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  #1  
Old 07-29-2010, 08:33 PM
Incubus Incubus is offline
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Ask a Light Rail Operator

Last week I started Light Rail training at my work and currently on their 10-week certification training program. Even in this short amount of time I've learned a ton of stuff about the job.

Something funny is that I was never one of those people that are train nuts, but the prospect of being able to drive one got me very interested, and I learned a great deal before I even got behind the stick.

It is an entirely different animal than being a bus driver (my previous classification) as there is a significant level of responsibility and focus required to perform the job safely and efficiently.

If anyone has any questions regarding the job, the light rail system in the Bay Area, or the trains themselves, ask!
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  #2  
Old 07-29-2010, 08:51 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is offline
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Hmmmm....driving a train sounds fun. If my run away and become a cowboy plan doesn't work out, what would it take to get me into train training?
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  #3  
Old 07-29-2010, 09:14 PM
johnpost johnpost is offline
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does your system prohibit radio/mp3 listening, video game playing, cell/texting, reading while in the cab?

AC or DC motors?
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  #4  
Old 07-29-2010, 09:28 PM
Kilmore Kilmore is offline
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The way they roll in St. Louis is that any of the things you mentioned are fine, but they don't allow food or drink, weapons, or radio playing. Nothing out loud, headphones are fine.
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  #5  
Old 07-29-2010, 09:29 PM
Really Not All That Bright Really Not All That Bright is offline
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Why do you hate America?
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  #6  
Old 07-29-2010, 09:36 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is offline
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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
The way they roll in St. Louis is that any of the things you mentioned are fine, but they don't allow food or drink, weapons, or radio playing. Nothing out loud, headphones are fine.
Oh yeah.....I'd have myself a Train driving list one of of those fancy little digital record players the youngsters seem to like. I can see how management would probably not approve of me using the PA system to call out....


"ALL ABOARD..........AI....AI....AI" and playing enthusiastic but unskilled air guitar as I kick that thing in the ass and blast outta the station at full impulse power.

Last edited by Oakminster; 07-29-2010 at 09:38 PM..
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  #7  
Old 07-29-2010, 09:41 PM
Rand Rover Rand Rover is offline
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Here's one thing I've always wondered (as a frequent light rail user in Chicago): Do the central authorities have a kill switch for your train, or are you in complete control?
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  #8  
Old 07-29-2010, 09:54 PM
Sunspace Sunspace is offline
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Where does the light-rail system go in the Bay Area? Will you be driving in mixed traffic, like Toronto streetcars, or on a reserved right-of-way? Will you be collecting fares, or is it a pay-before-you-board system with random checks by someone else onboard? Is there a transit card, like the Presto card in Toronto or the Octopus card in Hong Kong? Will you be working for BART or the Muni or another agency or a contractor? Are you supposed to do anything unusual (other than stop, I mean) during an earthquake? And can you tell me how to get to the airport? I have to catch a flight in two hours.

Last edited by Sunspace; 07-29-2010 at 09:55 PM..
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  #9  
Old 07-29-2010, 10:33 PM
Cat Whisperer Cat Whisperer is offline
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My father-in-law is a city bus driver, and he has told us that he won't become a light rail operator because they are told that they must be willing to live with accidentally killing at least one person in their career with the train - were you told this? Is it a concern for you?
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  #10  
Old 07-29-2010, 10:43 PM
Incubus Incubus is offline
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Oakminster- At my transit agency, all Light Rail Operators start out as Bus Operators initially. Any Bus Operator interested in the position can apply twice a year to be put on a waiting list. Once your name comes up, you take a test to see if you qualify for the training. Once that happens you get put on a qualified list in seniority order. Several times a year they have training classes, usually of 4-8 students. When your name comes up, you start the training. The cool thing is if you don't like it, you can always bail and go right back to what you were doing as a Bus Driver (don't lose seniority). During the probation you can also choose to go back if you don't like it (vague on what happens on seniority here, get lots of different answers from my union). They don't like it when you do this, though because they invest a lot of money in the LROs and if they bail out of training it was for nothing. Generally of the 4-8 that are in the class only about 1-3 students actually graduate and go on to Light Rail Operator as a career, the rest either flunking out or simply choosing to go back to bus (there are pros and cons compared to bus)

johnpost- Since the MTBA accidents along with DC metro they have gotten extremely strict about electronic device usage. Its gotten to the point where you can ONLY use work-issued equipment (ie 2-way radios). No ipods, cell phones, little tvs, nothing (even a flagman, who is outside can't even listen to music/talk on the phone). The punishment for getting busted is a 30-day suspension without pay for the first offense, termination for the second. You cant even have your phone on or even out of your bag in fact when you are in the operating cab. Family members can use a special emergency number so they can radio you if there are family emergencies.

