After three six-month deployments to
the Persian Gulf for the U.S. Navy, Brandon Rusk needed a change.
The 27-year-old Texan gave up life aboard a gigantic aircraft carrier for a
different kind of adventure: barreling down the tracks on a freight
train from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.
Brandon Rusk is one of
Burlington Northern’s newest conductors. A significant number of BNSF’s
new hires are ex-military personnel; Mr. Rusk was in the Navy. "I don't
know anybody who doesn't think trains are pretty cool," said one of the
newest conductors for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp.
personnel such as Mr. Rusk make up an increasing number of new workers
at the Fort Worth-based company, which has embarked on a hiring binge
unlike any other in recent memory.
Last year, the railroad hired more
than 4,800 people.
That comes on top of adding 7,500 in 2004 and 2005,
and this year, it anticipates welcoming 4,000 more. "Our projection is
that it's going to be at this level for a number of years," said Jeanne
Michalski, Burlington Northern's vice president of human resources and
Retiring baby boomers and growing demand for railroad services
sparked the hiring boom. The railroad estimates that 41 percent of its
more than 40,000 employees will be eligible for retirement over the next
The challenge for Burlington Northern: Integrate a massive
number of new employees while gracefully coping with the exodus of
thousands of others. The hurdle also looms in other growth industries
with lots of retiring baby boomers.
That's why thousands of openings
exist for oil and gas engineers, electric utility linemen and truck
drivers. But the demand for new rail workers stands out. Only in the
last three years has the total number of rail workers increased,
reversing decades of falling employment as railroads shrank their
networks and struggled to become more efficient.
Today the industry is
prospering, thanks to a tidal wave of imports from China that are moved
across the country by rail. Last year, total freight volume and revenue
hit another record.
With freight demand expected to jump 67 percent by
2020, the industry anticipates adding 80,000 jobs over the next six
years, according to the Association of American Railroads.
pressure on Burlington Northern, which had gone a decade without
significant hiring. In addition to tapping into schools, colleges and
jobs fairs, it's placed recruitment ads in unusual places such as movie
theaters and highway billboards.
It also talked to trucking companies to
get ideas on how best to use the Internet to attract new workers.
Getting on track
Even with the industry's renaissance, many young people
view railroads as yesterday's technology.
"People don't know about
railroads," said Steven Klug, Burlington Northern's assistant vice
president of human resources- operations. "We're still one of the
best-kept secrets." Finding qualified new hires has proved the biggest
Of the 85,000 job applications it receives a year, it selects
only 12,000 for interviews. Most applicants are male. Life on the rails
isn't for everyone. Conductors are constantly on call and work odd
hours, and they also work outdoors in the cold, rain and heat.
the military has turned into the railroad's biggest source of new hires.
Of 1,000 veterans hired last year, just over half came from the Army, 20
percent from the Air Force, 15 percent from the Marine Corps and 12
percent from the Navy.
The railroad even employs a manager who focuses
on attracting current or former military personnel to the company. These
people understand the importance of safety rules and have already
adapted to a 24/7 operating environment where you can get called up at
any moment, Mr. Klug said. "The whole mentality fits really well."
The railroad needed to do more than get new workers in the
door. It also sought to preserve the institutional knowledge of longtime
employees, who were retiring in droves.
To do that, it's bringing on new
hires before their predecessors leave. And it's developing systems to
document procedures, such as the best way to maintain a track.
other workforce moves require a tremendous investment.
spends about $20,000 to $25,000 on each new conductor, mostly to cover
the cost of paid training programs that last 13 to 15 weeks. One of
those trainees is Wesley Zepeda, a 19-year-old conductor who's one of a
growing number of young people enticed by a career on the rails.
days, he's riding trains that are 86 cars long from the Fort Worth area
to Temple, Wichita Falls, Tulsa, Okla., and other destinations. He
expects to earn at least $50,000 before taxes.
At first, his parents, an
orthopedic surgeon and a nurse, couldn't understand why he wanted to
forgo college for a railroad job, he said. But after learning about the
industry's potential, they now support his decision.
And it doesn't hurt
that some of his friends with bachelor degrees are earning less money
than he does. "College is not a guarantee anymore," he said.
BEING A CONDUCTOR
Qualifications: High school diploma or GED. Must pass an
examination at the end of a 13- or 15-week paid training program.
Working conditions: Must be able to work on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days
a week, in all kinds of weather.
Required to work on weekends and
holidays. Must be able to travel to job sites around the area and remain
on site for days at a time.
Gets relays from the
dispatcher, switch foreman, yard master or others. Operates a variety of
track switches and derails. Monitors track conditions, checks switch
points and inspects rail cars and other equipment. Observes, interprets
and relays hand, lantern and other signals affecting the movement of
trains and judges and controls the speed and clearance distance of rail
cars. Sets and releases hand brakes. Prepares required reports.
Average annual salary:
Next career step: Many conductors go on to become
SOURCE: Burlington Northern Santa Fe
Union Pacific expands with more jobs
(2/07/2007) By Adam Freeman
railroad continues to grow at a rapid pace.
In order to keep up with the
demand, the company is trying a new way of hiring employees. The
railroad plans to add least 200 new train service workers this year to
keep up with the increase in coal trains, as well as those who are
To help with the hiring, UP is teaming with the Nebraska
Workforce Development Center to open up a "store front" hiring center in
“Applicants can come in and get questions answered
directly from a person in our workforce development who has been
thoroughly trained in the occupation of train service at the railroad,”
said Director of Employment Jolene Jefferies.
This is a pilot program
that will run through June 30th. Right now, they will only be filling
train service positions, but if it is successful, they could expand the
program in the future.
End of Article