Hired as an Alaska Railroad Brakeman

by Virginia Horsey

Virginia Horsey had worked for the Alaska Railroad for three years, two as a student tour guide and one as an onboard passenger train supervisor. Now she is climbing the train service ladder and has been hired as a brakeman trainee. Follow her journal and learn what it takes to make the grade on the ARR. Please note the journal should be read from bottom to top.

Virginia Stein2/3/10
Long story short, I spend the summers working my butt off and spend the winters laid off (I'm still pretty low in seniority). In 2008 I spent most of the year hostling in both Anchorage and Fairbanks. Tom and I got married in October 2008 (he's an engineer and conductor).

This past summer I spent most of my time on the Conductor's extra board with a couple short stints on various yard jobs. I was laid off again in October, and will probably be recalled in March or April as per usual, and force assigned back up to Fairbanks.

Since I get laid off every winter, I had to find something to keep me occupied. In October 2008 I entered and won my first bodybuilding show, competing in Women's Figure. I competed again this past fall and added Fitness to my repertoire. I'm currently training to compete in both Fitness and Figure at a couple of state shows this spring, and also plan to compete in the Emerald Cup down in Washington in April. Since last January I've been teaching a group fitness class at Powerhouse gym, and this past October started working the front counter at the gym part-time/on-call. So the gym and unemployment are my source of income while I'm laid off.

That's the past two years in a nutshell. This summer my husband and I will likely be moving up to Fairbanks to help care for my grandmother. We still have a lot of details to iron out, but as of now we're planning to live/work up in Fairbanks for a while. I've still got probably a good three years or so before I start engineer training, so until then I'll be conducting/braking, with the occasional hostling stint.

So I finally got called back to work long-term on Wednesday at midnight.  I knew I'd be marking up at midnight for like a week or more beforehand, so that wasn't a surprise.  I got a phone call at midnight telling me I'd been forced to Fairbanks.  Normally you get rest + 24 hrs. to be at the new assignment, but since I'd just been called back I was already rested, and they notified me at midnight, so I literally had 25 hours before I was on duty.  (I was forced to the 1am yard).  I was told it'd probably be just 1 shift but might be 2, depending on how my 11-D worked out.  Well, I sure didn't want to drive all that way and then turn back around and make the drive again, so I decided to fly.  Cost me a lil over $300, but was well worth it! 

At work, we had a new student brakeman on our crew so basically he did most of the "work" and we explained to him what we were doing and gave him pointers on how to do the job better. While I was at work, crew dispatch called me and said my 11-D went through and I'd be released at the end of my shift.  I would have 10 hours of rest + 24 hours to be on the Anchorage brakeman's board.  We tied up at 9:20am, so I was rested at 7:20pm, 24 hours makes it Friday at 7:20 I'm supposed to be on the board available for call.  I was sooo glad I flew, cuz Anchorage got like a foot (or more!) of nasty slushy snow.

For those who don't know, Tom and I are both up in Fairbanks working...he's on the conductor's extra board and I'm on the brakeman's board. Well, Sunday night we both got called to work the 2030 extra yard. We've been called off the board to work the same crew only once before, and that was like a week after we'd started dating.

So we get to work and go out to NPR (a fuel refinery in North Pole the railroad spots up each day). We spot everything up and go to a hook in Track 4. Once the air's good Tom starts at the rear of the train and I start at the engine end and we inspect the cars to make sure they all set up alright. Now, I haven't done this job but a handful of times, so I didn't know it was out of the ordinary for the conductor and brakeman to both do the air test (usually the conductor walks the set by himself. So we meet in the middle, and he had a couple that didn't set up. So while we were waiting for the cars to charge up he said "I think you'd make a good wife some day" and I answered, "Well I know you'd make a good husband." He said, "You sure?" I smiled and said yep, then right there by a couple of tank cars he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him!!!!! I was sooo surprised!

I got a call from the railroad today.  Short-term recall, guaranteed minimum of 2 weeks back at work.  Yay!  Since it's short-term, it's 30 days or less, but that's 2 weeks of paychecks to make up for the unemployment I haven't gotten. 

So, I got forced to Fairbanks again on Oct. 5th.  Bummer. I get up to Fairbanks, and it snows the very next day.  Brrr.  It was a pretty light dusting, but brought out the crazy in all the drivers in town and it was cold enough it didn't melt while I was there.

I got forced to a hostling job up there, then after I'd been there almost 2 weeks they forced me out of engine service into train service.  They're lucky I'd brought my trainman lantern and gear, because I was sent up there in one craft and could have been totally unprepared for the craft transfer.  I bid-bumped a job, and failed the bid bump.  Didn't matter anyway...I wasn't released from the hostling job until relief was in place.  After I failed the bid bump I went to the Fbks brakeman board.  They woke me at like 7am to tell me I was released at midnight and they should have told me that info when I called at 2300 to tie up.  Grrr.  So the next afternoon I got a call from crew dispatch, and they told me I'd be laid off on the 17th at midnight.  I worked the 1am yard on the 16th, went home and crashed into bed.  I hadn't been asleep for an hour when they called me, just to tell me that even though I was scheduled to be laid off at midnight, I'd receive a call before midnight and I'd work the 1am yard again on the 17th, then be laid off at the close of shift. 

But in the end, it worked toward my benefit...I got an extra day's pay and an extra day of per diem.  I was planning on taking Leave of Absence from 10/20-11/19.  That would have been unpaid vacation time, and would erase what little leave I had accumulated.  So the layoff gave me an extra 2.5 days of vacation, and instead of canceling out my accumulated leave, it will be cashed out in my final paycheck.

Yesterday I got called as the fireman on a Princess charter.  My first road job all summer ~ yay!  So we drop off all the passengers and Princess employees in Whittier, and took the empty coaches back to town.  We got off the Whittier branch, and the engineer asked if I wanted to run.  I'm like, hell yeah!  So I got to drive the train from Portage all the way to South Anchorage!!!  The engineer was like, "You did really good.  Usually people are nervous about running, or can't stay on the speed limit.  You did good."  I had a blast, and it totally made my day! 

Well, I just got back home after 2 weeks working in Fairbanks.  The weather was awesome almost the entire time I was up there!  I'm back on the Fireman's extra board, so for all you non-railroaders, it means I'm back on call and have no life.

Yesterday I took my conductor and hostler tests.  Minimum passing score is a 90%.  I passed the conductor test with a 94%, missed 5 out of 130-something.  I turned in the hostler test, but there was a problem with the answer key, so I had to wait to find out how I did on that. 

Went and did my vision/hearing screening, then got a phone call from the manager grading the tests.  Apparently there were some things that nobody had been taught during their hostler training and none of us passed the hostler test.  He told us to come back at 1:00 to review the test and retake it.  Turns out I got an 87% on the first test.  After the review, I passed the re-take with 100% baby!  :)

For now I'm on the brakeman's board.  Hopefully I won't get forced to Fairbanks.  I like being home, lol.  :)

There's a Light at the End of the Tunnel. It may be as long as the Whittier Tunnel, but I can see it!  lol.

Just got my final student schedule.  I'll be on the same yard job this week and half of next week.  Then I'll have a day off, take my Conductor Rules test and my Hostler test, have a day off, then mark up!  *Whew*  It's been a long winter of training, but I'm almost done and can go back to braking...till I get forced into Hostling or Conducting.  lol.

So I lost my cell phone today while I was at work.  We built/air tested the power for two outbound freights, hostled them, and also looked at a doozy of a cracked wheel inside the diesel shop. 

Didn't notice it was gone until lunch, when I went to call my boyfriend and it wasn't in my pocket  So I jumped in a rig and went to track 1 where we delivered the most recent consist.  I checked both engines, all over the insides of 'em AND the outside walkways...nothing.  I checked inside the rig, in case it fell out there.  No luck. 

So I get back to the lunchroom and call the yard.  The outbound crew is enroute to the other consist, they check all three motors and it's not on a single one of them.  :( 

I checked the pit where we were gawking at a cracked wheel...maybe it fell out while I was crouched there.  Nope.  So I go outside to where we did the air and power tests for the locomotives.  It's breakup season and all the snow is melting...that whole area is a monster slush puddle/ginormous lake.  I borrowed one of the other hostlers' cell phones and kept calling my phone and calling my phone, hoping I'd hear it ring and find it.  That didn't work.

We looked again at the end of the shift.  By then it was dark out, so I tried calling it again, hoping I'd see it light up.  Not out there at all.  :(

So I am phone-less.  I have no way of contacting anyone by phone until I can get to the phone place tomorrow and buy a new one.  Grrr.
One bright spot:  Hey, at least I'm not on the extra-board! 

I drove engines today!!!!!  :)  I started hostler training yesterday...that was pretty much an observation day for me and the other student, so we could see what hostling's all about.  This morning we took our fueling tests, and I am now qualified to fuel locomotives.  Whoopee. 

