Gordon Bowe doesn’t become personal friends with all of his passengers.
But after more than three decades of walking the aisles as a conductor on Metra trains to and from Chicago, Bowe, known by many as “Gordo,” has come to know those who ride the trains from Elburn through La Fox and Geneva, sometimes more than they may know.
VANCOUVER, Wash. — The International Air and Hospitality Academy has added a new program called the Northwest Railroad Institute. The new degree program will be the fourth such program offered in the U.S.
Students taking the six-month program will be provided with training for freight railroad careers including freight conductors, conductor trainees, brakemen, switchmen and yardmen. Training for engineers and passenger conductors is not yet available.
The degree will consist of nine units including yard switching operations, air brakes and train handling rules and hazardous materials practices and handling.
The institute reckons that nearly 20 to 25 percent of the rail workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next couple of years and entry-level jobs will become available.
“A diploma from the Northwest Railroad Institute soon will be a ticket for landing an entry-level job in the railroad industry,” said Terry Keene. Keene is a member of the school’s advisory committee and worked for BNSF Railway for 39 years and was a member of UTU Local 1977.
To start the academy will only be accepting 50 students to the program. Students must have a high school diploma or GED to apply and be at least 18 years of age. The school will start to accept applications for the program beginning June 15 and classes are set to start July 15.
Similar programs are offered at two locations of Modoc Railroad Academy near Sacramento, Calif. and Marion, Ill., and at the National Academy of Railroad Sciences at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan.
Norfolk Southern conductor Larry McVay, 43, caught a bad break Jan. 3 when he lost his right arm and right leg in a horrendous switching accident near Lafayette, Ind.
His brothers and sisters in UTU Local 768 and UTU NS General Committee of Adjustment 687 — and others who read and heard about the accident — know, but by the grace of God, it could have happened to them. They were also deeply moved by a previous tragedy that befell McVay and his wife, Lisa: the 2008 death of their daughter in an automobile accident.
Within days of the Jan. 3 switching accident, a benefit fund was established for the McVay family of Dalton City, Ill.
His brothers and sisters in Local 768 and NS General Committee 687 didn’t stop there.
Recently, Local 768 member Craig Wilson opened the tavern he owns in Decatur, Ill., for a silent auction to encourage further donations to the McVay benefit fund.
Dubbed Larry-palooza, it was a lollapalooza of an event, organized by NS General Committee 687 Senior Vice General Chairperson Dan Calhoun, who coordinated donations of more than 100 items — from local businesses, friends, coworkers, other UTU members and UTU designated legal counsel — for the auction.
There were few dry eyes when fellow conductor Jacob Baines — one of Local 768’s newest members — was recognized as a hero and warmly thanked by McVay and his wife, who were in attendance.
Had it not been for Baines’ prompt actions at the time of the accident — when Baines was serving as a conductor trainee — it is said that McVay would not have survived. Baines was promoted to conductor shortly after the accident.
“In today’s world of so much negative news, this event surely reiterates the good of human nature and the value of UTU brotherhood,” said NS General Committee 687 Chairperson Jason Boswell.
Donations are still being accepted, and may be sent to the Larry McVay Benefit Fund c/o Land of Lincoln Credit Union, 2890 N. Oakland Ave., Decatur, IL 62526. More information may be obtained from the credit union by calling (217) 875-1300.
Those with PayPal accounts may also make contributions through the PayPal website by sending funds to the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictured below: Injured NS conductor and Local 768 member Larry McVay, surrounded by some of his caring brothers.
From left, with McVay, are Local 768 member Craig Wilson, at whose tavern the silent auction was held; Local 768 conductor Jason Baines, credited with helping to save McVay’s life; UTU International Vice President Delbert Strunk; NS General Committee 687 Senior Vice General Chairperson Mark McKee; NS General Committee 687 Senior Vice General Chairperson Dan Calhoun, who organized the silent auction; and NS General Committee 687 Chairperson Jason Boswell.
RED OAK, Iowa — A BNSF conductor and an engineer were killed in a rear-end train accident near here Sunday morning, April 17.
Red Oak is southeast of Council Bluffs and is part of BNSF’s Creston subdivision, which has centralized traffic control, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Killed were conductor and UTU Local 199 (Creston, Iowa) Vice Local Chairperson Patricia Hyatt, and engineer Tom Anderson, both age 48. Hyatt, a resident of Creston, hired on with BNSF in March 2005. Anderson was president of BLET Division 642.
A BNSF spokesperson was quoted in news reports that an eastbound freight train pulling 130 loaded coal hoppers collided with the rear of a second BNSF train pulling 34 cars of railroad maintenance equipment. The accident occurred around 7 a.m, Central Daylight Time.
Reports say 10 of the cars in the lead train, two locomotives of the three-locomotive coal train and the two locomotives of the maintenance train derailed.
Witnesses to the accident told the Des Moines Register newspaper that the lead locomotive of the coal train was engulfed in fire, which spread to at least one of the coal cars.
