Metro-North News

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Metro-North News
Posted by daveklepper on Friday, February 19, 2021 4:11 AM

Granddaughter of 'Jackie Robinson of the Railroad' trains Metro-North conductors

Thomas C. Zambito

Rockland/Westchester Journal News

As a child, Alainia Tucker would ride Metro-North trains with her grandfather, watching as he collected tickets from passengers, shared a joke or sang whatever tune was in his head.

When Robert Tucker walked the aisles of a train, you heard him before you saw him.

“He’d dance up and down the aisles,” Alainia Tucker recalls. “Tap dance. Well, his version of a tap dance, or try to do the Temptations dance, whatever it is that comes to his mind.”

Alainia Tucker, a third-generation MTA-Metro North conductor, photographed in a train in Grand Central Terminal on Friday, February 12, 2021.

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Robert Tucker was Metro-North’s first Black conductor – “the Jackie Robinson of the Railroad” as he told anyone within earshot – with an outsized personality to go along with the title.

His granddaughter wasn’t that.

“More reserved,” Alainia Tucker says.

But something about the job, maybe her grandfather’s undying love for the work, or the pride he took in wearing the uniform, made her reconsider an initial resistance to applying for a job on the railroad.

At 28, after years of selling sneakers at on Fifth Avenue, she decided to give it a try. Her father, a longtime Metro-North worker, had just died. Maybe it would bring her closer to him?

She signed up without letting her grandfather know.

And then, while spending time with him near his Bronx home, she revealed the move.

“I will never forget, we were in the supermarket and I said, ‘Grandpa, I’m going to take the physical for Metro-North to be a conductor.’ And his face just lit up like, ‘What are you doing? Why didn’t you tell me?' I just wanted to do it on my own. He was just so excited.”

That was more than 10 years ago.

Today, Alainia Tucker trains other conductors how to do the job her grandfather once did.

It’s a different job than it was back then.

Alainia Tucker, a third-generation MTA-Metro North conductor, photographed at Grand Central Terminal on Friday, February 12, 2021.

For one, her grandfather’s sometime habit of locking fare evaders in the bathroom until the last stop would likely be frowned upon by management today. There are more and more rules in the rulebook, and so many tests that sometimes conductors feel like they've signed up for college.

“Growing up seeing my grandfather collecting tickets, I thought that was the only thing that conductors did, collect tickets, open doors, make announcements,” Tucker said. “Getting into the position you find there is so much more that you have to know about the job.”

And lately, it’s gotten a lot more dangerous.

During 2019 and 2020, Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees were spit on 200 times. There have been so many incidents that last week, the leadership of the MTA’s major unions, including the one representing Metro-North conductors, lent their support for a bill that will increase penalties for spitting on MTA workers.

A few weeks ago, one of Tucker’s trainees called her to tell her she was spit on.

“I can’t imagine my grandfather having to deal with that,” she said.

Former Metro-North conductor Robert Tucker, shown here with a fellow conductor, was known as "The Jackie Robinson of the Rail Road." Tucker was Metro-North's first Black conductor. His granddaughter, Alainia Tucker, trains conductors for Metro-North.

Tucker, 37, spent three years as a conductor after getting her conductor’s license in 2012. She’s been training other conductors since 2015. Her cousin, Khesean Tucker, is also a conductor, joining the agency same year as Alainia.

Her grandfather, now 81, has been in failing health for a few years. But when she visited him a few weeks ago, he admired her work identification card and told her he needed one of those. She had to remind him he wasn’t on the job anymore.

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