Today we got to start driving locomotives!  :)  It's a bit complicated and tricky to get used to (3 different controls for 3 different types of brakes, a control for direction, and a control for acceleration), but it's a lotta fun!  :)  Practice makes perfect, right?  And if I can have fun practicing, all the better!

I'm sure some of you are saying, hostler?  Huh?  What the heck is that?  Here's the short version of what hostlers do:

Fuel, sand, clean, stock, and wash engines; move engines around the diesel shop/roundhouse so the machinists and electricians can work on them; take inbound locomotive consists and break them up as needed; make up consists for outbound trains and deliver them to the yard.

Only negative thing about this experience...the 6am on-duty time!  (NOT a morning person.)  But it's all good tho.  I'm lovin' it!

It may be Wednesday morning, but it sure seems like Monday! I've been on the 2300 Fairbanks yard since Sunday night...it's been a zillion below zero every day for a while.  This week has been especially bad.  Last night/this morning took the cake.  I showed up for work and it was like 21 below.  When I got off work it was fricken 39 below!!!  Gah!  So I go to the parking lot to start my car and let it warm up before driving back to the hotel and it won't start!  I just got a brand new block heater installed in November, and I'm thinking it's bit the big one already.  Other option would be my battery.  I got my oil changed a few weeks ago and they said something or other about my battery, but it should be fine for several more months.  I'm thinking that's not the case.  So anyways, I had a coworker jumpstart my car, and when we opened up my hood, the windshield washer fluid hose snapped.  Cracked right in two.  Argh!  It's supposed to start warming up...weather channel says to expect it to be in the negative 20's tonight, negative teens tomorrow night, and warm up through the weekend.  Great...weather will get tolerable just in time for me to leave.  Like I said...feels like a Monday. 

When I went to work tonight (well, technically last night) it was somewhere in the single digits.  Before the end of shift, it was 15 below!!!  I was freezing!  Guess it's time to pull out the bibs...long johns and flannel-lined jeans aren't doing the trick anymore...grrrr. 

Another downside to this cold weather...takes bloody forever to do a freaking air test!!!  Took us most of our shift to air test the Whittier freight and kick out 4 bad orders.  Stupid freezing cold!!!!!!!!!
Isn't breakup season supposed to be starting here in a month or two?  Sheesh...the temp has some catching up to do!  I guarantee global warming isn't as big a deal as scientists are making it out to be.  They just need to spend a couple months up here in AK and all those global warming complaints will be gone!  lol.

So, for the first time in my railroad career, I've worked in Fairbanks.  A couple of weeks ago, I was notified that myself and a few other student conductors would be pulled out of training and marking up as brakemen.  At the time, we were short of people, and they needed to pull us out of training to catch up I guess.  Well, my boyfriend was up in Fairbanks at the time doing his engineer training, so I bid on a relief yard job up there, and got it!  I started working the job on Friday.  Well, my boyfriend was due for a new schedule starting Sunday, and he ended up on the same job I'd just bid to.  :)  So we got to work the same shift all week long...it was great finally having the same schedule for once! 

Surprisingly, it wasn't as cold as I was expecting.  Don't think it got below 0 once.  Yay! 
Since I'd never been to Fairbanks before, it was difficult at first; I had a new yard to learn, and had to learn how we spot up different industries, etc.  But I'm definitely glad I was able to see Fairbanks for the first time as a brakeman, and not as a student conductor.  And the relief yard was a great job to bid onto because they do a little bit of everything...not just switching in the yard all day long...gave me a chance to see what goes on in Fairbanks.

I'm back in Anchorage now, and back into training tonight...I'll be working the 2000 yard this week and next, then the irregular the week after that. 

My boyfriend and I are both in training right now...he's a student engineer, I'm a student conductor. He's been sent to Fairbanks for training last week and the next 2 weeks. We'd asked to do the Fairbanks portion of our training at the same time, but the manager doing my schedule said no, I needed more Whittier experience and put me on the irregular freight this last week. Guess where Virginia still has yet to go for training...yep, Whittier. My week on the irregular: Day 1-dogcatch; Day 2-we weren't needed; Day 3-5-Seward Coal. The Seward trip was looong. Instead of the usual one tie-up in Seward, we tied up twice. We got in Thursday afternoon, and were expecting to come on duty about 11pm or so and take the train back to Anchorage. Well, the conveyor belt at the coal-dumping facility broke and they had to fix it. So when they got it fixed, we had to dump the coal, put the train back together, and airtest it. It took a while to fix the belt and by the time they were ready for us to dump, we'd been off for 28 hours! We dumped and air-tested the train, then tied up. We had heard that three avalanches came down, and the state department was wanting to shoot down another one the next day. We were thinking we might not get out of Seward the next day. Thankfully, everything was cleaned up without much of a delay at all, and we were finally on the way back home!

Not too far out of Seward, two trackside warning detectors were out of service. According to our rules, two in a row out of service we have to inspect the train before proceeding. So we got out and rolled our train, and it's a good thing we did, because we found sticking brakes and had to cut out that car. We got that squared away, and started homeward again.

We'd just gotten to south Anchorage, when we hit a moose. I'd never been on a train that's hit a moose before, and let me tell you it was the saddest thing ever. According to the rest of the crew, it was one of the better moose incidents...the moose had just barely gotten dinged by the plow, and dragged a bit. But it was salvageable...almost completely intact. Once we got the train stopped, we had to pull the moose to the side of the tracks out of the way. Then we let the dispatcher know its location and that it was salvageable meat. I know that in the wintertime it's inevitable hitting moose at some point or another, but I hope I never have to see that again. It's such a shame, but there's nothing we can do to prevent it from happening.
We got into Anchorage and tied up just after midnight Sunday morning.

I cleaned my first switch today.  We've had a ton of snow these last couple few days, so I got some practice today.  Cleaned out a couple with a broom, and the last couple they showed me how to use "the wand".  It's pretty nifty.  It's a metal tube that connects to the main reservoir on the engine, and when you turn it on, it forces out compressed air...very handy for cleaning out switches, and a lot easier on the back than using a broom.  It was actually kind of fun.  hehe. 

Today was rather interesting.  Last night a loaded tank car picked the switch points and derailed in the yard.  They finally re-railed it today.  However, due to equipment constraints, it was re-railed with one set of trucks on the lead, and one set of trucks on track 1.  My crew was sent to put the car away in the shop for inspection.  So we had to make a gentle hook on the car and pull it up over the switch points, then line the switch under the car so it would end up on the same track without running through the switch.  Rather interesting.  Before we did that, we cleaned off the switch and saw the points were still gapped, so we had to call section to look it over and take care of it before we made any movements over the switch points.  Quite an adventure!

Lately I've just been going over the last year or so, and comparing who I was and where I was then, to who and where I am now.  If you had come to me a year ago and told me about my life today...I never would have believed you.

I try, tried again...and finally landed the job of my dreams.  And it's wonderful!  I can't see myself doing anything else at this point in time.  I enjoy the work, and I enjoy the people I work with.  Even an amazing job can become drudgery if you don't like your co-workers, and I am blessed to have not only the coolest job ever, but cool co-workers as well.  It has been frustrating at times, but in the end...this is what I want to do, what I love, and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

So this entry is a few days late, but better late than never!

My training schedule this month is M-F, 6am yard.  Thursday, I got off of work and one of the managers asked me, "What time did you get here today?"  "6am"  "Good, we're putting you on the coal tomorrow."  "Ok."  Good idea, since I'd never gotten a chance to work the coal as a brakeman this summer, so I was definitely glad to get a chance to see what goes on before being thrown on one as a conductor.

The Seward Coal was called for 10:15am Friday.  It had snowed a lot overnight, so Crew Dispatch gave us all a 2-hour call to work so we'd have plenty of time to get there.  I arrive at work, and my conductor says, "They just informed us we'll be tying up two nights instead of just one, so if you need to go home to get more clothes or gear, go ahead and do so."  Apparently the coal train had been forgotten when the Holiday train was scheduled, so we were going to have to work around the passenger train coming into Seward as well.

Standard procedure for the coal train is to double Grandview hill.  Basically, we cut off the front portion of our train and leave the rear at Spencer.  Then we take the first chunk of cars over the mountain and tie it down at Hunter.  Then we take the engines back to the cars we left behind, drag them up the mountain to where the front portion is tied down.  We double the siding to the main, and head on down to Seward.

Well, we got the first cut over just fine.  The second cut, we stalled out at the loop.  Turns out the 2nd unit decided on its own to switch over to HEP mode, and was basically operating at half its horsepower.  So once that was all straightened out we had to go back down the hill to where it flattens out a bit, then give it another go.  We barely made it to the top, but we got there!

We get our train together and continue on our way.  Going up Divide hill, we stalled out again!  So the brakeman and I waded through knee-deep snow and tied a zillion handbrakes, then cut away 25 cars which the conductor and engineer took to Divide Siding.  They came back and hooked on the 55 we'd left on the main.  We were getting close to our 12 hours on duty (maximum time we're allowed to be on duty per Federal law), so we just took the 55 into Seward, and left the others in the siding. 

