ANYBODY willing to work hard and give up a "normal life" to have money stuffed into his pocket should know that there might be a job workin' on the railroad. That's right: American railroads plan to hire 80,000 workers by 2010, a hopeful sign that the economy is trying to gather steam.
This is exactly the economic news the public wants to hear. The need for railroad workers is the result of years of downsizing, coupled with mergers and improvements in the way railroads have operated. But lately, the iron horse has been getting more business. A nationwide shortage of truck drivers has meant a lot of freight that went by road now goes by rail.
For many, the idea of becoming a conductor or engineer should be attractive because of the excellent salaries. According to a Conrail employee named Bo Williamson, "They take the money and shove it in your pocket." Conductors average about $67,000. Engineers' salaries average $75,000 and can climb to about $110,000.
Still, potential workers are not lined up at the door. Long hours, unpredictable schedules, many nights away from home, and weekend work are among the deterrents. The difficult schedules usually fall on the shoulders of less senior railroaders.
The hours don't begin to take into consideration how hard the physical labor is. That's why in regions where other high-paying jobs are alternatives, not many people are scrambling to become railroaders. But it's easier to recruit residents in areas where people are accustomed to hard work. Former coal-miners in West Virginia are examples.
Usually, when the curious learn how difficult the labor is and how tough the hours are in recruiting sessions, from a third to half of those attending leave without completing an application. After training, still others quit.
Nevertheless, the jobs will be filled, and although eventual hires won't have the 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday lifestyle, they'll have very good jobs that pay very well. Life could be worse.