There were no reported injuries of the two-person crew of the maintenance train.
The tracks on which the accident occurred are used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr as well as 40 freight trains daily, according to the BNSF spokesperson. Reportedly, the line linking Galesburg, Ill., and Omaha will be closed indefinitely, with trains rerouted to other track.
The FRA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident, and a member of the UTU Transportation Safety Team is assisting the NTSB in its investigation.
Hyatt is the first UTU member killed in an on-duty accident in 2011.
In March, a conductor trainee was killed — as was an engineer and a crew-van driver — in Kelso, Wash., when the crew van was struck by a BNSF freight train at a private highway-rail grade crossing. UTU conductor Dwight Hauck, a member of UTU Local 324, was seriously injured in that accident.
In February, UTU conductor Alvin (A.J.) Boguess, a member of UTU Local 623, was seriously injured when he fell 55-feet from a CSX rail bridge over the Jackson River during a switching movement in Covington, W.Va.
And earlier this year, a BLET member, Stanley Watts, was killed in a Norfolk Southern switching accident in Kankakee, Ill.
Eight UTU members were killed in on-duty accidents in 2010, and eight were killed in on-duty accidents in 2009.
Hyatt, daughter of Evan Aubrey Shiver and Christine (Elliott) Shiver, was born Feb. 25, 1963, in Fort Ord, Calif. She graduated from Crystal River High School in Crystal River, Fla. She went on to study for two years in college and served six years in the U.S. Army.
Online condolences may be given under the obituary category at www.powersfh.com.
BOSTON — Some 450 UTU-represented conductors and assistant conductors on Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR) have a tentative new agreement covering wages, benefits and working conditions.A ratification vote is currently underway, with ballots to be counted March 17.
The tentative four-year agreement is retroactive to July 2009, and may be reopened for amendment in July 2013 under provisions of the Railway Labor Act.
Included in the tentative agreement are retroactive pay, a signing bonus, a 13.7 percent overall increase in wages by July 2013, certification pay for conductors, a cap on health care cost-sharing, and a provision that discipline records will not be retained beyond a maximum of 36 months (other than substance abuse violations, which are subject to record-keeping under federal law).
Noteworthy in the tentantive agreement is an increase in compensation for release-time — from the decades-old 50 percent of the full-time rate to 62.5 percent.
The agreement was negotiated by UTU General Chairperson Roger Lenfest and Assistant General Chairperson Dirk Sampson (both, Amtrak, GO 769), with assistance from International Vice President John Previsich. Praised was Local 898 Chairperson Don Wheaton for his input and participation in all aspects of the negotiations.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has reached a separate tentative agreement with the MBCR. The UTU and the BLET negotiated jointly to reach those separate craft agreements, with the expectation that a better agreement for each craft would result if negotiations were held jointly.
The Transportation Communications Union and shopcrafts recently were released from mediation with the MBCR by the National Mediation Board, but a presidential emergency board (PEB) has yet to be appointed.
The recent tragic, senseless and violent murder in New Orleans of CSX conductor Fred Gibbs, and wounding of the train’s engineer (a potential witness whose name is being withheld), accelerates an already urgent need for better workplace safety and security measures for rail, transit and motor coach facilities and operations.
Gibbs and the engineer were shot by a lone gunman (a suspect is in police custody) inside the cab of their intermodal train parked on a dark and isolated stretch of track as it awaited dispatcher clearance to enter a yard in New Orleans. The motive appears to have been robbery of the crew, but the train could have contained a cargo of chlorine gas or other deadly hazmat, and the shooter could have been a terrorist or delusional individual with knowledge of locomotive operations.
Indeed, prior to 9/11, few, if any, envisioned terrorists capable of hijacking and piloting multiple sophisticated passenger aircraft and flying them into high-profile targets; or of terrorists in Madrid, Spain, who coordinated four separate rush-hour bombings aboard packed commuter trains in March 2004.
Many of our members noted immediately after the New Orleans shooting that federal regulations do not require bullet-proof glass in locomotives, tamper-proof and functioning locomotive door locks, “keyed” or electronic safeguards that limit locomotive operation to licensed train and engine workers, or train scheduling and dispatching that restricts the stopping of trains to well-lighted and protected areas.
Certainly these are logical responses to the New Orleans shooting.
But without more expert study and collaboration among experts at the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Transportation Security Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, law enforcement agencies, carriers and labor organizations representing rail, transit and bus employees, we could be overlooking other effective safeguards.
Transportation labor long has been ahead of the curve in calling for greater collaboration among stakeholders, which includes front-line employee training to recognize threats and learn how best to report concerns to dispatchers and law enforcement.
In fact, Amtrak and the UTU recently agreed to a joint project that, in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration, directs almost $300,000 in federal funding to the UTU to devise and implement a training program for conductors, assistant conductors, engineers, on-board service personnel and yard employees to enhance their abilities to recognize behavioral traits of individuals intending to engage in terrorist-like activity.
