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Edition #96, February 15, 2009

Desk Job

Photographer: RJ "Kris" Krengel

                                                                            Photo by RJ "Kris" Krengel

Desk Job

When a train service employee is asked what they like most about their job, more often than not, the answer usually has something to do with a fierce avoidance of a "desk job." 

Enjoying the great outdoors away from stuffy office politics and mazes of cube farms must seem, to outsiders, positively romantic. We're out there in the elements; we've seen amazing sights along the way. The reality on the railroad is far less glamorous than the outsider view of us being rugged individuals steeling ourselves against Mother Nature. We work all hours, all weekends, most holidays. We drink WAY too much coffee and eat WAY too many donuts. And most of us do it with a smile on our faces, because we're avoiding that "desk job!"

Or are we?

Take this image of my friend and conductor, R. K. Chapman, catching up on paperwork.  We both work for CSX now, we've both been railroading since we were teenagers. And now, it seems, the desks have caught up to us. On this night he has the unusual luxury of a desk to keep track of his signal log and bulletins thanks to Canadian Pacific. None of CSX's standard cab engines have this feature.

I remember promotional material from the locomotive builders of the 1990's touting the latest "desktop control stands." Apparently locomotive designers felt since THEY sat at desks, WE should too. It turns out the desktop control stands didn't have enough legroom and most engineers, myself included, didn't like them at all. Conductors loved them, and I can understand why. The desk had ample amounts of space for the ever-growing mountain of paperwork the railroad has them doing while I run the engine.

Now, with the latest offerings from GE and EMD, we've gone back to the future with the standard control stand for me and the desktop for my conductor. We all tried so hard to get away from the desks, only to end up getting them anyway.

Oh well, at least they haven't figured out how to make us run trains from office parks yet!

RJ "Kris" Krengel is a locomotive engineer and has worked for Conrail and CSX for the past 13 years.  

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