I work for Catch 22

These bosses are taking the fun out of my job.

I work for the railroad, building and moving freight trains around the system. I’ve been at it for almost a year and it can be a pretty enjoyable job. The scenery can be nice and there’s plenty of wildlife to see out there. The people are downright unique.

It’s not hard work physically but it carries a lot of responsibility and the hours can be strenuious. We do abide by hours of service laws but can work for hours after we’re relieved of responsibility (running trains). A work day is often 12 hours and sometimes longer. We’re only given 10 hours of rest before we can be called in for duty again. But it’s still a really cool job.

Safety is supposed to be the number one concern out here, and it usually is. We have a really fat rule book that governs us and what we do. Our company is the top in the industry as far as safety and our division has recently broken a record for it’s good safety record.

Most of us follow the safety rules because we want to go home in one piece at the end of the day, and it’s just good practice. But probably bigger than that is that we know that we’re responsible for the safety of our fellow employees. They train us to keep ourselves safe and in turn we keep them safe. There’s a definite trust component involved here, which is motivation enough to work safely.

That being said, we have certain rules that are in that fat book that (to me) are vague and strictly there for the protection of the company. And the truth is that if we were to follow every single rule as it is written then nothing would get done. Every now and then someone will (after being fucked with) demonstrate how it works when you follow all of the rules to the letter and everything quickly comes to a grinding halt. Trains get delayed and yards get tied up.

We’re going through a new boss phase where I’m at and they have to do safety audits. These new bosses are put through the same classes that I was when I first hired but they weren’t put “on the ground” as I am to see them in practice. So they have no point of reference as to which ones are practical and which ones are “just there to cover our asses”. Each rule to them carries equal weight. Some were written in blood and others weren’t.

For example, when I pull 120 cars out of a coal plant and have them all together I have to do a brake test and car inspection of the entire train. This means walking both sides the entire length of the train. Sometimes the walking conditions don’t permit walking the entire length of a train. There could be steep slopes, bridges without walkways, holes etc blocking your path. The reasonable thing to do in that situation would be to cross over the train and continue ahead. But our rules don’t allow you to cross over a train unless there’s a complete brake platform that extends from one side of the car to another. Our coal hoppers don’t have those. The only options are to walk all the way to the back of the the train and start up the other side (which can be dangerous in the dark) or to illegally crossover between standing cars and continue from there. The first option can take an hour easily. In certain places it’s downright impossible to walk both sides completely. If I take too long I can be charged with delaying a train.

Where I work it’s possible at any time for a boss to be hiding in the woods and to secretly observe whether or not I comply with the safety rules.

But THEY can (and do) order you to move a train even when you don’t have the proper paperwork to move it legally. They’re gods. Their job is to keep trains moving. That’s why no one’s ever been busted for crossing over between coal cars during a brake test. They’re expected to. But they’ll fuck with you in a train yard 50 yards from their office for the same rules.

Sometimes we’ll be asked to do something which requires us to put in claim codes in order to get paid for it. We put the claim codes in and they come back rejected with the message, “you’re contract no longer permits hostelling in griffin GA”. We don’t work anywhere near GA and Hostlers don’t exist on on the railroad anymore. If the message was only signed by Washington Irving it would be perfect.

Ah, yes, the dread Weed Weasels. Have you had a raw egg test yet?

I also would hazard a guess that you work for CSX. NS also has it’s moments, but seem to be a bit better overall…

Except for the portions that were formerly Conrail, which seem to be the bastard stepchild (if the way my father and 99% of the Altoona shops workers were treated after Norfuckup-Southern took over is any indication)…

What is a raw egg test? Google was no help on that one.

A trainmaster hides a raw egg in the points of a switch that a train is going to use while switching. One of the rules is that switchpoints are to be inspected for obstructions before use. If the switch is not inspected, the egg is crushed. If that happens, the entire crew goes home without pay for a time, for one guy not looking.

Norfolk Southern has a slightly nicer variation in some districts. Instead of an egg, they hide a $20…

No, I haven’t seen the raw egg test yet. I wonder if I do find it before crushing it, would it be ok to throw at the trainmaster?

I’ve heard stories of trainmasters going out, unbolting & reversing switch targets on people so that if they “sharp shoot” targets, they’ll run the switch.That’s until they got told not to do that. It’s a really wacky fucking line of work.

I do work for one of those companies.

Yeah, parts of the former conrail is called “Shared assets” now and their crews can be a pain in the ass when you need to go through their territory.