The trains run on 850vDC.

Sunspace- The Light Rail system I will be driving will run through Santa Clara County. It runs two lines that both join on one track through downtown San Jose. Some places the track is on grade, though there are only very few places it shares with traffic. On 1st and 2nd street in downtown SJ the track is embedded but cars are not allowed on that section (we get out-of-towners going on it with an angry train honking trying to coax the car back into his correct lane at the intersections). In other places the train runs in the median of the road and is on a raised curb more or less inaccessible to cars, and along Hwy 85 and 87 it runs along the center of highway separated by sound walls and fences. Fare is purchased through vending machines at stations, you buy a ticket and get on the train. Fare inspectors randomly get on the trains and check for fare.


Rand Rover- We have complete control over the train itself. Thats why the training is so long and there is so much emphasis on Operator responsibilities. The train (like Heavy Rail counterparts) has a deadman switch on the controls that causes the train to come to a stop if released. But central control cannot 'kill' power to the train remotely outside of turning off the power to the overhead contact system.
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  #11  
Old 07-29-2010, 10:48 PM
Incubus Incubus is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cat Whisperer View Post
My father-in-law is a city bus driver, and he has told us that he won't become a light rail operator because they are told that they must be willing to live with accidentally killing at least one person in their career with the train - were you told this? Is it a concern for you?
Fatalities do happen, and for us 99% of the time it is not the Light Rail Operator's fault. I have heard during an average career a train operator (using the term broadly) is statistically likely to accidentally kill 1 person.

Of the ninety-something light rail operators we have, there are a handful that have been involved in fatalities. One, who has worked for 20+ years in the job, has had four (! ) happen to him over the years, due to either suicide or vehicles violating a traffic signal.
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  #12  
Old 07-29-2010, 10:49 PM
NetTrekker NetTrekker is offline
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How much does it pay? Any health care benefits?
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  #13  
Old 07-29-2010, 10:53 PM
Kilmore Kilmore is offline
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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
The way they roll in St. Louis is that any of the things you mentioned are fine, but they don't allow food or drink, weapons, or radio playing. Nothing out loud, headphones are fine.
Unfortunately my reading comprehension totally failed me while answering this question. No, the person in the cab cannot use headphones, a cell phone or anything that would impair their senses, though they can have a soda or something. I answered the question for the passengers.
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  #14  
Old 07-29-2010, 10:57 PM
Incubus Incubus is offline
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Originally Posted by NetTrekker View Post
How much does it pay? Any health care benefits?
The pay is actually the same as Bus Operators from the same agency, which in itself is pretty good for a bus driver: Top Hourly comes out to about $62,000 a year assuming you take holidays off and dont work your days off. If you work holidays (Pay X 2.5) or days off (simply extra moolah) that figure can potentially double. Most veteran operators make 80-90 thousand due to the overtime.

Rail is the same hourly pay but there is less overtime availability so the base pay is the same but you can't top out as high (Highest paid LRO made 90-something thousand last year, wheras the highest paid Bus Operator made $122,000(!) ).

Benefits are Life Insurance, Kaiser with a $5 deductible, 403(b) deferred compensation, and...oh yeah, you get to ride the trains and buses for free (but NOT BART or MUNI depending on the personell and their mood )
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  #15  
Old 07-29-2010, 10:57 PM
Justifiable Justifiable is offline
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What are the differences between light rail and heavy rail from your point of view?
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  #16  
Old 07-29-2010, 10:58 PM
Incubus Incubus is offline
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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
The way they roll in St. Louis is that any of the things you mentioned are fine, but they don't allow food or drink, weapons, or radio playing. Nothing out loud, headphones are fine.
Unfortunately my reading comprehension totally failed me while answering this question. No, the person in the cab cannot use headphones, a cell phone or anything that would impair their senses, though they can have a soda or something. I answered the question for the passengers.
we are allowed to eat/drink in the cab but they ask that we don't have any open containers of food/drink due to mess factor.
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  #17  
Old 07-29-2010, 11:05 PM
Incubus Incubus is offline
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What are the differences between light rail and heavy rail from your point of view?
The term itself applies to the size/weight of the trains (possibly the gauge, but I'm not sure).