We barely got into the Seward yard and got everything tied down before running out of time! 

The next morning, we were called back on duty for 7:15am and started dumping the 55.  Usually, all 80 cars would be there, and they would dump 2 cuts of 40 cars each.  Since we just had the 55, we dumped those cars in 2 cuts.  By then, the Holiday train had arrived, and we had to make sure we were out of their way.  When we finished dumping what we had there in Seward, we took the engines back to the cars we left at Divide, air tested them, and came back into town and dumped them as well.  Once that was finished, we put everything back together and air tested it and made sure it was ready to go the next day.

Sunday morning we came back on duty and took the empty hoppers back into Anchorage without any interesting occurrences or mishaps.  Parked the train, took the engines to the roundhouse, and called it a day.  *Whew!*  So much for a weekend off, right?  I don't mind too much though...I'm glad to be working over the winter, and not be laid off.  Paychecks are a good thing, lol.

So I've been laid off for a while and haven't been railroading for a couple of months.  Yesterday was my first day of conductor training, and my first day back in the yard...pretty intense!  Things didn't start off too well...my ID badge wasn't working and I couldn't get in...I tried a few different doors, and none of them would unlock for my badge!  So all that made me a few minutes late for work.  I also didn't put my switch keys in my pocket...they were in my locker and we dog-caught a train first thing.  Not a good start for the first day of training.  Thankfully, I have a good crew...and they're patient.  Since it was my first day back in the yard, and I haven't done this in the wintertime before, it took a little bit to get back into the groove of things.  That, and I was having to take on a LOT more at once, as opposed to being a new brakeman.  Got a little overwhelmed there for a bit...plus it was a looong day. I know things will come more naturally the more experience I get.

Today was much better though.  I was early, had my keys on me (tho I didn't need them today), and things were making a little more sense to me.  At lunchtime I discovered my badge is magically working again, and I didn't even have to call Security to get it figured out...sweet!

We all took our final this morning at 6 in the frickin am.  6am comes early, especially if you're not a morning person.  Ugh.  We were all done and had 'em graded by about 9, 9:30-ish.  I got a 99%...yeah!!!  :)  Most of our group got a 99% and we all scored really well. I'm glad I'll be home for Thanksgiving!  :) [Webmaster note: Virginia is now a student conductor. On Tuesday, November 28 she will start "on the job training." Once this has been completed, she will be a full-fledged ARR conductor!]

Yesterday we spent all day learning Track Warrants.  Mmm...yay.  Waste of 8 hours, if you ask me, since all of the TWC territory on ARR has been converted to DTC.  Therefore, we no longer use track warrants.  Today was better though...studied block systems, including CTC (which we DO have).  So today was pretty good. We take our final exam one week from today, then it's homeward bound!  :) 

Well, we've passed the halfway mark in our classroom training.  We've got this week, Monday and Tuesday of next week, then we take our final exam on Wednesday.  Then it's back home...finally!  :)

The instructor we've had the last 2 weeks is the engineer for their field training, so we've got a different instructor for the rest of our training here.  Today was our first day with him, and he's really good!  He's easy to follow, and keeps everyone involved in the lecture. 

Yesterday we covered train lists in class.  It was pretty intense, and takes a bit of math.  (Yes, I said the "M" word).  Ugh...I hate math.  Good thing I love railroading, huh?  lol.  It would have been nice to have a copy of one of our train lists to use for reference, instead of the BNSF train lists they use in the class.  That way, we'd be able to compare ours to what's being covered in class and know what does and doesn't pertain to what we need to know.  I'm sure we'll get plenty of experience once we get back to AK.

Today we took a quiz on train lists, and the rest of the day we spent in ABTH rules going over different air brake tests, making sure the cut is secure before cutting away, etc.  Pretty important stuff, not too difficult though since I've been doing that all summer long.  We got into the timetable a bit today, trying to get ahead in our work so we can get through all our lectures this week without having to go over on any day.  Tomorrow we have the joyous pleasure of going through HazMat all day, and a 50-question HazMat test to take Thursday.  Thank God that'll be open-book!

Today was the last class for the week.  All week long we've been going through some GCOR, and today we took our first test.  It was 100 questions, and I got a 98%.  Woohoo!  In fact, everyone in the ARR group did really well on the test.  For the rest of the day we watched some videos and went through lectures on conflict management, and keeping situational awareness, and a bunch of other stuff.  We also went through a homeland security lecture. 

Week one is over, only 2.5 left to go and I'll be back home!

Today was our first day of training at NARS (National Academy of Railroad Sciences).  We got started at 8am today, and found out our instructor for the next two weeks is the same guy those of us in the second brakeman training class had for our brakeman rules training!  So that's good, because half of us know his teaching style and what to expect, plus he's a good teacher.  There are 26 students total in our class. 

Today was review for those of us from ARR.  We covered GCOR terms and definitions, and went over the first couple sections in GCOR.  Homework was essentially the same as we had the first part of Brakeman training.  But, a refresher is always good. 

After lunch, we were walking back from the Student Center, and a couple of us ran into a guy who was in the second Brakeman class with us this spring.  He ended up quitting partway through the summer and moved back to the states, and nobody's heard from him since.  So we ran into him and caught up.  Small world, huh?

I went to the gym this evening.  The hotel fitness center is pretty lame, just some cardio equipment...no weights or machines.  The front desk has day passes to a 24 Hour Fitness, so Mandy and I got passes and checked the place out.  It's HUGE!!!!!  If you've been to Alas Club West, it has to be *at least* double, if not triple, the size!  I got so lost!  haha.  I was blown away at how huge the place was...and it was pretty crowded, too! 

So yeah...I'm getting settled in alright, and the 50-60 degree weather sure beats 25 and snowing any day!  (hahaha!)

Orientation (for conductor school) was today.  They gave us our airline tickets, showed us how to fill out an expense report to get reimbursed for our meals, and told us to behave ourselves and not do anything stupid.  Then we went over and got our ID badges back and got parking permits. 

We leave tomorrow night (Saturday), arrive in Kansas Sunday, and begin classes Monday.  We'll all be down there until Nov. 22.  Get back the day before Thanksgiving, so at least we'll be able to spend the holiday with family, friends, or whomever. 

I'm totally stoked!!!!

I got a call from work...said they might be doing early recalls, so this next week I might be able to pick up a few extra shifts before heading off to KS for Conductor school!  :)  Wheeee! 

I got a letter in my mailbox at work...

"I am pleased to advise you that your seniority has placed you in the Alaska Railroad conductor's training program...."

Training will be Oct. 30-Nov. 22 in Kansas.  So I get to spend my birthday in training.  *sigh*  But other than spending my b-day away from home....I'M TOTALLY STOKED!!! 

"...Upon successful completion of the classroom instructions, you will be assigned to a terminal and/or conductor for the physical characteristics and familiarization training portion of your promotion."

In my three years in passenger services, not once did I ever see whales from the train.  I was the brakeman on the Whittier passenger train Thursday, and on the way back to Anchorage, we saw 'em!  :)  That was the highlight of my day. 

I felt like crap all day long...I'd gone to the ER on base Tuesday for terrible sinus pain.  My PCM couldn't see me till the 11th and I wasn't willing to wait a week to feel better.  So I go in, and the stupid cracker jack doctor tells me it's definitely not a sinus infection because I don't have a fever.  I get these multiple times a year, every year since sixth grade.  I think I know by now when I have a sinus infection.  And the sooner I get antibiotics, the less painful it is for me.  But nooooo.  Instead, her idea of a cure is Afrin, Endex, and Benadryl and come back in a week if it's not better.  I'd already had more than the recommended daily dose of Sudafed that day and the day before, so obviously OTC wasn't doing the trick.  But whatever.
So I get the meds she says to take and Thursday on the train, it hit me hard.  I was taking the Benadryl every hour, instead of every four hours, and it wasn't doing anything for the pain.  I was in tears from Placer to Snoring and partway back.  (a good hour and a half)  I missed my absolute favorite section of the entire railroad, which just made it that much worse!  By the time we got back to Whittier, I was doing a little better, and the pain was pretty much under control by the time we made it into Anchorage.

So yesterday I started my day with the nasal spray and pills, and I was doing ok.  Got some errands done.  I was at my mom's looking through cookbooks, when it just hit me...hard!  I couldn't focus on the page, the pressure was so bad.  I told my mom, "I need you to drive me to the walk-in clinic.  Now"  She's like "Can't you drive yourself?"  "Um...no.  Can't focus.  It hurts."  We left immediately, and by the time she backed out of the garage, I was in tears.  I was bawling uncontrollably by the time we got to the clinic (which is just down the street).  My mom had to fill out all the paperwork for me, I couldn't bear to open my eyes.  All I did was sign my name where needed. 

