Buried in a garden of southern California wildflowers, I chatted with friends old and new. I was more than 2,000 miles away from home, but it felt as if I was sharing stories with relatives at an Easter dinner table. Railroads do have a way of bringing people together and that’s what I want to talk about in this post.
I recently traveled out west to revisit BNSF Railway’s southern Transcon between Needles, Calif., and Barstow, Calif., check out Tehachapi Pass on Union Pacific’s Mojave subdivision, and to visit the California coast on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner route. We had good weather, a great number of trains, and wonderful camaraderie.
An Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train heads for San Diego from Los Angeles as it passes a garden of California wildflowers near Encinitas, Calif., in April 2017. Chase Gunnoe.
While in California, I noticed that my friend Troy – a rail inspector working for a third party contractor was in southern California inspecting a set of tracks used by Surfliner, Los Angeles Metrolink, and San Diego Coaster trains. I first met Troy when he was inspecting CSX Transportation tracks in West Virginia. It had been several years since we caught up and in knowing we were both sharing the same zip code for a few hours, I made it a point for us to get together.
Troy, a Louisiana native, spends in excess of 40 weeks a year on the road. In fact, in chatting over some southern California Mexican cuisine alongside the Surfliner route, Troy shared with me that he had only been home about 12 hours this year.
Yes, that’s right – he has been in his own residence less than 24 hours this entire year. Why? Because he works in the rail industry and like many other jobs in this business, it requires him to travel non-stop to different Class I, short line, and pasenger railroads all across the continental United States.
Troy has visited 48 states and four Canadian provinces inspecting for rail defects on a wide range of rail carriers. Had I had not been traveling to California or had he not been inspecting the very rails that carry Amtrak and other commuter trains, our paths likely would not have crossed during my recent visit. After all, our paths crossed for the first time nearly eight years ago because we were both along the CSX mainline in West Virginia.
This industry has a way of doing these things. In performing the duties of our jobs, taking photographs, or meeting new people, we get to connect and learn about the wonderful folks that help make this industry a great place to invest your life. From contractors to railroad engineers, to tourist railroads, and high-level management, we all share the same vision for growing and promoting the success of the rail industry in some fashion.
I wasn't the only one from the east coast who invaded the Mojave Desert of California during a visit in April 2017. Kevin Gilliam of Clemmons, N.C., films a Union Pacific local near Monolith, Calif., in April 2017 while gathering video for a Trains Magazine video project. Chase Gunnoe.
Thankfully, our jobs surround us with great people for the most part. Each of one us, whether working in Class I railroad transportation or tourist railroad operations, we help to move this country and economy forward. Tourist trains haul people, which in turn, generates some form of economic sustainability, while Class I and other freight-hauling railroads bring consumer goods, energy products, and other commodities to our doorsteps. There’s an entire fleet of maintenance and support crews, like Troy, that help keep that infrastructure in great shape so we can continue living and enjoying the lives in which we are accustomed.
Railroads, like no other form of transportation, bind this country together to create an environment that fosters friendships, business relationships, and an enhanced wellbeing for the people of this country.
Amid a time of global uncertainty and in response to the upcoming Easter holiday, take a moment and appreciate what’s around you. The chances are, the people you meet, or the things you enjoy – the railroad probably had something to do with it.