In practical terms, Light Rail is slower, our top speed is 55mph. It is fully electrified, using overhead wires and pantographs for propulsion. We fall under similar governing bodies, and I'm pretty sure our signals/organization is similar/same as heavy rail.

For those unfamiliar, most rail networks are broken up into blocks. A 'block' is a section of track(s). Since trains can't simply go around each other, its essential to have an organized system to direct them, making sure they are going the right way at the right time, don't conflict with the movement of other trains, or become a hazard to other vehicles. In our network, the train is manually operated, but many of the blocks are automatic- they 'know' where the trains are and set their signals accordingly.

Light Rail, compared to heavy rail also operates street-level and will share traffic with cars in some places and travel through intersections similarly as a car. They have their own signals (so nobody gets confused who is suppose to go and where) but IN GENERAL, if parallel traffic has a green light, the train has its own 'green' as well. Things get hairy in power outages or when the train is going the 'wrong' way down the track-

Ever been in a big intersection thats treated as a 4-way stop because the light doesn't work? and nobody knows what the hell they are doing or whose turn it is and its like a bunch of ants meandering through the intersection? Now imagine you have a 270 foot 3-car train thats gotta do that it happens!
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  #18  
Old 07-29-2010, 11:10 PM
Justifiable Justifiable is offline
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Interesting. So do your plans for the future include "upgrading" to heavy rail? Are the skills you've picked up transferable? Would you see heavy rail as an upgrade?
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  #19  
Old 07-29-2010, 11:23 PM
Incubus Incubus is offline
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Interesting. So do your plans for the future include "upgrading" to heavy rail? Are the skills you've picked up transferable? Would you see heavy rail as an upgrade?
I don't think so. Heavy Rail is stuff like Freight Trains or CalTrain passenger train. (not sure what BART falls under). The problem is my certification is only good for the company I work for (tracks' right-of-way is on private property, so its not like a Driver's License where there are universal critera for earning one- every agency is going to have their own "train license") meaning I would have to learn on any other systems. Granted, it would be easier, since the basics are already there, but it wouldn't be any faster per se. The pay at my job is also one of the more highly-paid, so money isn't a factor. And the nature of inter-county light rail makes it a more personable job (can open my cab window and talk to people outside).

I like my job. If you don't feel well, they'll come and whisk you home ASAP (since they don't want you getting in an accident). The commute is nice and I'm familiar with the area since I grew up here. since it goes Bus->Light Rail in job progression LROs often see work buddies in buses pulling into a terminal, transferring passengers into their trains.
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  #20  
Old 07-29-2010, 11:54 PM
gaffa gaffa is offline
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Originally Posted by Rand Rover View Post
Here's one thing I've always wondered (as a frequent light rail user in Chicago): Do the central authorities have a kill switch for your train, or are you in complete control?
Is the "L" considered "Light Rail"? I know it is in my neighborhood of Albany Park, but on the rest of the system its both an elevated system and a subway.
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  #21  
Old 07-30-2010, 01:13 AM
Sunspace Sunspace is offline
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Sunspace- The Light Rail system I will be driving will run through Santa Clara County. It runs two lines that both join on one track through downtown San Jose. Some places the track is on grade, though there are only very few places it shares with traffic. On 1st and 2nd street in downtown SJ the track is embedded but cars are not allowed on that section (we get out-of-towners going on it with an angry train honking trying to coax the car back into his correct lane at the intersections). In other places the train runs in the median of the road and is on a raised curb more or less inaccessible to cars, and along Hwy 85 and 87 it runs along the center of highway separated by sound walls and fences. Fare is purchased through vending machines at stations, you buy a ticket and get on the train. Fare inspectors randomly get on the trains and check for fare.
Cool! Thank you! I hadn't thought about light rail in San Jose. Do you connect woth the CalTrain? (And yes, we in Toronto are jealous about it electrifying...)

I think BART would fall under the category of heavy rail. It has aspects of both a subway and regional rail.

(Haven't been to the Bay Area since '98...it's my favourite place of all the city areas I've visited in the States. I guess it's changed?)
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  #22  
Old 07-30-2010, 02:33 AM
Av8trix Av8trix is offline
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Are there limits on the hours you can work/operate in a week? Any limit on duty day or hours "on the clock"?
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  #23  
Old 07-30-2010, 07:20 AM
N9IWP N9IWP is offline
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What controls do you have besides the throttle and brakes? Do you control heating / cooling for the entitre train?