So I finally get seen by the doctor, and he says I'm not really having sinus infection symptoms, that it's acting more like a migraine.  I've never had migraines before, so I don't know.  So he has me try some migraine medicine.  After about 20 minutes or so, it had done nothing, so he wrote me a prescription for Augmentin (a very good antibiotic to wipe out sinus infections!) and Vicodin.  He also sent me to a place to get a CT scan, to make sure it really was sinuses, or if it's something else.  So I got the scan, and it's a very severe sinus infection.

So anyways...with my job, we have to report any prescription meds we're taking to Human Resources so they can approve us for work while on them.  However HR is closed on weekends.  I got a call this morning telling me I was sitting for a job to protect the Seward Cruise train for a few days (which woulda been fun!).  But I was pretty sure that if I had to take a urine test anytime soon, they wouldn't approve of me being on duty with Vicodin in my system.  So I called up my supervisor, he gave me the HR lady's cell number, and I called her.  She told me Vicodin is a narcotic, and I have to mark off sick while I'm on it.  So I can't go back to work until twelve hours after I take the last dose of Vicodin.  :(  I called my supervisor back, and he marked me off sick with Crew Dispatch.  So I'm off work until further notice, and my sick pay won't kick in until the fourth day I'm off sick.  Hopefully I won't have to be off that long.

So...pray that I get better soon.  Even with the Vicodin, it still hurts, it's just more of a dull ache than excruciating agony.  But it sucks, I missed a whole weekend worth of road rate, and some fun time in Seward, all because of my stupid head, and the stupid ER doctor who just *knew* I was wrong.

Passenger season/beginning of layoffs will be in about 3 weeks, and I still don't know if I'm going to be laid off or if they'll put me through Conductor training.  I hope it's the latter, but either way I wish they'd tell me so I can make plans for the winter.

This summer has been crazy busy, with work, and everything.  I love my job, and finally feel I've found my niche.  Haven't gotten much sleep lately, and I think that's a contributing factor to whatever I'm coming down with right now (please don't be bronchitis!).  But the extra board life is something I just need to get used to, and roll with the punches. 

I'm so fricken sick of all this rain!  At least the sun's peeking out a lil bit now...maybe it'll stick around for a while.

Last Thursday I worked the 8pm yard.  The 6:45 yard is the one that puts the passenger trains away at night.  Thursday, we put it away...when it arrived at 1:30 in the morning!  All the rain caused delays all along the mainline up north, and even caused mainline and highway closures for a couple days.  Insane!

I swear, the way the weather's been I feel like I've been working in Whittier the past couple of weeks!

Yesterday I got to ride in a hi-rail for the first time ever!!!  We got driven up to Talkeetna and a MOW crew hi-railed us up to Susitna to hop on the SB freight train.  It took *forever* to get back to Anchorage!

Black suit again!

Today Don Young had a special charter out of Seward.  We took the equipment from Anchorage to Seward, then the regular Coastal crew took that train north, and we took the Coastal back to town.

I guess people actually read these blog entries...I was lining behind at Portage on the way down, and a man taking pictures asked if I was the famous Virginia Gray.  lol.  Awwwww.  :)

Overall it was a pretty lax day.  We had 3 meets southbound.  When we got to Seward, we wyed the train and spotted it at the depot, then went on release.  We were back on duty at 5:30 and took the Coastal back to town.  We got into the depot just minutes before going dead.
And an added bonus:  I didn't get asked either of my 2 pet peeve questions!  :) 

Shame on you dummies who decided to hop on our train yesterday!  If we hadn't had to stop to get a roll-by for you, and then stop again so you dummies could get off...I might not have had to spend the night in Whittier!

FYI...if you're not a railroad employee...if you're not a member of our crew...if you don't have permission to be on railroad property... STAY AWAY!!!  I'm so sick of all you people who just traipse along our tracks like it's your backyard.  I don't care if you live nearby or whatever.  Stay away from the railroad tracks.  And as much fun as it seems...don't be climbing onto a moving train.  It's not safe, it's not smart.  We get special training on how to properly mount/dismount moving equipment.  And it freaks out the train crews when you get too close, because we have no idea who you are and what you're doing there!  So stay away from the tracks!!!!!

I got called yesterday to work the Whittier freight.  They said we *might* have to tie up down there, but it was likely it would just be a turn (meaning we would take our train down, do some switching, and take a train back to Anchorage).  Welllll...around the Spenard area of town a couple of dummies decided it would be fun to hop in one of our gondolas.  We got a call on the radio from the dispatcher telling us to stop our train immediately.  Once we were stopped we were told we might have a passenger.  There was another train near the rear of our train, and they checked out what they could see and didn't see anyone.  So we continued on, only to be stopped by the conductor on a nearby gravel train who spotted a couple of guys in one of our gondolas further up our train.  So we had the wonderful pleasure of stopping again until dumb and dumber climbed out and went on their merry little way. 

We started going again, but we were too close to the road crossing to activate the gates, so the conductor and I had to light some fusees and block the crossing so the train could go through without hitting any cars or getting run into.

If that wasn't enough, we were held up while some track welders replaced a section of rail.  The dispatcher could have given us authority through the siding and we could have just bypassed the workers, but for whatever reason we had to wait a little while, then continued on once we got authority.  It took us four and a half hours to get to Whittier!!!  (almost twice as long as it should). 

We got down there and it was raining a bit, but not too bad.  The yard there was almost completely plugged up, so we came down the only empty track and waited about an hour while the other crew on duty there did some switching to clear us an opening.  We did some switching the rest of the night, then tied up in Whittier 15 minutes before we would have gone dead.

Today we were back on duty at 7:45am.  We did some switching, loaded the barge, put together our train, and left.  We were back in town, passing by the QAP gravel pit and got a roll-by from the gravel train crew.  They noticed a big ol' piece of banding had snapped and was dragging, so we had to walk back about 5 or 6 cars and secure it so it wouldn't cause any problems.  Put in just shy of 10 hours today.  I am *exhausted!*

Friday I went to bed about 11pm...got my phone call at 1:30 to work the 3:00am gravel train.  Wow...was I tired!  We could have gotten the whole thing dumped, but the QAP guys had a dump door open up early on them and spilled a load of gravel on the ground instead of over the dump pit.  So we had to stop for a while so they could shovel it.  So the relief crew ended up having to finish dumping our train for us.

We tied up for 10 hours of rest, and I went to see a movie with a friend.  Went to bed about 10pm, got called on rest...got my phone call at 12:30.   

I was so exhausted all day long, but somehow I got through it.  We got the whole thing dumped, and went dead halfway through our runaround and had to stop right then and there.

On the Ground...almost.

Monday I worked a Seward Freight.  It was raining pretty hard the whole time.  When we got down there, we gave Shoreside their first spot. On our way over there, the conductor and I were riding the point.  We were close to the crossing and we had to stop the train.  The road crossing is a dirt road.  A grader had been by to alleviate all the potholes, and it had left a good couple of inches of piled road dirt on top of the tracks! 

Thankfully, it was still raining and the dirt and mud was still soft.  The flange was able to dig in the groove, and the cars stayed on the rail. *whew!*

Tuesday we came back on duty and had to pull the tanks we'd dropped off, and spot some more.  The grader had really been going at it, and the conductor and I had to shovel for a bit to get the rails cleared up enough for us to cross the road.  That was rather irritating. The rest of the trip went well.  Still rainy (blah) but overall not too bad.

Yesterday (Wednesday) I worked at Whittier.  We deadheaded down, worked till we went dead, and deadheaded back.  It was a beautiful, sunny day...I even got a suntan!  My hands and wrists are still super-pale from wearing my mitts.  lol.  It's a pretty wack looking tan line.  We did a ton of switching around the Whittier yard all day.  When we were done, we went to go through the tunnel but they closed it for maintenance.  We waited almost an hour total before they finally let us through.  That was a looooong day.

Today we got a 1/2 hour early quit, but we didn't get a lunch.  So we pretty much worked a full day with no lunch.  Oh well.  I got home and was chillin in front of the TV when I got a call from Crew Dispatch.  She said my conductor just got bumped, and he wanted to know if it was ok with me if he bumped me.  I thought that was really nice of him...if I'd wanted to stay on the job he would have bumped another conductor.  But I'd rather be on the board working more and making more money, so as of midnight I was officially bumped off my yard job and I'm now back on the Brakeman's board.

As of right now it looks like I won't be working until sometime Monday.  I'm sitting for the Seward freight, but even if the holes change, the jobs on either side of that are road jobs (which pay better than yard jobs). 

I won the bid on the 1500 yard, so now my sleeping schedule will be slightly more normalized!  lol.  The bulletin doesn't take effect until tomorrow, so I'm working the 2000 again tonight, then I'll have tomorrow off, and work Sat -- Wed.  The earliest I'll be off is 11 pm and the latest I'll be off is 3am, so I can handle those hours.

- - -

Well, I noticed I only had 2 cushions below me on the extra board, and a bunch of guys just went to engineer training.  So I was thinking that would open a bunch of holes in Fairbanks, and since there were only 2 below  me I'd be likely to be forced if that was the case. 

