Veterans at Amtrak: Oren

Conductors at Amtrak do more than just collect tickets - they are responsible for the safe operation of Amtrak trains and providing top-notch customer service to our passengers. We recently spoke to Oren Rae, a veteran of the Army National Guard and conductor on the San Joaquins train out of Oakland, California about what it is really like to be an Amtrak conductor, and why the job is a great one for a veteran.

Veterans at Amtrak: Oren

Conductors at Amtrak do more than just collect tickets - they are responsible for the safe operation of Amtrak trains and providing top-notch customer service to our passengers. We recently spoke to Oren Rae, a veteran of the Army National Guard and conductor on the San Joaquins train out of Oakland, California about what it is really like to be an Amtrak conductor, and why the job is a great one for a veteran.

What did you do in the military, and why did you choose to come to Amtrak afterward?

I was in the military for 28 years - I started as an administrative specialist. I ended up taking those six years that I started in the Army and turned it into a career. I've served all over the world in Ukraine, Panama, Japan, Germany, and of course went to Iraq a few times. My last job before I retired and came to Amtrak was a Sergeant Major for a logistics brigade - essentially our job was to break down Iraq. It was our job to figure out whether the equipment in Iraq would be going back to the States, be handed over to Iraqi forces, or destroyed. That was one of the major missions I participated in, and not too long after that I realized I had done everything that I had wanted to do in the military, and it was time to find something else.

I came to Amtrak because I knew that I wanted to have a job where I could be around people. I love communicating with a lot of people at the same time and I saw conductor as a place where you really are in touch with the public, and are the backbone of Amtrak. I had a few friends who had already come here as well, and thought it would be perfect for me.

Why do you think Amtrak is a good place for veterans to work?

If you’re a veteran and wondering if Amtrak is the right place for you I can honestly say this is a very veteran-friendly place and also has a lot of things that us veterans appreciate in the workplace. If you appreciated the structure, timeliness, safety, and teamwork of the military, Amtrak is a really good place where you can keep doing those things that you loved without having to go overseas for a year at a time, or having to wake up at four in the morning to go running with a platoon of people. The things that I really loved about the military I find that I can still do here.

What is your favorite thing about working for Amtrak?

I love working with people - from my coworkers and managers to the passengers that ride the trains. Every now and again we get children onboard for their first train trip, on the way to Disneyland or somewhere fun like that. You get to be part of something that they're going to remember, a lot of times for the rest of their lives. This job is very fulfilling if you enjoy working with people.

What does a typical day for you look like?

I've been very lucky because most people with my seniority don't hold regular jobs at this point, but I came off the board about a year and a half ago. My assignment is as conductor of train 714, and returning on train 715, which is an Oakland to Bakersfield train.

My day starts out at 11:15 in the morning at our crew base in Oakland. We start with a briefing with all the crew members where we talk about the route we're going to take, if we have any passengers scheduled to board with special needs, and we go over the safety rules for the day. We make sure everyone is properly rested, has their safety equipment ready for the trip, and that our clocks are synced. After that we go to the train and check it mechanically. We make sure the toilets flush, the PAs are working, and our signs are set right. We also do the necessary brake tests before going to the station from the yard. Once we get to the station, we do a few more tests, and then it is off we go.

On the trip we deal with multiple different types of people - some have taken the train a thousand times, and for others it is their first time. At most stations there's going to be someone who has no idea how to board a train, so it is my job to make sure that people are safely boarding and exiting. You always have to keep an eye out when coming into each station for the different things you'll have to deal with.

Communication is also a huge part of my day, as I need to make announcements on the train so people know what stations are coming up. I also communicate with the engineer of the train. As a conductor, I need to know the territory and where we are just from looking out the side of the train. If there are any spots where the train needs to reduce speed, it is my job to remind the engineer of that. Once we get to our final terminal in Bakersfield, we have a lot of passengers that are transferring, so we need to make sure our passengers are well informed about where to go, so they make their connections quickly and safely.

After that we walk to the train to make sure that no passengers have been left behind, we do final brake tests, make sure the train is on the track it needs to be on, and set the hand brakes. Then we stay overnight in Bakersfield, and do it again back to Oakland the next day.

PUT YOUR MILITARY EXPERIENCE ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Amtrak has a long history of providing career opportunities to veterans as well as active military members. We value the leadership, reliability and dedication that the armed forces bring to our team. Your ability to adapt to a dynamic environment, your dedication and focus to safety and your experience gained while on military duty directly relates to a variety of operational and non-operational career opportunities at Amtrak.

PUT YOUR MILITARY EXPERIENCE ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Amtrak has a long history of providing career opportunities to veterans as well as active military members. We value the leadership, reliability and dedication that the armed forces bring to our team. Your ability to adapt to a dynamic environment, your dedication and focus to safety and your experience gained while on military duty directly relates to a variety of operational and non-operational career opportunities at Amtrak.

What is the training for being a conductor like?