How is the view from the cab? (the view from frieght train cabs looks pretty poor to me)

Brian
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  #24  
Old 07-30-2010, 08:39 AM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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Originally Posted by Justifiable
What are the differences between light rail and heavy rail from your point of view?
Generally, "Light Rail" is used to denote rail systems used solely for mass transit, as opposed to systems that carry freight. Another defining factor is no connection or interchange with other rail systems - Incubus can't drive a VTA train onto a Southern Pacific line and then go cross-country.

Weight of the rolling stock and the rail gage is not a factor. As such, BART is light rail, even though its rolling stock is quite heavy and runs on one of the widest gages in the world - 5' 6", rather than standard gage, which is 4' 8"
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  #25  
Old 07-31-2010, 01:54 PM
Incubus Incubus is offline
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Av8trix- We're technically not allowed to work more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period. Unlike bus, where if a bus is out doing somethingorother and the operator is getting close to that cutoff, they can't EASILY get the train back to the yard/operator relieved. So we're supposed to let them know an hour in advance, to make sure we can get back/get picked up. In general the schedules are 8-9 hours and because dispatching/controlling train traffic is very tight and leaves no room for error, when we get to the end of the line its more or less a straight shot back to the rail yard, rarely getting done later than scheduled.

N9IWP- Off the top of my head, there is the throttle which has 5 brake and 5 acceleration settings (plus coast), buttons to control bells and horns, miscellaneous stuff you'd have in your car (like heater/windshield wipers), a 2-way radio, turn signals, digital speedometer, controls for coupling/uncoupling cars, CCTVs that basically act like my rear-view mirrors (but outside the cab- can't see whats going on inside the train itself actually) and a bunch of mundane stuff that escapes me at the moment. The view from the cab is great, it has excellent visibility and is the only place in the train where you can see straight ahead

Weirdly enough, the operator CANT control the climate control for the interior of train (though he can for his cab) so if people whine its too warm/cold there's nothing he can do about it (cant crack open a window on the train either, for obvious reasons!)
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Old 07-31-2010, 02:06 PM
blondebear blondebear is offline
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I know that fare evasion has been a problem for Light Rail here. I ride the Winchester-Mt View line a couple of times a week, and I haven't seen anyone checking fares lately. What is VTA's enforcement strategy for the problem? Along the same lines, I've noticed that the security guards do a lousy job of enforcing ridership rules. They sit idly by while passengers smoke, eat and toss their litter in the cars and station areas. What's up with that?

Last edited by blondebear; 07-31-2010 at 02:07 PM..
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Old 07-31-2010, 04:40 PM
Dr. Woo Dr. Woo is offline
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Originally Posted by Incubus View Post
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What are the differences between light rail and heavy rail from your point of view?
The term itself applies to the size/weight of the trains (possibly the gauge, but I'm not sure).

In practical terms, Light Rail is slower, our top speed is 55mph. It is fully electrified, using overhead wires and pantographs for propulsion. We fall under similar governing bodies, and I'm pretty sure our signals/organization is similar/same as heavy rail.

For those unfamiliar, most rail networks are broken up into blocks. A 'block' is a Things get hairy in power outages or when the train is going section of track(s). Since trains can't simply go around each other, its essential to have an organized system to direct them, making sure they are going the right way at the right time, don't conflict with the movement of other trains, or become a hazard to other vehicles. In our network, the train is manually operated, but many of the blocks are automatic- they 'know' where the trains are and set their signals accordingly.

Light Rail, compared to heavy rail also operates street-level and will share traffic with cars in some places and travel through intersections similarly as a car. They have their own signals (so nobody gets confused who is suppose to go and where) but IN GENERAL, if parallel traffic has a green light, the train has its own 'green' as well. the 'wrong' way down the track-

Ever been in a big intersection thats treated as a 4-way stop because the light doesn't work? and nobody knows what the hell they are doing or whose turn it is and its like a bunch of ants meandering through the intersection? Now imagine you have a 270 foot 3-car train thats gotta do that it happens!
Yikes, I never thought of that - that's really hairy!

Do you generally work the same route (would that be "line"?), and which one? I take light rail from downtown Campbell on the Mountain View line sometimes so I'll start waving at the operators.

ETA: I'll start waving at blondebear too.

