In Praise of Conductors.

I don’t think many passengers on a long-distance Amtrak train fully appreciate or give proper respect to the conductors working their train.

The temptation is to think of them as mere ticket-takers, but the fact is, anyone who’s an Amtrak conductor has worked his or her way up the ladder and knows a great deal about railroad operations. 

Every new conductor goes through an initial eight-week training program, which includes train operations, emergency procedures, passenger relations, and all of the procedures necessary for the handling of tickets. In addition, the new conductor must be familiar with every aspect of the portion of the train’s route for which he’ll be responsible.

Assuming the applicant is hired, he or she becomes an assistant conductor and works in that capacity for at least six months before becoming eligible for promotion.

Then there’s the paperwork!  Station by station, the conductor officially notes all arrival and departure times (which he confirms by radio with the engineer, who passes that information along to the dispatcher). Should the train be late, the conductor is responsible for filling out a delay report, which includes both the length of the delay and the reason it occurred.

Conductors are subject to the same 12-hour limit of service time that applies to the head-end crew, so if the train is delayed by a winter storm and they hit their 12-hour limit in the middle of a Nebraska cornfield, that’s where the train stops and waits for new conductors and engineers to locate the train, board, and take over.

(That happened to me once many years ago. It was snowing so hard, the relief crew of conductors and engineers couldn’t find the train to assume responsibility and renew our journey.)

And if you have never witnessed an Amtrak conductor remove a troublemaker from the train . . . well, I have on two occasions and it was a privilege to see how skillfully it was done.

Bottom line: If you have a problem while on an Amtrak train, stay calm and see the conductor. He (or she) will take care of it.