Is the railroad the right job for me?
First I would like to say thank you to anyone who is willing to read my post, in its entirety, and provide useful feedback. Anyone who can provide any help at all is great help in my opinion!
To tell you a little about myself, I am currently working as a full-time Paramedic/Fire Fighter as well as a 911 Dispatcher for an integrated Fire & Rescue department in a suburb outside of Houston, Texas. I am currently working as Paramedic on the Ambulance for six to seven years now and have been in the position of “Incharge” for six of the seven years. I am also working as a fire fighter on the Heavy Rescue truck with the same department and have also done that for six to seven years. I truly love my job but it leaves me wanting more and I have this obsession, not to sound weird, with the railroad industry. I have numerous questions regarding the industry and would like to take this time to address my concerns.
My first question is this: Do I have anything to offer to the railroad? I currently possess my Licensed Paramedic and Fire Fighter, valid in Texas only, and have worked as an Incharge. Being an Incharge means that I am ultimately responsible for the ambulance, the well being of my partner as well as the patient/s, and that I carry the ultimate authority as to how the ambulance operates. Living near such a large metropolitan area, I am no stranger to rail fires, tractor trailer fires, plane or helicopter crashes, or dealing with hazardous materials. I have read and heard other people talking about training to be a fire fighter on the railroad before, but are there any jobs that I could qualify for based on my experience and schooling that I have already completed?
My second question is this: Where do I begin my search? How do I, “get my foot in the door”, at a rail company? Near where I both live and work there are train yards. I often see companies like CSX, BNSF, NS, and UP passing through. We also have an Amtrak station in Houston but I have never seen an Amtrak train passing through. While I have experience working alongside with these agencies, I don’t know which ones operate in or near Houston. Moving from Houston to find a rail job is absolutely out of the question. With that in mind, what companies should I look at? I do not have any family or friends that have worked or that are currently working in the railroad to ask for guidance.
My third question is this: Is moving to the transportation industry, from healthcare, and smart move? I currently, with all of my certifications and experience combined, make near 50k a year and am paid hourly. I also have a 403b and have free health, dental, and eye insurance. I am not exactly sure what the pay grades or benefits are like in the railroad but I have basically reached my cap in pay based on where I am at. If I wanted to make more then I would have to obtain a nursing license or become a flight medic. I assume that I would have to start at the bottom of the totem poll again, but considering my experience and certifications – what would be a fair starting pay rate?
My fourth and final question is this: What are the hours like? I currently work a twenty-four hour shift with forty-eight hours off in-between. I am no stranger to the concept of, “Working when they want you too”. I could be passed out in bed at 3am, but when the tones go out for a call then I better be ready to work. I have worked both alone with a partner on the ambulance, leaving me to make the ultimate decision, as well as with a team of fire fighters with one common goal to rescue a victim or suppress a fire. My point is that I work well both alone and with a team. If I was to become a conductor, which would be my ultimate goal, what would those hours be like? Does the conductor or engineer board the locomotive in Houston and ride all the way with it to California or elsewhere, or do they ride to a certain point then board another locomotive and come back to their home city?
Well that is all I can think have now. Sorry to talk your brains out but I am filled with questions and have no one to ask. I feel the railroad is right for me as a working environment but I would like to seek advice from others.
Thanks again for all your help!
Asked By: TexasMedic08 - 3/29/2011
Well this is ironic. I did the paramedic thing too for 5.5 years. That was in Phoenix, AZ. At the encouragement of an old girlfriend, I went back to school to become an RN. Worked in a Recovery Room at a hospital in Scottsdale, AZ for 7 years.
Then through a friend of my brothers', I learned that BNSF (BN back then) was going to start a hiring campaign over a two year period. I was 36 years old at the time. In order to get interviewed, I wanted to make my application stand out over the others. I took the time to get to know other railroaders a little bit. If I saw a guy on the job and he was approachable, or met a railroader someplace, I'd explain my intentions and ask if I could use him as a reference. Most said OK. When my app was being looked over, all those other RR employees caught attention, indicating I must already know about the job and what was expected of me. I know this because I was told so later after getting hired. Most railroaders have at least heard of each other with in a one hundred mile radius. Also emphasize mechanical aptitude you have as they look for that too for the problem solving ability in switching and train make up. Even if you don't have a strong mechanical aptitude, tell 'em you do (I did). In the area of communication, they're going to really listen to you. Back in the day we were tested on our communication and comprehension skills. But you won't have to worry about that.
Lastly, tell 'em straight out you want to be an Engineer. They really like to hear that. Nearly all railroads want their trainmen to become Engineers sooner than later. The jump from Brakeman to Conductor to Engineer can take as little as 4 years if you push for it.
As for myself, I guess my medical background wasn't really relevant. But a solid work history was. I don't even talk about the medical history anymore.
When I hired out, it was done with paper applications. Now it's done on-line. All you have to do is get to a railroad's web-site to click for an application. But they get zillions and this is why it's important to go through the effort to make yours stand out.
The hours suck, especially at first. But as you acquire more seniority, you have more control over when and where you work - and consequently your hours too. This is the way it's been for over a century.
Now I'm living in the upper mid-west and on my third railroad. It's been a great ride so far. Good luck with your endeavors.
Answered By: Derail - 3/29/2011