To avoid getting forced to Fairbanks, I started bidding on yard jobs, and I actually won a bid!  However, it's for a night shift (8pm) and as soon as I won the bid I got two MORE cushions...so I would have been set if I stayed on the board. It's alright though...the conductor and engineer on my job are cool to work with.  I really hate working nights though, so I put in a bid for the 3pm yard.  That closes today, so if I got it, I'll find out today or tomorrow.

I am bushed!  First thing we did was relieve the Denali Star when the crew went dead.  Then we spent the rest of the night putting away all the passenger trains as they came in and also did a bunch of switching putting together a charter train consist. 

I HATE RATCHET BRAKES!!!!!  Especially the ones on Holland and Princess coaches.  Grrr.

We only worked just over 8 hours, but it feels like we did a 10-hour day.  Workin' hard for the money! It is now bedtime.  :) 

Well I finally got to work my first passenger train as a brakeman!  Black suit, hat, everything.  Surprisingly I was really out of my element...I know how to be a tour guide.  I know how to be a supervisor.  But being a brakeman on a P train is a whole other ball game. 

If I never hear these two questions again that would be fine with me:
1.  So, is it brakeWOMAN or brakePERSON?
     My answer:  "What does the hat say?"
2.  So what does the brakeman do, work the brakes?

Worked a Whittier yesterday...beautiful, sunny weather!!! We were supposed to deadhead down, work, tie up overnight, work the next day and take the train back to Anchorage.  Instead we deadheaded down, worked till we went dead on hours and deadheaded back to Anchorage.

I just got my next call to work, I'll be working 6:45 this evening, and the engineer and conductor are both women, so it'll be an all-female crew tonight.  :) 

I worked the 4:45am yard today...man, was I tired!  I was hanging out with some friends last night and didn't get to bed till about 11:30-ish.  I got my call to work at 3:15am.  So the conductor and myself are in the lunchroom, and no engineer.  Come 5:00, still no engineer.  Turns out he worked the Seward passenger train last night, and wasn't rested for this job, plus nobody had notified him that he had won his bid on the 4:45am yard.  We ended up stealing the engineer from the 20:00 yard and used him until an engineer could be called for us.

We spotted the Seward and the Fairbanks, and we were doing an air test on the Whittier when the yard called us up and told us to tie our train down immediately and take the Fairbanks passenger northbound until they could call a relief crew.  That would have made a nice little paycheck, but things ended up working out that we didn't have to after all, and the Denali Star continued on.

After lunch, we had some switching to do.  Unfortunately, all the tank cars we had with us wouldn't fit in the track we were told to put them in.  So we ended up putting as many as would fit in that track, then stuck our engine and the remaining tanks in the inside track at the depot and waited for the gravel train to pass us by.  Once they were past, we stuck our remaining cars in another track. 

After that we only had a little more switching to do.  So today started off a bit crazy, but mellowed out in the end, and ended on a pretty good note I'd say.

I now have hanging in my closet my brakeman's suit for passenger trains!  Suit, hat, and all!  I picked it up on Friday (or was it Saturday) and ironed it and put on the railroad buttons...it's all spiffy now!  Can't wait till I get called for my first P train as a trainman...how cool that will be!  :)

So Tuesday night I was called for the 10pm Seward freight.  We took a bunch of tank cars down, spotted some of them down there in Seward, then we were put up in a hotel until called again. 

We were called back on duty and had to wait for the passenger train to leave, then we did a little more switching, picked up a few more cars, then headed on out.  We had a set out and a pickup at Crown Point.  By the time we got there it was starting to rain just a bit.  My boots are still not waterproof, even after using leather waterproofing cream.  Oh well.

They decided our crew needed to make a little side trip into Whittier and tack that train onto ours and take it all into Anchorage.  I learned from my last rainy shift experience and wore my rain bibs, so I stayed nice and dry.  When we got to Portage, we cut off all our cars and backed the engines into Whittier and coupled them to the locomotives on the Whittier train.  After an air and power test and arming the FRED, we headed back out.  When we got back to Portage, we had to remove the FRED from the rear of the Whittier train.  Then we coupled it to the cars we brought up from Seward and armed the FRED on the back of *those* cars.  After that was done, it was a relatively easy trip on back to Anchorage. 

I also got my pay stub in the mail...and I finally got my first raise!  :)

I found out Thursday night that my work boots are not waterproof.

Other things I've learned: 
- My ARR yellow rain jacket still works.
- Carhartts that are completely soaked through don't move with you, therefore making it quite tricky getting onto moving equipment. The aforementioned soaked pants also get quite chilly when the wind blows on them.
- It might be a good idea to wear my rain bibs even if I don't think it's raining that hard to prevent the above situation from happening in the first place.  lol..

Working outdoors in the rain stinks.  But at least I have a heck of a fun job!  :)

Tonight's my last night working nights (8pm till anywhere between 4am and 8am).  When I get off in the morning, I'll have the rest of Sunday off, then I'll mark up Monday at 00:01.  I still need to decide if I want to go straight to the brakeman's board and risk getting forced to Fairbanks, or if I want to bump one of the 3 guys below me who have steady yard jobs even though I don't really want to work any of those shifts all the time.  I like the board because I get a good mix of yard and road jobs.  I like having variety.  I've still got a day to think it over before making a decision though.

So this last week I worked 6 days, and got overtime each day.  Plus I got 3 meal penalties and 2 dogcatch penalties.  That'll be one sweet paycheck!  :)

I worked my first gravel train today.  I really enjoyed it!  We went out on base to pick up our train.  Both engines were locked, and nobody had a key, so they had to "break in" to the lead unit, and we had to wait for a key to get into the rear unit. 

Once we got underway, we went north to Pittman and loaded 80 cars.  It gets rather boring after oh, about an hour of watching gravel pour into hoppers.  *yawn* 

When all the cars were loaded, we headed south to the QAP dump pit, and cut the train into 3 different chunks, and proceeded to dump them.  That was pretty cool.  We were getting pretty close to our 12 hours, and the relief crew got there when we had about 10 or 12 cars left to dump, so they finished that up and took the train to Anchorage for us.  A long day, but it wasn't bad at all.  I really enjoy the gravel trains!  :)

So yesterday I checked the board, and I was second out and looked like I was sitting for an 8am Whittier today.  Wrong-o!  I was just about to leave my friend's place to go home and hit the sack, when I got my 1.5 hour call to work.  So I worked the 10pm deadhead to Whittier. 

We did some switching down there, then took our newly made train up toward Anchorage.  We waited at Portage for a good 2 hours, waiting for the Coastal to pass us by, then we got authority to proceed.  We ended up going dead on hours (12 maximum) and were relieved at Brookman, then deadheaded back to Anchorage.  A loooong day (night?), but I really enjoyed it.  Yes, more yard tracks to learn and become familiar with, but other than not knowing which track was which, it was a blast! 

I've only been to Whittier twice:  Once was pouring down rain, the second was whiteout conditions.  The entire time we were there we had clear skies, and it was a little cool, but a very comfortable temperature.  So all in all I think it was a great first Whittier freight experience! 

So Monday I had my first real job after training.  Yay!  I worked an extra yard shift.  First thing, we went to relieve a gravel train south of town.  The conductor and engineer were on the head end, and I got to ride the caboose all by myself!  It was a blast!  We waited *forever* though.  First, we had to wait for another gravel train to finish whatever they were doing, then we had to wait for a passenger train to go by.  But we finally got out on the main line, I lined the switch behind, and off we went to the yard.  There was a bunch of waiting, then dinner, then we did some switching and went home.  All in all, a pretty good day.  :)

So yesterday I got forced to Fairbanks, then got back onto the Anchorage brakeman's board, all in a matter of a few hours!  Rather interesting story, actually.  But first things first:  I got second in my class, and the girl from Fairbanks got first.  So we girls beat out all those boys!  haha!  I know I worked hard and studied hard, and I'm happy where I am right now!

Our class got laid off for a week right after we took our rules exam.  We were told we'd receive a phone call telling us our test scores and letting us know when we came off of layoff.  Friday (yesterday) came, and still no call, so I called Crew Dispatch to see if I was marked up yet so I could bid on the job bulletin.  We were marked up, and they congratulated me on my seniority (which I didn't know about yet).  I was definitely excited about getting second!  :)

Well, I was having dinner with a friend when I got a phone call from the railroad:  I was being forced to Fairbanks, but since I had the highest seniority of those being forced, I got to pick which job up there I wanted.  After dinner I went in to get directions to the yard office up there.  Turns out the girl from Fairbanks hadn't bid on any jobs in Fairbanks, so she got forced to Anchorage, and the rest of the class got forced to Fairbanks!  I asked if we were allowed to trade, but I guess there's some clause that doesn't allow it.  

Well, when I got home I called her up and let her know she could stay at my place while I was up there and she was down here, and she didn't know what I was talking about.  She didn't know she was even marked up, much less forced to Anchorage.  However, it all worked out in the end and I'm back on the brakeman's extra board.

