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Road Foreman of Engines

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Road Foreman of Engines
Posted by Lithonia Operator on Wednesday, March 17, 2021 10:44 PM

What is the derivation of the term? I've always kind of thought that it's a bit of a clunky-sounding title.

Like, compared to what? Is there any OTHER foreman of engines. Why isn't the RFE known simply as the Engine Foreman?

I've heard RFEs referred to as traveling engineers. Is the RFE almost always in the move, or is a significant part of his work a desk job?

Ive always been fascinated/intrigued by this position, but don't know much about it. Are there any current or former FREs here that could tell me what all the job entails.

Do almost all engineers aspire to be an RFE? 

Back when I worked at the GARR, I only met the RFE once. I was expecting maybe a clean-cut guy in a suit. Instead he was this almost mythical looking character in a black biker's jacket and black leather captain's sort of hat. He looked like a grizzled Harley guy. He seemed kind of eccentric. But he seemed to be revered by all. People talked in hushed tones around him, and he exuded confidence and experience. I'll never forget that guy. A real character. I think he had an odd voice, and a permanent squint. Funny how certain images remain so vivid, in this case after 50 years. I don't think he was management; I think he was a member of the BLE.

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Posted by tree68 on Thursday, March 18, 2021 12:42 AM

I would opine that while the duties are essentially the same for all, exactly what an RFE does depends a lot on the railroad.

On a bigger railroad, that will be a management-type position.

On a small railroad, it's more like an other duty as assigned.

Our RFE does check rides, but is also one of our just plain engineers.

He also handles a lot of our "textbook" training.

We also have DSLE's (Designated Supervisor of Locomotive Engineers) who help out with check rides, banner tests, etc.

Our Class 1 engineers will fill in the blanks, I'm sure.

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, March 18, 2021 2:16 AM

There are 'shop foremen of engines', ie the Foremen of the locomotive shop, be that steam or diesel and they supervise all the personnel in the shop.

Road Foreman of Engines is a non-contract supervisory position.  There is a bunch of traveling over the RFE's assigned territory, doing check rides with each of the engineers they are supervising - I believe the FRA requires a yearly check ride with each engineer for them to keep their Engineer's Certificate in good standing.  They are first level supervision for the Engineers.

Some individuals love the RFE job, others once the perform the duties for a while decide they would rather be operating an engine again.

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Posted by jeffhergert on Friday, March 19, 2021 2:42 AM

An Engine Foreman is/was the title for a yard switch engine conductor.  Like everything else, it could be railroad or era specific.  Our yard jobs now just have a foreman and maybe a switchman/helper.

A Road Foreman of Engines (some used Equipment instead) and a Travelling Engineer were the same.  The title used depended on the railroad.  UP now calls them Manager of Operating Practices.  They are, as pointed out earlier, management that supervises engineers in various ways.

They are the ones who help develop instructions on how to run these big trains the railroads like so well, even though they've never run one except on a simulator.

Jeff      

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, March 19, 2021 6:22 AM

jeffhergert
An Engine Foreman is/was the title for a yard switch engine conductor.  Like everything else, it could be railroad or era specific.  Our yard jobs now just have a foreman and maybe a switchman/helper.

A Road Foreman of Engines (some used Equipment instead) and a Travelling Engineer were the same.  The title used depended on the railroad.  UP now calls them Manager of Operating Practices.  They are, as pointed out earlier, management that supervises engineers in various ways.

They are the ones who help develop instructions on how to run these big trains the railroads like so well, even though they've never run one except on a simulator.

Jeff    

On CSX, at least before I retired, the 'Manager of Operating Practices' was the individual who was the 'rules expert' on the operating Division to which they were assigned and were also a member of the System Rules Committee - that was charged with the responsibility of keeping the Operating Rules current and effective.

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Posted by adkrr64 on Friday, March 19, 2021 6:24 AM

jeffhergert
  UP now calls them Manager of Operating Practices

That is a great title. Now, when there is a problem in the field, they can call out the MOPs to help clean up the mess!

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, March 19, 2021 5:04 PM

As I recall, the Missouri Pacific merger had a similar nickname... and if you include the railroad name, as there, the acronym grows still better.

Provided of course that the 'management' so described is both diligent (not usually an issue for them) and competent (which is less assured)

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Friday, March 19, 2021 7:03 PM

adkrr64

 

 
jeffhergert
  UP now calls them Manager of Operating Practices

 

That is a great title. Now, when there is a problem in the field, they can call out the MOPs to help clean up the mess!