The UTU is now reaching out to build on this program to effectuate workplace safety as it pertains to terrorist and delusional activities.
We are seeking collaboration among other concerned labor organizations, federal safety and homeland security agencies, and carriers to create an incubator for effective ideas on a comprehensive security action plan, including employee training, that can be presented to Congress for fast-track federal funding.
We are heartened by word from CSX that it has begun a cooperative security venture with other carriers and law enforcement agencies to increase security around interchanges and loops in New Orleans.
The potential threat, however, is nationwide; and as train and engine employees, and bus drivers, are constantly in the cross-hairs of danger as well as being the eyes and ears best and first able to recognize threats, it is essential that transportation labor organizations be an integral part of any effort to improve rail, transit and bus security.
Historically, transportation labor and the carriers have been most successful in achieving policy goals when they act in concert. Where carriers or labor act separately — and often at odds with each other — success often is elusive or falls short of goals.
For any action plan to be effective, all parties with accountability and responsibility must collaborate in the creation and implementation of that plan.
We will be reporting more on this effort in the near future.
When Art Anderson started working for passenger railroads, the Beatles were still together, and everyone still dressed up for work, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Things are a lot more casual these days,” said Anderson, 59, who retires next month after 42 years, the last 20 as a Metra conductor. “You see very few people in a suit and tie anymore, and when you do, you assume they’re an attorney.”
Anderson started his career as a ticket clerk with the Chicago Union Station Co. 1968, after graduating from Senn High School.
(Anderson is a member of Local 281, Milwaukee.)
He moved through a variety of rail jobs, including work in the interlocking tower (where signals are controlled), control center jobs at Amtrak, assistant station manager between 1981 and 1985 and then station manager through 1988, putting him in charge of train operations for the terminal.
His worst day was when Robert Krabec, an off-duty security guard, shot Amtrak baggage handler Marvin Burton to death in 1985.
“I’d known both of these gentlemen since 1968, so it was sad,” Anderson recalled. “We’re all one big family there. I had to calm people down.”
The next year, the station was used for an imaginary shoot-out for the 1987 movie “The Untouchables.” The action was set in the Great Hall, with a baby carriage bumping down the staircase.
“Our police had it cordoned off, but you could see employees and patrons sneaking up as close to the ropes as they could to watch the filming,” Anderson remembered. “It showed up the station very nicely, and we had it all polished up.”
Unhappy with Amtrak management style, Anderson quit as station manager to join Metra in 1988. He became a conductor two years later, mostly for the Milwaukee District North Line to Fox Lake.
His work has included handling many emergencies over the years. Once while collecting tickets he found a passenger dead, slumped against a window. Anderson also has had to escort unruly passengers off the train.
Anderson has seen the aftermath of numerous accidents on the tracks. Conductors are in charge of the train and must go to the scene of an accident to see what happened.
“They seem to come in waves,” Anderson said. He recalled when his train struck two trespassers on Chicago’s Northwest Side, and then just a month later, a woman committed suicide at Devon Avenue. Then around Christmas of that year, the same train, with the same engineer, who had himself recently lost an adult son, hit an automobile. “I thought, oh my goodness, this is the fifth one in six months,” said Anderson, as he rushed off the train to the accident site.
Fortunately, the woman was alive and in good shape, so Anderson immediately called the shaken engineer, saying “‘She’s OK, she’s OK!’ I wanted him to be comforted that it hadn’t happened again.”
After a death on the railroad, “for a day or two you’re constantly thinking about it,” Anderson said. He said he has been able to handle the deaths without the counseling Metra offers, but he considers himself lucky that he has never been present for the death of a child. “That could be a different situation.”
Anderson said his fellow train workers were “very angry, without exception” over the May 7 suicide of former Metra executive director Philip Pagano, who stepped in front of a Metra train. “We believed that no good, professional, railroad man would ever involve his railroad and his employees in that manner,” Anderson said.
Railroading tends to run in families — Anderson met his wife Jo Ann when they both worked for Amtrak in 1971.
Their son Frank “didn’t want any part” of railroad work. But a funny thing happened. Frank met and married Janet, a woman from Mexico whose father was a conductor.
When she first visited Frank’s parents in Downers Grove, the first thing Art did was take her to the basement to show off his collection of old timetables, brochures and train books. Gratified by her polite interest, Anderson said, “That’s it, Frank, Janet gets my collection when I die!”
When Frank and Janet visited her family in Mexico, her father showed Frank his collection of locks, switch keys and other train hardware. “Her dad tells Frank in Spanish, ‘The rest of my family doesn’t care about this. You’re going to get everything when I die’.”
Anderson said there’s a “certain thrill about the railroad.”
“It gets in your blood,” Anderson said. “You feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. You’ve taken 3,000 people safely to their destinations.”
(This item appeared June 21, 2010, in the Chicago Sun-Times.)