Haven't posted in a while cuz I've been so busy working and studying!  But here's a quick rundown.  It's just been switching all over the Anchorage Yard.  It was frustrating at first because I didn't know the yard tracks, but now I'm starting to know which track is which and where they connect, etc. so I'm getting the hang of it better. 

I've been studying like crazy lately.  I have my rules exam at 8am tomorrow, so wish me luck!  After we get our test results, they'll be laying us off for a while, probably until the big bulletin goes into effect on the 19th I think it is.  I'm totally stoked for the summer.  I've jumped in this with both feet, and I'm still loving it, and can't wait till I get called for some road jobs and get out there and do that. 

I'm not going to write regularly about the on the job training. It's pretty much the same old thing every day...switching cars in the yard. All in all, it's going pretty good.

6am comes early.  Too early.  But that's when I started work today.  The crew I'm with for the next couple of weeks is really cool and I like working with them. 

Today we did some switching in the yard.  All those tracks...gets a little confusing, but I know that the more I'm out there the more familiar it will become.  All it takes is time and practice.  I started out the day with an oopsie.  I cut the cars away from the engine and forgot to close the angle cock...ended up plugging the engine.  Whoops.  But other than that it went pretty well for my first day. 

I've got the next two days off, then it's back for more!

Today was it!  On the RDC one of the instructors drew names out of a hat to determine switching partners.  My name was drawn first, so we were able to get the switching out of the way first, then do the other parts of testing.  We both did a pretty good job at the switching, and only missed a few points for little things.

When we got done, we joined the other students for the other two parts of the testing.  They had an articulated car with pieces of duct tape on it, and each piece of tape had a number.  We got a piece of paper with # 1-54 on it, and had to write down which car component went with each number.  I missed 2.5 on that one.

The last part of the test was to go to the other cut of cars.  We had to write the car number on a piece of paper and inspect each car and write down all the defects.  That took FOREVER!  I got done, but I hadn't found them all so I had to go back and find the rest of the defects. 

When we got back to Anchorage, we got our schedules for the OJT for the next 2 weeks.  Then they took us one by one into a room and basically told us overall how we did, what to work on, what we're doing well. 

So...the next 2 weeks I'll be working in the Anchorage yard.  I'll let you know how that goes!

Today was pretty much a review of everything we've learned these last 2 weeks.  The 3 who hadn't gone through DTC yet did that, and the rest of us were able to go over anything we didn't remember, weren't clear on, or wanted more practice with.  

Towards the end of the day we did some more switching practice and they videotaped all of us so we could see what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong.  One student was fired for stepping over the rail, back to moving equipment.  It was a scary situation, but at least there was no injury or fatality caused.  So now we're down to 8. 

When we got back to Anchorage, we went upstairs and watched the tape from the day and were able to evaluate how we were doing with switching, and see what we need to work on.

The broken rail was fixed, so we were good to go.  Today started with some on-and-off's, then 6 of us went with one of the instructors to get intensive instruction on DTC, and the other 3 pretty much reviewed the rest of the day.  In DTC class we went through some scenarios and practiced copying authority and releasing it.

We're down to 9 students now.  One quit yesterday for family reasons, and one made today's newspaper.

Today we started by crossing over the boxcar and releasing the handbrake.  Then we each had a car and bled the air out of that car.  When we were done with that we did some more practice tying and releasing different hand brakes

Next we did some more switching practice, then had lunch.  After lunch we were in groups.  One group learned to do switching and not let the engine get by the switch person, and the others did some knuckle practice and also learned how to arm the FRED.

On our way out of the yard to get back to Anchorage, they noticed a broken angle bar and stopped.  We all got out and took a look at it.  Right between two joints in the rail, the angle bar had cracked all the way through on both sides.  One of the instructors pounded a few spikes to keep the rail in place as much as possible, then the engine *inched* over the broken rail as slowly as possible so it wouldn't derail.  The instructors let Mantenance of Way know about it, and we headed home.

I was just thinking . . . this is our 4th week of training.  We've been at this for almost a month.  Time sure flies.  I'm learning a LOT and having a blast doing it!  We've been doing so much that I may have things a little bit out of order today ~ it all kind of runs together in my brain now.  lol. 

Last week we were blessed with nice, sunny weather.  It was overcast and a bit nippy out today.  Wouldn't have been bad at all, if it wasn't for the wind. 

Today we started off with some lantern practice.  We reviewed our lantern signals and then practiced on-and-off's with lantern in hand.  That was tricky.  Then we got on and rode up and down the yard for a bit and practiced hanging on while giving lantern signals. 

Another train came through and had some stuff to do, so we had an early lunch and a pop quiz.  After lunch we started something new:  Switching.  And we spent the rest of the day working on that.

Our task was to pair up, one person at the switch and one in the field, and switch two tank cars.  My partner and I went first and somehow managed to get it done pretty well.  About halfway through the group, another train needed to do some switching around the area we were in, so we moved into the clear. 

While the other train was switching, we all practiced uncoupling air hoses that still had air in them, then laced them back up and put air in for the next person.  It was quite a bit harder than doing it with no air and some took a little longer than others, but we all got it eventually. 

Once the other train was done doing their stuff (a couple of them were pointed out as good examples of what NOT to do), we went back to where we left off.  Once each team had gone, we went through the rotation again with the roles switched and did the same procedure again.

I think we left Ft. Rich just in time, because just as we got back to Anchorage, it started raining! 

We had the first student drop out, so now we're down to 11. 

Today we got on the RDC and went north up the Anchorage Yard a bit, and they had us look at our yard maps and tell them what track we were on.  There are quite a few tracks there, so it took some lookin' to get oriented.  After a little bit of that, we went to a standing cut of hoppers to begin our drill.

First, they showed us how to properly cross through the hoppers, since they don't have a back platform (the hand brakes are at the top of the end of the cars).  Our drill was to start at one end, climb up the ladder, tie and release the handbrake, climb down, and move to the next car.  A couple of them had the handbrakes right next to each other, so we had to tie the first brake, then walk to the other end of the next car, cross over, and come back and tie the adjacent brake.  We had a 15-minute time limit to do 10 brakes.  It was a bit of a workout, but it was a lot of fun too! 

As each of us finished, Animal would have us do a few certain hand signals and asked us the definition of Restricted Speed.  When everyone was finished, we practiced lining some switches and a derail, then took the RDC over to the shop area.  We took tours of the Roundhouse and Back Shop.  Then we got back on the RDC and took a little trip south of town.

Along the way, they had us identify signals, among other things.  When we got to a dual-control switch, they showed us how to operate it, and we each got to practice flipping it to "hand", lining the switch, then flipping it back to "power".  Then we continued southward, continuing to identify signals, etc.

When we got to Potter, we waited for the Northbound Whittier Freight.  When it arrived, we all gave it a roll-by, then headed back to the Yard.  Once we got back, we took a tour of the Car Shop and got to go through a passenger coach (brings back memories).  We went back outside and saw some truck assemblies and identified the different components, and also saw an articulated flat car.  Then we took the RDC just a little bit farther north of the Car Shop and walked back to the AOC. 

Today we learned quite a few hand signals, then did a couple on and off's.  Next, we split in half.  My group's task was to take turns doing hand signals to send the RDC to a spot, then bring it into a coupling with a standing flat car, and finally make a cut and send it back to the spot.  We did that for a while, then the groups switched instructors.

The next drill was almost the same as the moving engine drill from the past couple of days, but adding a little more.  First, we cut out the air, then made the cut after the second tank car, then rode the tank car out to the spot then back in and signaled the coupling.  After we'd done that a while we went back to on and off's.

We did a slow one first, then bumped it up to 4mph for a couple of rounds, then rode the sides for about 10 minutes or so while passing hand signals.  I tell you, it's a bitty of a forearm workout!  lol. 

We also grabbed our lanterns and learned how to do night signals.  Lantern signals differ just ever so slightly from the daytime hand signals, and they showed us what to do for that.

Before we left, a bunch of us helped inspect during the air brake test, then we were on our way back to Anchorage.  On the way in this morning, a few of the students had asked me to tell them some of my tour guide commentary.  I just gave them our safety spiel.  On the way back, someone asked again, so I gave the safety spiel again (Mark did flight attendant-esque motions to go with it), then I dug back into the recesses of my memory and somehow managed to give about 95% of the Ft. Richardson to Anchorage commentary.  I even got a standing ovation. Funny...that never happened while I was a tour guide!  lol.

We were videotaped throughout the day, and once we got back to the AOC we went upstairs and watched the tape.  It was really helpful to see exactly what we were doing, and how it looks to the engineer.  On fast-forward, the drills kind of look like the motions to "YMCA".  After that we got our homework and went home. 

Today we worked a little more on what we'd been taught the first couple of days.  We did some hand signals, then went straight into on and off's.  We finally got up to the maximum 4mph!  It's such a rush seeing those cars come at you, and getting on and off without too much difficulty.  It's great.  We did some more riding up and down the yard.  One guy lost his grip toward the end and fell off.  Thank goodness he wasn't hurt!