Training to be a conductor was a lot like going through basic training in the army, except without all the yelling. All the basic things that railroaders need to know are covered in the training, which is eight weeks long and held in Wilmington, Delaware. Everything that you learn there you will use when you come out here to work, from train handling and revenue collection to customer relations and to how to deal with problems and emergencies.

They teach you how to be a part of the Amtrak team there, and in some cases the details are very intense. In my territory we have the General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR) we have to learn and follow, as well as knowing the signal systems for every railroad your train runs over. Unlike military training where you can try and try again until you pass, there are tests here where you can't make any mistakes. For our trains we have to know the Union Pacific and the BNSF signal systems, and get 100% on the test. If you miss one signal you do not qualify, and if you do not qualify you can't be a conductor.

What is it like when you graduate from training and are a qualified conductor?

Out of Oakland there is a lot of job variety. When you come out of training you're going to be on the extra board, and many of the jobs you'll be put on are overnights. You'll find yourself on the train going to a faraway place and you'll have to spend the night. Amtrak provides the hotel and a little bit of food money. You get to rest for the night, and usually the next day you're back out on the train working back home. As a veteran, that side translates pretty well because we're used to being away for a while. You just have to be ready to go and always have that bag packed.

What are some of the challenges you face working as a conductor?

As a conductor you have to deal with two to three hundred people, or even more, on board at a time. Sometimes there may be a person that is not happy, or causing problems, and you have to figure out their point of view and try and turn things around. You have to have a positive attitude and to not take things personally to be a conductor.

One of the most difficult challenges you'll have to deal with as a conductor is if the train strikes anything. The engineer's job is to bring the train to a stop as quickly as possible, and my job is to be the first responder. I have to assess the situation, and see if there's anything that can be done. We have to coordinate with police and paramedics, and in some bad cases the coroner. As the conductor, you own the situation until the authorities are there to take over, and you need to be able to give them a clear and concise explanation of the situation. Meanwhile, you still have hundreds of passengers onboard the train that you also have to take care of, and none of us can go anywhere until the situation has been cleared.

How is working at Amtrak similar to being in the military?

One aspect of Amtrak that is similar to the military is a zero tolerance policy for drugs. We are randomly and regularly tested for drugs, and if you are found to have anything in your system it is the end of your Amtrak career. Some states have been legalizing certain things, but you have to remember you're under federal regulations here at Amtrak, and it isn't tolerated. They're very strict, but you have to think about what we're responsible for - the size of the train, and the people that are counting on us to get them where they're going safely.

What advice would you give to a veteran thinking about a job at Amtrak?

You need to focus on the aspects of your military career where you had to function as part of a team, how well you had to pay attention to the small things, and most of all safety. I know a lot of young military people say things like, "you don't need these safety glasses," or, "I don't have to wear these gloves." You may have gotten away with it a few times before, but at Amtrak you're dealing with some machinery that is very unforgiving.

You also have to be extremely detail-oriented here, to read and understand all of the policies and operating rules. These policies are written for a reason: to keep you alive, to keep the train safe, and for Amtrak to continue to be a very positive place and functional place. I think that if you were good at listening to the instructions provided to you on the military side, it's going to be easy to follow them here on the railroad.

Conductor training at Amtrak

Amtrak conductors train for eight weeks at our National Training Center in Wilmington, Delaware, before returning to their crew bases around the country. Being a conductor isn't for everyone, but if safety, teamwork, and customer service are important to you, you might be the right person for the job!

Conductor training at Amtrak

Amtrak conductors train for eight weeks at our National Training Center in Wilmington, Delaware, before returning to their crew bases around the country. Being a conductor isn't for everyone, but if safety, teamwork, and customer service are important to you, you might be the right person for the job!

Amtrak Conductor 101:

Want to work the rails? Conductors have their own lingo, which you'll quickly learn when coming onboard! Here are some of the things you may hear, and may have seen in this interview:

Job: Off the rails you may call what you do a job, but to a conductor a "job" has a special meaning - it refers to a designated combination of trains that they work. Different jobs may have different off days, different numbers of hours, and even different destinations or routes.

Pick: Conductors receive run books which list all of the different jobs available to them. At a designated time, a conductor will choose which job they are interested in working - called a pick. Picking selection is based on seniority, or how long you've been working on the railroad.

Extra board: Sometimes if you don't have enough seniority, you'll find yourself on the extra board, or “the board”. Most Amtrak conductors will start out here. Those on the extra board are used as fill ins for other conductors that may be sick or on vacation. That means you don't have a set schedule, are on call, and could be sent to work on any train from your crew base.

Mark off - You may call out sick, but a conductor marks off. Whenever a conductor takes time off, they mark off from the schedule and someone from the extra board is called to take their place. When they're ready to go back to work, they make sure to do the opposite - mark up!


Think you have what it takes to be an Amtrak conductor? Apply online using the link below!

Join Team Amtrak

Apply now!

Be a conductor

Apply Now!