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Edition #54, May 15, 2007

Unsung Heroes

Photographer: Dave Hyman

                                                        Photo by  Dave Hyman

Unsung Heroes

The trains keep rolling along oblivious to what goes on behind the scenes; the only concern is to reach their destination. Often they do so unhindered and the journey is simple. Sometimes the journey is less than ideal, maybe the train is held up due to timetables, delays or weather conditions. Today’s railroad infrastructure is complex; there is a myriad of people needed to make the system work, together with sophisticated computer technology, communications and the need to work as a cohesive unit with one goal in mind. To get the train to it’s destination. Some jobs are glamorous, others not. Railroading is often a laborious task demanding dedication and a willingness to make the railroad succeed. The railroad must concern itself with several factors to make it successful. To the casual observer a passing train is seen as a nuisance, something that get’s in the way of everyday life. To a certain group of dedicated professionals a passing train is a sign of pride. It means that they have done their job and kept the railroads moving. These people are the unsung heroes, the maintenance of way crews.

For these people there is no 9 to 5 schedule. they must be ready to work at any time of the day, providing a safe environment for the infrastructure. The rails must be inspected and all problems fixed to avoid any accidents. Tracks are constantly being upgraded; ties need to be replaced, switches re-aligned, crossing gates maintained, signals checked and a host of other tasks performed. All these tasks are performed while the railroad is operating, very often they work just feet from a passing train.

There is no preference for weather. They work in all conditions, 100-degree heat to frozen solid tracks, summer and winter, there can be no delays in responding to the call.

More often than not the job is routine inspection but sometimes the tracks need a major overhaul. Planned in advance, the orders come down from head office and the work begins. Extra crews are coordinated and brought in from other areas to form a working unit. Materials are brought in, ties, ballast and rails. Highly specialized machinery is brought onto the site, each piece ready to perform its task. Each man knows his job, a specialist, and together they work as a team.

Maintenance in urban areas poses a separate consideration for the rail crews. The safety of the trains is paramount. There is also the problem of dealing with public access through railroad crossings while the work is done. Very often when a major overhaul is planned the work is carried out during low traffic hours, sometimes through the night if the urgency to complete the job is a priority.

At other times it’s a simple task of repairs to the track, welds split apart and need to be fixed. Trains are re-routed onto the adjacent tracks whilst welding is done, causing a slight delay in operations while the task is performed. Close liaison with the dispatcher is maintained throughout the procedure and trains are allowed to pass on a “slow order” with “plenty of noise” (continuous blowing of the horns).

At the end of the day a maintenance of way crewman can be proud of his work, knowing that the safety of the railroad is in his hands and he has made sure the trains will continue to keep rolling for yet another day.

Dave Hyman

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Revised: 08/11/13 13:23:56 -0400