After lunch and another pop quiz we split up into the same groups as Tuesday and went with different instructors.  Next for my group was learning to identify car components.  So we went over the truck assembly and the air brake system.  There's all kinds of stuff in there.  That was pretty interesting.  Once we were done with that, we switched instructors again and learned about switch components. 

Last, we went back to the drill from the day before:  Making the cut, riding the engine out to a spot, and riding it back in and signaling the engine into the hook.  That drill's a lot of fun.  I could do it all day long.  lol.

On the way back, Mandy and I were up front with the engineer and a trainer.  We did hand signals and lined switches to get the RDC out of the yard, and we also aligned the split rail derail and lined it back to derailing position behind.  Then we lined the switch to get onto the main track and restored it behind. The whole time we also called out crossings and signals, etc. 

Weeeelllll...I'm definitely feeling yesterday.  My back and shoulder muscles are pretty darn stiff.  I slept with a heating pad on various parts of my back last night, so I'm sure it could definitely be a lot worse.  On the RDC we went over the homework.

We went over the hand signals from yesterday, and also learned some new ones.  Then we practiced mirroring someone giving a signal.  This is used when one of us would be at the end of some cars, if the engineer couldn't see the person giving signals, someone else could stand between and mirror those signals so the engineer would know what movements to make.  Once we pretty much had the signals, we went on to the next lesson:  Getting on and off moving equipment.

Let me tell you, it's a trip seeing these huge cars coming at you, and being able to get on and off them without injuring or killing yourself.  It's really quite fun!  We started off at less than 1mph, and by the end of that segment we were up to 2mph.  Maximum speed for getting on/off moving equipment is 4mph, so we've still got a ways to go.  They had us all line up about 20 ft. apart, then the engine and 11 cars came by.  We had to get on and off each car as it came by.  Once the whole cut came by, it went the other direction.  We did that several times, increasing the speed a bit at a time to work us up to 2mph.  Once we had a handle on that, it was *almost* lunchtime. 

Before we could eat, we had to ride those cars to the RDC.  There are 12 of us in the class, and only 11 cars, and one of those cars (flat car) you can't get on it while it's moving or ride the side.  So we got on the first bunch of tank cars, I got on the leading end of the boxcar, and they stopped the train to get people on the trailing end of the box car and gondola, then we got moving again.  We rode the side of our car all the way up to the north end of the tracks, then back southward, then back up to where the RDC was parked before we got off to eat.  Let me tell you...I'll be feeling that one in my forearms in a bad way tomorrow!  It was a lot of fun though.

During lunch, we went over Larry's homework questions and took a pop quiz.  It was open-book over HazMat.  For the last question, I was on the wrong chart so I missed all 4 parts of the question.  Ouch!

After lunch, we put everything together.  We took all the hand signals we've learned so far and put it with getting on/off moving equipment, and also added in coupling/uncoupling equipment.  The trainers put an orange hard hat next to the adjacent track about three car lengths away from the engine/cut of cars.  Our task was to give hand signals to come in for a pin, then pull the cut lever, and get the train moving away from us.  Once the car was uncoupled from the engine, we got on the step on the engine and gave hand signals to the spot (hard hat).  Then we stopped the movement with hand signals, and gave signals back to the standing cars to couple them back up.  It's illegal to ride the engine all the way to a coupling, so we had to get off before the coupling and walk the rest of the way to the coupling and give the stop signal before the engine slammed into those cars.  Once coupled, we had to signal for a stretch, and if the coupling worked and it held, it was the next person's turn.  My first time, I had to bring the engine in to couple about three times before one of the trainers had to jiggle the pin lifter to get it to come down and actually hold.  Stupid rusty couplers!!!  lol.  We did that drill one after the other and once everyone had a turn, we got to do it again.  I thought it was great getting to put it all together and see how everything is done in sequence. 

After that we split up into groups of four.  I was in Ian's group, and we did that same drill, just with a shorter distance to the spot.  I could do that drill all day long.  It's actually a lot of fun.  Well, for me, anyways.  But I digress.  Once we'd done that for a while, it was almost time to go back to the RDC to head home.  But first we had to run the engine around and couple to the RDC.  My group rode point on the engine, and Ian used that time to see if we each knew how to tell if a track was lined for our movement or not.  After he lined a couple of switches, when we were coming to the next one I asked if I could line it.  So I did.  And gave hand signals to the next one.  And lined it.  And so on.  I got to do more than I expected, but it was a great learning experience.  Once we got to the bottom of the ladder, we went back northward and I gave hand signals all the way to the coupling.  It was a blast! 

All in all it was a great day.  I'm a little worse for wear, but thank God we didn't have to change knuckles today!  lol.

We took the rail diesel car (RDC) out to the classification yard at Ft. Rich.  Along the way, Ian started at the front of the car and worked his way back asking each of us to tell him what Restricted Speed is.  Only about 3 of us knew it, and another few were close. 

Once we arrived, we got off the RDC and they started us off with some calisthenics, aka Hand Signals.  I'd say we spent a good 15 minutes learning and constantly doing the hand signals.  Once we had those pretty much down, we went on to hand brakes.  We had a cut of about 11 cars, and we each started at one end and worked our way down to the other, tying each brake and releasing it.  By the time I was done with that, I decided I was wearing too many layers.  lol. 

After hand brake practice, we learned the different parts of the rail structure.  We also worked on lacing air hoses.  That was my big hang up at the pre-employment agility testing, but now I finally get it, and it's really not all that hard.

Next, we had the *privilege* of putting knuckles together.  Those knuckles are HEAVY!  (About 50-70 lbs. each!)  For those of you who don't know, knuckles are a part of the coupling mechanism on cars and engines.  So we broke into groups and the trainers demonstrated how to do it, then we each did one.  I still didn't quite get it, so I did it again.  They also showed us how to take apart and put back the air hoses, and also how to change an air hose gasket.  Not too difficult at all.  We all took turns practicing that also.

After lunch we had more knuckle practice.  Whee.  This time, as he was disassembling the knuckle, the instructor took each piece and tossed it a ways away, and we had to gather the pieces and put them all back.  I went last, and when it was my turn, the trainer took the knuckle itself, crossed a set of tracks, and threw the knuckle over a flat car.  Lucky ol' me got to cross over there, pick the thing up, and carry it back, and *then* assemble everything.  *Whew!*  Definitely not the easiest thing I've ever done.  Not to worry:  The other two guys in my group got to retrieve the knuckle their next turn, so they got to feel my pain too.  lol.

When everyone pretty much had knuckles and air hoses down, we all gathered to learn how to tie and kick off a staff brake.  Not the easiest hand brakes in the world.  Gah.  So we all cycled through and did that. 

On the way home, they passed out our homework (minimum of 2 questions per instructor), our union contracts and timebooks, and we filled out a paper for the union.  They asked us questions along the way to test our knowledge.  It was a long day, but definitely a heck of a lot better than sitting in a classroom staring at PowerPoint after PowerPoint.

After today, not a huge fan of knuckle replacement.  But it's an important thing to be able to do, so no use complaining and moaning, right?  I've got a few callouses on my hands, and during the knuckle segments, I managed to develop a blister in the palm of my hand, pop it, and get the skin rubbed off the top of it.  Not fun.  But I'll get used to it, I'm sure.  lol. 

Today we were issued all kinds of stuff.  We got lanterns, radios, and safety gear (vest, mitts, glasses).  I saw several guys from the P trains today, so that was cool seeing more familiar faces. 

Once we got all of our gear we spent the rest of the day on CBT going through the Haz-Mat program and took the CBT quiz afterward.  The first time I took it, I missed 5, the second time I missed 1, and the third time was a charm:  aced it!  lol. 

Monday starts the field training.  I'm really stoked about that...field training is where we get to take what we've learned in the classroom and do it hands-on!  Stay tuned . . . .

Today started at 7am.  We went over our last homework and took our last quiz.  Then the rest of the day we spent learning Body Mechanics.  It was actually really interesting.  We learned about different grips, how to have better balance, tips for pulling/pushing/lifting, and a whole bunch more.  And the way OSHA says to lift . . . yeah, not the BEST way. 

Once the Body Mechanics class was over, we all went over to security and issued us switch keys.  That was all for the day, so we got out early. 

Today we were supposed to meet over in the AOC, but when we arrived we were told to go over to the Annex instead.  Over the past couple of weeks, they have definitely proven the phrase "On the railroad, everything changes."

So, once we were all in one place, we went over the homework and took our quizzes, then learned about temporary restrictions until lunch.  After lunch we went over to the AOC and spent the rest of the day on CBT.  We all started off with HazMat, then once we finished that and got at least an 80% on the quiz on there, we could go on to whatever we wanted to do on the CBT program.  So I spent a good while playing Signal Mahjongg, then went on to Switching.

