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Making the Railroading Lifestyle Work

Ellen has been a railroader for more than 30 years. She started as a brakeman in 1979, later worked as a conductor/brakeman/switchman, and became a freight locomotive engineer in 1990. She is 54.

My workday can start at any minute of any day. The phone rings, and I have 90 minutes to get to work. On arrival, I check the computer for company updates, review paperwork with my conductor, and have a job briefing. We board the train, look over the locomotives, and giddy up and go.

The trip may take six to 12 hours, depending on the train, the weather, traffic on the rails, and work on the track. The worst time for me is between 3 AM and 5:30 AM. I fight sleepiness by snacking then, and I drink at least a half a pot of coffee a day.

I rarely have trouble sleeping. I sleep at night if I can. If I work all night, I take a 30-minute nap in the morning, and try to stay busy all day. If I must sleep in the daytime, I have blackout shades that keep my bedroom dark. I try to pay attention to what my body tells me it needs.

The railroad provides a train line-up I can access from my computer or phone. I use that to see when I might be going work, and plan my sleep time. The line-up can and does change.

I enjoy what I do most days. Railroading is a career. It doesn't define who I am. I own a house, am a serious gardener, and do some bookkeeping for my union. I work out in fits and spurts at the gym. I enjoy being with my friends and loved ones. I've been divorced for more than 20 years, and have learned to embrace my individualism.

"I enjoy what I do most days. Railroading is a career. It doesn't define who I am. I own a house, am a serious gardener, and do some bookkeeping for my union."
-Ellen, locomotive engineer