 

   If I remember correctly, about the time of the UP-SP merger, TRAINS had an article about SP operations where they said SP tried the title "Master Of Freight Operations" until field personnel started pronouncing the acronym.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Friday, March 19, 2021 9:46 PM

Paul of Covington

 

 
adkrr64

 

 
jeffhergert
  UP now calls them Manager of Operating Practices

 

That is a great title. Now, when there is a problem in the field, they can call out the MOPs to help clean up the mess!

 

 

 

   If I remember correctly, about the time of the UP-SP merger, TRAINS had an article about SP operations where they said SP tried the title "Master Of Freight Operations" until field personnel started pronouncing the acronym.

 

Big Smile Big Smile

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Posted by mvlandsw on Friday, March 19, 2021 11:51 PM

I was once offered the job a long time ago. I wasn't interested. It involved a lot of paper work(now computer) and everyone's problems become your problems.

I'd rather just play with the trains.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Saturday, March 20, 2021 10:13 AM

mvlandsw

I was once offered the job a long time ago. I wasn't interested. It involved a lot of paper work(now computer) and everyone's problems become your problems.

I'd rather just play with the trains.

 
Getting promoted to first-level supervision can be a real eye-opener.  From the outside, the job doesn't always look that hard to master.  Once you get the position, you immediately find out what you don't know and you stumble for a long time before you even have half of a notion of what you're doing.
The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by XDRail on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 3:19 PM

I'm not sure if this applies to all railroads, but back in the "old" steam engine days, engineers and firemen reported to the Master Mechanic. Yeah, I was surprised to hear that too, when one of the old heads told me about it. I bring that up, because it seems likely that the title, Road Foreman of Engines, might have been derived from his duty as the manager out in the field, as opposed to the Master Mechanic.

Some roads employe road foremen, who supervised engineers and firemen, but were subordinate to the trainmaster, as was the case on the former Southern Railroad, as I learned when I was qualifying on the old NS between Selma, NC and Charlotte to run Amtrak's Carolinian. This surprised me, coming off the Seaboard Coast Line, because there, the road foreman and trainmaster always appeared to have equal authority.

Today, with the economizing of forces, the position of road foreman appears to be fading away. Trainmasters however, on some railroads (most, I would imagine), are promoted from the ranks of road foremen. The reason for this is that an engine qualified supervisor is required to fulfill regulatory obligations, such as periodic check rides with engineers, and the filing of the proper paperwork to satisfy the FRA. A trainmaster can do this, but he must be engineer qualified to do so.

As for the change to the title--doing away with the use of the word "foreman," I've been retired now for eight years. The industry has been turned upside down and inside out. No matter what they call a manger on the railroad, it's always been "them" and "us." And nothing can change that.

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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 5:22 PM

Thanks, XD. Very interesting.

Do you think other unionized industries have union/management strife equal to that on railroads?

Is morale generally better on non-union regionals and short lines?

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 7:03 PM

Lithonia Operator
Thanks, XD. Very interesting.

Do you think other unionized industries have union/management strife equal to that on railroads?

Is morale generally better on non-union regionals and short lines?

In a word - YES.

Management & Labor are gasoline and a match.

Management lies and Labor tries to hold Management to the contract provisions that each party signed. 

Morale depends to a great deal on the personalities of the participants involved on both sides at the local level.  Some managers (like in ANY workplace) can be antagonistic terrors and for their own reasons they attempt to break every possible rule in the contract.  By the same token Local Union officers can request malicious compliance with the contract provisions.  In that enviornment morale is subnumerical.  Most relationships are somewhere in the middle - just like they are in any business organization.

Union or non-union - not all employees are happy about the actions and instructions they get from their 'leaders'.

 

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Posted by sclm046 on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 7:37 PM

Out of the RFE's I was acquainted with, almost all were in that position for only a few years. Some didn't last that long. The RFE title meant that they were salaried. Monetarily, for the hours spent testing, supervising and being involved with special moves, the job didn't pay that much. They could and would give up the title and go back in the ranks and make more money as an engineer.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 8:11 PM

sclm046

Out of the RFE's I was acquainted with, almost all were in that position for only a few years. Some didn't last that long. The RFE title meant that they were salaried. Monetarily, for the hours spent testing, supervising and being involved with special moves, the job didn't pay that much. They could and would give up the title and go back in the ranks and make more money as an engineer.

That is the case for several other frontline management positions on railroads.  Trainmaster doesn't pay any better than conductor, and is a much more stressful job. 

CN calls the RFE position a Engine Service Officer, and while they are usually hired from the ranks this is not absolutely necessary, one must be a qualified locomotive engineer but having taken the 'fast track' management course seems to fulfill this requirement. 

Most of their job seems to revolve around reviewing downloads and the training records of student engineers, while also serving as backup labour when no regular engineers are available. 

ESO is the one management job left where you truly need the respect of your workforce, as crews need to feel they can talk to you about train handling issues and safety concerns they have encountered.

