Train Controller – 6 Years Later

baToday mark 6 years as a certified train controller for Bay Area Rapid Transit, this after 12 years of thankless work at United Airlines, a company I was all too happy leave. Yet the grass hasn’t always been greener on the other side. Now that I have some experience I can reflect on my experience as a train controller in the 5th largest transit system in North America (based on ridership).

Prior to leaving United I began voicing my opinion on how United Airlines had degraded and the fact I was still “lucky” to be employed. I then caught a break, thanks to a former co-worker of mine who put me in contact with the “right person” on the inside at BART in March, 2006. I made contact, rewrote my resume, with the help of a service and started the long process of gaining employment.

Two months later the position of Train Controller was posted and I jumped at the prospect and opportunity. This was only the start of a very long and complicated process. One of the most stressful periods in my life, the like of which I have never experienced before. Looking back on the the entire process and subsequent job I can now say it has been very rewarding. Yet, if you would have seen or inquired about my training while going through the certification process it would have been a completely different answer.

Even after 13 months of training, you are not ready to take on on the BART system when you sit down and plug in for the first time as a certified train controller. I asked another controller I admire, “For me, it took 5-7 years before I felt comfortable.” That answer sticks with me to this day. While I might have snickered and responded somewhat surprisingly, his answer is spot on.

I can’t say I have experienced everything, because every day is a new day and something different could potentially happen. The daily routine is quite monotonous, your force (or dispatch) trains from the end of the lines and TM or terminal zones, you monitor those trains you have responsibility for as they move through the system. Any problem, question or issue that arises, you must take care of. This could be something as simple as a passenger inquiry to a route through an interlocking that did not request. It could also include a train stopped because of smoke (usually from the train’s brakes) or other issues that require coordination between the train operator, tango (our maintenance supervisor) and the train controller. Sometimes even “routine” problems can turn into major delays.

I write this today, because over the last 8 years since first starting my inquiry into BART and the train controller position I have had 3 train controller candidates mention using the information they have found on T6F. Somewhat surprising to be honest, but hopefully it has allowed them to get information regarding the long and strenuous process. As of this writing, unfortunately out of the last 11 candidates from outside BA, only 1 has been certified. Not a very good track record at all. Granted the information contained in countless posts on my site would not have saved many of these individuals. Some, because of the process weren’t qualified, as was evident early in their training. Others didn’t have the commitment to the training, which is long and stressful. I can’t stress enough the time and effort you, as a candidate must make in order to be successful.

I can be honest now, I did not apply myself 100% during training. If I did, I probably would have certified earlier, as it was I was about a month after the other two candidates I trained with. I can still remember training like it was yesterday, sitting on the console with stress related sweat ringing the armpits of my shirts. This was EVERY DAY! I was talking to myself about what I was missing or what I should be doing, because there is always something you could be doing if nothing is going on.

Yet, if you can deal with the stress you are put through as a trainee (and you are liked by your peers) then you have a leg up on training. Never take anything said to you personal, if you don’t have a thick skin you might think twice about accepting the training offer. I have seen it too many times, where there is conflict between student and OJI based on what is being said. I can still recall having a hard time with one instructor, who was and still is a great guy. On the console he was in his training mode (former Air Force) and he was a ball buster. Off the console, on break away from work, you could talk to a nicer guy. Even to this day, I cite him as an example to trainees.

The job is rewarding and much better than what I came from. Even now, the airlines continue to struggle (yes, even United…err…Continental, whatever the hell they want to call it). I still know I made the right decision to leave after 12 years and find BART. If you are interested, read through the pages of information I have regarding the hiring process, it’s long and involved and some of the most stressful (mentally) training you will face. Once certified, you can relax, start learning the job and making a name and reputation for yourself.

Stress & Pressure

It has been a very long and sometime challenging 2007. At the end of 2006, I began training for my new job. As of yesterday, the final day in 2007 I am done training. The manager who has been with me every step of the way wrote my letter of recommendation for certification.

It definitely has not been the easiest time, I really cannot compare the stress and pressure I have been under for the last year, trying so hard at time to do everything correct and not make a mistake, that I found myself making stupid, little mistakes. It got to the point where I was extended in my training for 3 weeks. At the end of the third week I was given one more “final” week in which to prove I belonged.

Thankfully that was one of the best weeks I had during training. I was able to demonstrate and overcome some deficiencies that had hampered my “development” through out training. I walked out of work on Sunday with the biggest smile on my face when I was more less congratulated on completing training. There is still some paperwork to finish up and a certification board to go in front of, but the most challenging part has been successfully accomplished.

Things won’t get any easier after certification, but that stress and pressure I felt was suddenly lifted on Sunday afternoon when I strolled out of work as if I were walking on cloud nine. I look forward to the next stages of development as I learn more on the job and grow into my new position. The year has started of on the right foot.