Today comes a story based on some personal experience, some based on friends recollections, or what I’ve read from other railroaders. To railfans, railroading is a fascination. Every fan I think dreams of being in that engineer’s seat at the head of a train. I know I did when young. I know I did when trackside taking photos.
However, railroading in real life is a very tough, demanding job. Road crews are called out at all hours of the day and night, sometimes right after your mandatory rest is up. This is why fatigue is still a problem. Railroading runs 24 hours a day, in all types of weather. Rarely are the times that trains don’t run, except perhaps when railroads consolidate freight train schedules and terminate some runs, or perhaps during a strike. Otherwise, trains run round the clock. Sometimes your “off” days are spent in an away terminal.
Which brings us to running again around the clock. When crews get called out, it may be in dry, clear weather, or it could be in foggy weather, cool, damp rain, sleet, freezing rain, or snow, sometimes blinding snow. With this comes its own challenges, which I posted elsewhere earlier. Walkways and steps become slick in certain types of weather, as does the track itself, along with ladder rungs on cars. Even walking in an ice storm to throw that switch is difficult. Sometimes, just digging the car out of a snow drift is a challenge. Not to mention bucking those snow drifts out on the railroad. On older locos, you may have to deal with that not so great cab heater.
Then comes the dangers out on the railroad. In some areas, east and west, rattlesnakes are an issue around rails, as these critters like to curl up around the rails or ties which tend to be warmer. There are the dangers of vagrants and trespassers climbing onboard and riding, even breaking into trailing units to do so. I know of friends this has happened to, being startled when they trip over someone sleeping in a trailing unit, or even being accosted by one. Finally, there are those instances when a pedestrian is hit on the tracks, for whatever reason.
There are other dangers of course while out on the railroad. A railroader must always be vigilant, especially in a major yard. Vigilant and safe when between cars hooking air hoses up. Again, this in all types of weather. Then there is the danger of an oncoming crew running a signal they should have stopped at, or a switch left open you’re entering at track speed. Then of course is that motorist, especially a truck not heeding those lights and gates, or even that horn and bell sounding when coming up to a crossing. I know and remember the night a railroader I knew turned his back to a cut of cars coming back through a switch with the lead car, a tank car, climbing the points and tipping over on him, crushing him.
I’ve personally experienced some of these trials and challenges. I’ve run across not a poisonous snake, but a huge bull snake slithering out from under a tie right under my feet. I’ve been on a locomotive when it’s gone on the ground. There’s no feeling I can describe when you’re off the rail. I have been involved in hitting a car that tried but didn’t make it across the crossing. I almost bought the farm the day we almost took out a gasoline tank truck that barely made it across in front of us. I’ve slipped off a freight car rung before in a sleet storm. Finally, thankfully for salt tablets, I kept from being overcome with heat stroke while welding and mending a broken rail on a 103 degree day.
Railroading indeed is a tough, demanding job….