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 9:13 PM

Lithonia Operator

Thanks, XD. Very interesting.

Do you think other unionized industries have union/management strife equal to that on railroads?

Is morale generally better on non-union regionals and short lines?

I can only speak from my experience as I only worked for one company after graduating from college and that was an electric utility that had a strong IBEW union for most labor. Clerical, Linemen, Meter Readers, Generating plant operators, etc. Most contracts were reasonable, overtime did become problematic sometimes. If there was too much, sometimes the phones would not be answered on call outs. When I was working with electricians, some of my fellow Electrical Engineers that adjusted electronic equipment got into disputes with them but I never had any issues. They new I respected their knowledge of their experience and that I would have them called out if it was their work and I would not think they were there to serve me. I would not expect them to tote my tool box as if they were my serf but I knew others did. They also looked the other way if I used a screw driver to remove a wire for trouble shooting. 

Only time I got pissed was when I had to adjust a wave trap on a 138,000 volt transmission line and a few snow flakes fell on their trucks windshield when we started and the temp was near 30 degrees. The forman declared INCLEMENT Weather and the job was aborted. Did it the next day when there was no snow but the temp was about 5 degrees. I survived but the contract was abided by. I was cold! Otherwise I liked working with the union men. 

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Posted by SFbrkmn on Thursday, April 1, 2021 8:47 PM

Choosing to apply and be awarded a RFE position is by no means a promotion and is a reduction in pay earnings. In cab check rides have become suspended the past yr account of the Covid. When this does take place, the check ride is two hours, or 50 miles.                                                                                            One RFE fell asleep in the cab. Another one did not even know the siding location we were at when he contacted us on the radio as a check ride was going to be adminstered.                                                                                                    Many RFE positions are combined w/trainmaster duties. No craft engr seniority here and even if I held such, the title of RFE would not be for this guy                                                                                     

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, April 1, 2021 9:56 PM

First level Operating supervision on Class 1's - Trainmaster or Road Foreman - rarely make as much or more than the FULL TIME employees they supervise.  The full time employees that WORK (they accept ALL calls) and work for money not prestige; will out earn their supervisors every time.

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Posted by adkrr64 on Friday, April 2, 2021 5:20 AM

So if they can make less money and have more stress, what is the trade-off for becoming an RFE? A more consistent and saner schedule? Or is it just a gateway into higher level management positions?

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, April 2, 2021 8:12 AM

adkrr64
So if they can make less money and have more stress, what is the trade-off for becoming an RFE? A more consistent and saner schedule? Or is it just a gateway into higher level management positions?

Someone who values the prestige' of being an official over their checkbook balance.  First level supervision is the gateway to higher levels of management.  How many will actually move up the corporate ladder is the question.  Just like fish climbing 'fish ladders' to surmont dams to get to their spawning grounds, not all fish make it.  After a period of time (unique to each individual) the tea leaves will be read and the individual will make the decision to go back working for money and not prestige.

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Posted by nhrand on Friday, April 2, 2021 11:22 AM

Publications by The Traveling Engineer's Association

        The collector and those interested in steam operation can find a wealth of information in the publications of the Association.  For example I have a 478 page bound volume of the proceedings of the 26th annual convention held in Chicago in 1918 which contains several papers presented at the convention and verbatim transcripts of the discusions that followed.  Regarding how to make the traveling engineer more effective one member said, "Cut out the office work, cut out the Trainmaster's work, cut out Fuel Supervisor' work in so far as making daily reports, a new duty which has been assigned to Road foreman on some roads in connection with his 723 other duties (my italics). Get down to actual duties of a Road Foreman of engines.  Follow up your power and see that it is put and kept in good condition.  Have all defects corrected, follow up your enginemen, and assist them in their shortcomings and instruct them in the economical use of fuel; follow up your enginehouse and shop men, many of which are unskilled; assist them in every way you can......"

          Among the many papers presented about engine operations was one about cabs and cab fittings on modern locomotives from the viewpoint of the engineman.  It even got down to storing the broom and the best squirt hose fittings.  (I once rode a Canadian Pacific engine where the fireman was dillegent about keeping the engine deck washed down with the squirt hose and swept clean with the broom -- many enginemen were quite serious about keeping the cab clean.)  There was a lengthy discussion about vestibule cabs because according to the report New York State had passed a law prohibiting use within the State of any locomotive without a vestibule cab after January 1, 1919  -- it applied to all new locomotives and all shopped for heavy repairs. (It seems opposition by the USRA prevented the law from going into effect.)  The Grand Trunk member had a lot to say about the introduction of vestibule cabs and some of the defects that had to be corrected, e.g. noise from the buffers, drafts on the engineer, dirt getting in, etc. Much  discussion was about cab comfort including the fact that effective use of boiler insulation made cabs very cold in winter, particularly because pipes entering the cab let in cold air and cab curtains were not very effective in keeping out the cold.

