rear brake remain on the train.

At this point I will change to a first person account as given by Wayne who is the rear brake

I sign up 30 minutes prior to departure time in the crew room. I look over the paperwork for any deviations such as tracks out of service or platform construction. The conductor calls the dispatcher to confirm the paperwork and for anything else that was not printed in time.. The engineer and I proceed to the equipment [train] which is in the yard. I make sure the derail is removed and that all the switches are lined correctly for us to enter the main line from the yard.

I then set up the train. I make sure sufficient handbrakes were left on by the prior crew and make sure the rest of them are off. I make a note of any defects regarding things like the lights, doors, traps, etc. I cut out the cars which are not being used by turning off the lights and by cutting out the doors so they don't open beyond a certain point..

I then go to the rear of the train to do a brake test. I will be watching the brake pads at the rear wheel. I buzz the engineer to release, apply, and release the brakes. After the test, I take off the handbrakes and signal the engineer it is OK to proceed.

We (the engineer, conductor and I  then pull out the yard at the proper time to be in Raritan Station. at the scheduled departure time. We are now on our way to Newark. At each station people get on and off. On the Raritan valley Line there are all low platforms until you get to Plainfield Station which recently went high platform.[ A low platform is a platform requiring the use of steps to get on or off the train while a high platform allows for walking directly from the train to the platform.] Then it is low platform for Netherwood and Fanwood. After that is all high except for Garwood. For low platform stations I have to open the traps and open the doors manually while at high platforms I can "trainline" the doors like the  New York subway.

Of course, in between each station I have to collect tickets or cash from each of the passengers. Of course there are "regular" riders who pose no problem, but sometimes there are "rookies" who have to ask a million and one questions, and before you get anything done you are pulling into a station and have to open the door(s) and hit the platform [get off the train and stand on the platform..] Some stations are closer together than others so I have to realize my whereabouts all the time. Depending on the section it is just the conductor and myself.. We have a problem.. the engineer advises over the intercom that we have an end door open. We have to check all doors and advise the engineer when the doors are closed. Today. we have all doors secured so we run in end door bypass and keep checking the doors. When we left Raritan we had two cars open, three cars by Westfield except for a real busy day when we have four open.

Back to my paperwork-- Each day we have to remit our cash to a ticket receiver. We arrive in Newark with no further problems All ticket collectors get off leaving the three of us on board When we get the signal we proceed to Hudson yard which is just East of Harrison Station on the PATH.. I might have to throw a switch to enter the yard. The engineer changes ends and I apply a handbrake. We do a brake test which has to be done every time the engineer changes ends. The engineer calls Dock Tower for permission to  head West and we pull into Newark Penn Station- usually on Track 5.. this time we are heading to High Bridge.. After we pull into Newark I runt o the ticket receiver's office so I can remit my cash, get change and get "stock" which is railroad talk for the cash fare receipts we punch for on-board purchases. [Currently they are pink] but the color changes periodically.].

We have all 5 or 6 cars open and we'll need them!. 3 trains from NY Penn and several PATH trains feed our train along with those originating in Newark. We are the last peak train and I still have to conduct "step Up 101classes" when they try to use a round trip ticket. We cant win! But we cant leave just yet.

Our Trip to Raritan is uneventful and then we head up the mountain to High Bridge with only the last two cars being exit locations due to no platforms except for White House Station. Since the original account, the line has gone to all multilevel cars, to the chagrin of the train crews' knees


Last revised 01/21/2011

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