Tomorrow, we have the privilege of waking up an hour early.  We have to be at the Annex at 7am for Body Mechanics.  I'll let you know how that goes tomorrow.

Today we covered the key points in the Air Brake and Train Handling Rules.  As far as our rulebooks go, this is the mother of 'em all (size-wise).  It basically covers rules telling us how to perform the different types of air brake tests, and when certain types of tests are required, all that good stuff. 

After lunch, we finished covering ABTH, then the instructor gave us scenarios starting from point A, going along a typical train trip, saying what the train/crew does, then what should we do next, and so on and so forth.  He used those scenarios to cover what we just learned in ABTH, and also had a few things that referred back to GCOR and the timetable.  That was a great little refresher, and helped tie in everything we've been covering so far. 

We spent the rest of the class working on our homework, and got out a little early!

Today was a loooong day.  Jim Seeberger came in and taught us all about ARR's new method of track authority ~ Direct Traffic Control (DTC).  Once he'd explained the jist of things, we all got Mandatory Directive Forms, and got to practice copying and releasing DTC authority.  Sometimes it was a little confusing, but I think I get it now, and it's actually almost a little fun -- kind of like putting together the pieces of a puzzle.  :P  We went from 8am till 11:45, had an hour for lunch, then we had some more on DTC.  It was very long, and kind of challenging, but we got through it ok.  After all the DTC stuff we went over all the homework from the weekend and took 4 quizzes.  Today was long and tiring, but I know I learned a lot.  Now I just hope I can remember it all!  I guess they're really going to be piling on the difficult stuff this week.

Well, we all survived the first week of classroom training.  My hand hasn't fallen off from all the writing yet, so I take that as a good sign!  ;)  Since we're covering some of the heavier stuff over the next week, instead of doing just one or two sections for homework, we've got three to tackle over the weekend.  But it's definitely better to have a bunch of homework to spend all weekend on, rather than doing the same amount in one night. 

Today = more of the same.  Reviewed the homework, took a quiz, lecturing the rest of the day.  Covered the timetable and blue flag/blue signal protection.  At the end of class we had a demonstration of what we should have in our grips.  For those of you who don't know what a grip is, it's basically a duffel bag or suitcase with extra gear, toiletries, etc. we'll need to bring to work with us.  Got done a little early, so that was nice having a little extra time to do whatever.

Today was pretty much like yesterday.  Started off reviewing homework and taking a couple of quizzes.  These ones were a bit tricky on the wording, so we didn't do quite as well as yesterday.  Still pretty good though.  Next we learned some more about GCOR. 

The last couple hours of class were really fun.  We started using a computer-based training (CBT) program developed by the BNSF.  It's helpful with learning everything we need to know, and is also a lot of fun to use!

Today was our first quiz, over the safety rules and GCOR glossary terms.  I only missed one out of both quizzes.  I actually knew the right answer, but for some reason I circled the letter for the wrong answer on my answer sheet, therefore I got it wrong. 

After the quiz, the rest of the day was going over more GCOR rules, then we worked on our homework.

During lunch, I saw Ann and Nancy from the gift shop doing inventory, so I stopped by the room they were in and said hi.  We had a nice little chat, then I went to grab my grub.  It's always great running into past co-workers.  :)

So...today we got our "man-purses"  Big huge binder-thingies with all the rulebooks in them.  It's like three or four inches thick!  And that's without the current timetable!  So we learned all about safety rules today, and went over some glossary terms, as well as rules over Restricted Speed and Movement on Other Than a Main Track.  Apparently we need to know those two rules verbatim.  We had plenty of time during class (and during the lunch break) to get most or all of the homework done, so now I've just got some reinforcement studying to do later this evening.  And memorize those dang rules before the quiz tomorrow.

Started at 8am with First Aid training.  The first class was in with us for that, and there are two other women in there.  One of the guys sitting next to me was telling me and a couple people sitting nearby all about the classroom training (since they just finished it this week) and all the homework and studying.  Says it took him about four hours each day to do the homework, and they have pop quizzes every day.  So that'll be my next two weeks. 

After lunch, we did the CPR/AED training, so all of us are now CPR and First Aid qualified.  I've got the weekend off, then Monday I jump right into things.

Today began at 8:30 with a presentation from my former manager, Sarah Streifert, on passenger operations.  She got done ahead of schedule, so we got a nifty one-hour break!  :) 

During my break I went over to the AOC (Anchorage Operations Center) to get some Operation Lifesaver stuff to Jim Seeberger.  Got there to find my new security badge wouldn't let me in.  Hmmm.  So I went back to the annex, asked Jim Bosch about it and he said to try again...sometimes it takes the system a while to recognize new cards.  Ok.  So I went back.  Same deal.  Someone saw I had a badge and let me in the first door.  I tried the 2nd door and it worked fine.  Then I tried the access pad for the elevator and didn't work.  Grrr.  So I dropped the stuff off, went back to the annex and explained what happened.  Jim and I went over to security and I told the lady what happened.  She checked my badge in the computer, and turns out they hadn't changed my security clearance from last year...so I only had the limited access Onboard Supervisors had.  That's all fixed now.

Next, we have a presentation on port security.  The guy who was supposed to give it ended up not being able to make it because he was in a class, so Jim made that presentation and afterward we got our POA and MARSEC stickers on our ID badges.

Next on the list was learning about passenger emergency protocol.  Watched a video made by Amtrak, circa ohhhh...the 1980's.  lol.  Then Jim Seeberger talked a bit on what to do in an emergency on a P train.  Then we took a test over that info and went to lunch.  We were supposed to be back from lunch at 12:45 according to the original schedule, but we didn't get the test till 12:35-ish.  They were nice and extended lunch to 1:15, then we were supposed to be back to get CPR/First Aid training.  So we all dashed out and grabbed a quick lunch, and hurried back only to find out the lady had just canceled that training, so I was designated to stay in the room and hand out some papers to people as they filtered in, then tell them to go home.  A few guys stayed behind with me, and we just hung out talking till everyone got their packets.  So...first aid is postponed till tomorrow.  Provided things don't change again.  All in all, a good day.

Today was my first day of training at the railroad.  Wheeee!!!  It's been a long time coming, but I finally made it, and I'm going to work hard as I can to succeed in this.  I arrived in the room to find I'm not the only female ~ there's 2 others, and someone said there were a couple in the first training class.  I think that's great that more women are getting into railroading. 

Well, today we listened to a bunch of spiels from different people in human resources, signed our lives away on numerous forms, and learned all about benefits and insurance options.  We also heard from the head special agent on all the security-type stuff.  And we got our ID cards.  I was issued an ID card when I was a 2nd-year tour guide at 19.  They used that same picture last year, and guess what...it's back again!  Meh.  So...my picture from 3 years ago will be immortalized forever more.  Whoopee.  lol. 

So...not terribly exciting, but that was my day.  Stay tuned . . . .

The suspense is over!!!  I got a call from Human Resources this morning, and I made the cut!  I have my drug/alcohol testing and physical exam on Wednesday, then on March 29 I start my classroom instruction!!!  :)

I'll keep updates on here what the training is like, but in case you're wondering...here's a rundown of what I'll have to do in order to make it all the way.  Training is 3 phases, 2 weeks each.  In order to move on to the next phase, you have to complete the first, it's not a cumulative score over the 6 weeks, it's pass/fail every 2 weeks.

Phase 1:  Classroom-style instruction.  Two weeks of class over the General Code of Operating Rules.  At the end of the class, I'll have to take a 200-question exam (which is mostly they give me a term and I write the definition WORD-FOR-WORD).  I have to make a 90% or above, or I fail and have to try again.

Phase 2:  Field Training.  Two weeks at a remote location (I've heard it's Ft. Richardson) learning to operate hand brakes, lace air hoses, make connections, couple and uncouple cars, getting on and off moving equipment, and riding the side of a boxcar for 20+ minutes.  I'm rather stoked about this part...lots of action, lots of fun!  lol.

Phase 3:  OJT.  Two weeks working with an actual yard crew, basically doing the full job under heavy supervision.  The crews I work with at this stage will determine whether or not I can safely and efficiently perform the tasks necessary to do the job.

Once I get through all 3 stages, I'm a full-fledged brakeman...gotta get fitted for the black suit in case I get called in to work a passenger train, join UTU, then I'm on the board...on-call 24/7 to work any job, any time, any place.  :)

I called human resources today, and the lady I spoke with checked my file, said everything looks in order and it looks to her like my name is on the call list.  She said they started calling today, and will finish the calls on Monday.  So...I'm that much closer to becoming the next female brakeman on the ARR.  So...keep praying and keep those fingers crossed!  :)

Still no word from the railroad.  If they don't call by tomorrow, I'm giving them a holler.

I had an interview with the railroad last Thursday, and I should find out by the end of this week whether or not I get to go through training.  Wish me luck, pray hard, cross your fingers, whatever it is you do.  I WANT THIS JOB!!!!!!!  :)


© 2006-2008 Virginia Gray