        Another type of publication was the Traveling Engineer's "Examination Book".  I have copies from 1911 and 1943.  The later has 314 pages of useful information mainly presented in question and answer form such as, "What is a multiple throttle?"  However, the question is preceeded by several pages of details and diagrams of the multiple throttle so that the answers in the text are understandable.   Some of the question may seem basic but lead to a better understanding of the topic.  For example, from 1911: "Why are electric headlights applied to locomotives?"  "What can you do to insure a good and unfailing light for the entire trip?"  Of course, electric headlights were fairly advanced technology in 1911 and many enginemen may not have actaully seen one.  Indeed, many locomotives built as late as 1916 or so had oil headlights because electric arc lights were considered too bright and could cause accidents by temporarily blinding bystanders.             

 

 

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Posted by jeffhergert on Friday, April 2, 2021 2:20 PM

A lot of people who went into management did so because of somewhat better benefits offered management.  Especially (for our company) the access to the company's management pension plan. 

That perk has since been terminated for people going into management positions.  Now they get a 401k with, I believe, a set amount given yearly by the company and possible company percentage match to the employee's contribution.  (Agreement employee's 401k contributions are not matched at all.)  From what others have said it's not as nice as the pension.

Some have gone into managment just long enough to get vested in the company plan, and then returned to the ranks.  Those who come out of the ranks retain their original craft seniority and most still pay a maintenance fee to the union they belonged to.  I've heard they now want anyone coming out of the ranks to relinquish their craft seniority as a condition of going into management.  I don't know that they've actually pushed that.  No one in their right mind who've seen how they sometimes treat their management people would do that. 

Jeff  

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Posted by SD70Dude on Friday, April 2, 2021 2:34 PM

For us (CN in Canada) unionized employees used to retain their seniority when they went into management for as long as they continued to pay dues, similar to what Jeff described.  This changed about 20 years ago, now you can only keep your seniority for one year.

While this change happened well before I hired on, from what I've heard the unions had been getting fed up with managers dropping back to the ranks after their turn had gained considerable seniority, while at the same time management (then headed by Hunter Harrison) wanted to eliminate this fallback. 

Since that time some of the union officials who pushed for the change have come to regret it, as it resulted in very few experienced employees seeking management positions and led to a wealth of inexperience being placed in positions of power. 

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Posted by SFbrkmn on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 3:17 AM
Last I heard the starting average rate for the position begins @ $69,000 and capped @ $83,000. Added on to that are the management bonus payments but has been reduced a large degree over the past couple years. That salary rate still is not close to what many hogheads earn, especially the ones who hold high mileage pool turns.
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Posted by Sunnyland on Saturday, April 10, 2021 2:51 PM

Was not sure what RFE duties were, there are so many different supervisors, Roadmaster, Trainmaster, Yardmaster-I know what they did, as Dad would take me and cousin into the Tower at yard where he worked. He always went first up the steps and knocked on the locked door, they all knew him so would open the door. You could either walk all the way from the ground, which I did not like, afraid of heights, or use steps from overpass bridge for cars that was right next to Tower. Dad used to say too many Chiefs and not enough Indians at a railroad, lots of managers, but not as many grunts who did the real work That phrase would be politically incorrect today. 

 

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, April 10, 2021 3:06 PM

Sunnyland
Was not sure what RFE duties were, there are so many different supervisors, Roadmaster, Trainmaster, Yardmaster-I know what they did, as Dad would take me and cousin into the Tower at yard where he worked. He always went first up the steps and knocked on the locked door, they all knew him so would open the door. You could either walk all the way from the ground, which I did not like, afraid of heights, or use steps from overpass bridge for cars that was right next to Tower. Dad used to say too many Chiefs and not enough Indians at a railroad, lots of managers, but not as many grunts who did the real work That phrase would be politically incorrect today. 

Separation by job functions and areas of responsibility.

Roadmaster has the responsibility to see that his subordinate employees properly maintain the track structure.

Trainmaster has the responsibility to see that his subordinate employees properly operate trains within his territory.

Yardmaster has the responsibility to see that employees perform the work necessary for the fluid operation of the yard(s) he supervises

Road Foreman of Engines has the responsibility to see that the subordinate Engineers perform the duties required.

In the CSX organization structure, there are 3 Chiefs and on Head Indian.  Roadmaster, Trainmaster and Road Foreman of Engines are all non-contract Official positions.  Yardmaster is a contract craft position.  Train Dispatchers are also contract craft positions.

 

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