Last edited by Dr. Woo; 07-31-2010 at 04:41 PM..
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  #28  
Old 08-01-2010, 01:42 AM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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Quote:
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justifiable View Post
Interesting. So do your plans for the future include "upgrading" to heavy rail? Are the skills you've picked up transferable? Would you see heavy rail as an upgrade?
I don't think so. Heavy Rail is stuff like Freight Trains or CalTrain passenger train. (not sure what BART falls under).
Congratulations! Running the train does sound like more fun that driving the bus, even if the novelty is bound to wear off. I know where I'd rather be as a passenger, assuming I have both options for where I need to go.

And you'll not have to deal with any more Ralph Kramden jokes!

I'm pretty sure BART is considered heavy rail, like most metro systems that run underground or partly underground. In L.A. only the Red and Purple lines are true subways (and heavy rail). The other three lines are completely separate from the subway, except for sharing a couple of stations, and are light rail. I don't know what the technical difference of specifications is, but you can feel and see the difference as a passenger. An LRT car isn't much wider than a bus, while a heavy rail car definitely is.

Last edited by Spectre of Pithecanthropus; 08-01-2010 at 01:43 AM..
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  #29  
Old 08-02-2010, 12:54 AM
Iridescent Orb Iridescent Orb is offline
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I heard that driving a train is actually more stressful than driving a bus. The reason being that with a bus you can at least try to swerve and avoid hitting an obstruction (or person), but with a train your only option is to hit the brakes. Your thoughts?

P.S. Cool thread!
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  #30  
Old 08-02-2010, 02:50 AM
Incubus Incubus is offline
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blondebear- Typicall the Fare inspectors tend to cocentrate downtown, where the most passenger traffic is. There is another reason for this- SJPD/Santa Clara County Sheriff is close by just in case someone REALLY doesn't like getting a $50 fine for not having their ticket. As for the security guards, all I can really offer is that all VTA personell have it pounded in our heads to not let a situation escalate. A security guard could be a real rules nazi to everyone, but that's bound to piss off the wrong person sooner or later. The guards are more concerned with mad bomber types than some guy eating a hot dog in the train/puffing on a cigarette on the platform. But it varies.

Dr. Woo- I'm still in training, but the way an operator's schedule typically works is something like this- There are 3 lines, Vasona (Mt View-Winchester), Guadalupe (Alum Rock-Santa Teresa) and the Almaden spur. On a straight shift, an operator will just do one of those continuously all day, back and forth. On a split, the operator might spend 4 hours doing one line, 2-4 hours off, then 4 hours doing another line. The worst of the three is Almaden, because it only has two stops, which means 30 trips and lots of tiny breaks (4-6 minutes each) which isn't really practical for eating lunch or going to the bathroom. Fortunately VTA relented because so many operators were taking potty breaks and holding up the train schedule. Now they give them a 20 minute break in the middle of their shift so you can actually go to the restroom and eat lunch.

Iridescent Orb- It is stressful, but for different reasons. Rail is much less forgiving when it comes to mistakes. Generally Rail control knows where you are at any given time and if you make a boo boo they will know. In Bus an operator can make a mistake (like, say accidentally doing the incorrect route because he misread his schedule) correct it, and if he's not horrendously late nobody's the wiser. However if a train, say, overshoots a fouling line for a red light by an inch, they know it and its a 1-4 day suspension for the infraction.

Even though you're on rail, a lot changes when construction happens. There are something like 12 different kind of track switches we use. Some you can 'trail' (trailing a switch on a track is like 'merging' into a single lane in a car) regardless of how the switch is pointing. But on some switches, they will break/derail the train if you do this, so you gotta pay attention. We also get creative vandals that enjoy spraypainting over switch indicator lights, changing speed limit signs, and putting debris on the trackway (shopping carts seem to be a favorite). Oh yeah, and the guy who likes to set carbage cans on fire in all the stations every summer
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  #31  
Old 05-24-2013, 01:39 PM
cwilcox3 cwilcox3 is offline
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Light rail training in Seattle

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Originally Posted by Incubus View Post
Last week I started Light Rail training at my work and currently on their 10-week certification training program. Even in this short amount of time I've learned a ton of stuff about the job.

Something funny is that I was never one of those people that are train nuts, but the prospect of being able to drive one got me very interested, and I learned a great deal before I even got behind the stick.

It is an entirely different animal than being a bus driver (my previous classification) as there is a significant level of responsibility and focus required to perform the job safely and efficiently.

If anyone has any questions regarding the job, the light rail system in the Bay Area, or the trains themselves, ask!

Hello, I am interested in light rail training in Seattle but am having trouble finding information. If you have any suggestions please help. Thank you.
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