Unlike the Engineers who drive the trains, Conductors are responsible for shipments and related documentation, directing train movements and handling communication with the Rail Traffic Control centre and yard offices.

Conductors’ duties differ slightly depending on whether or not they are assigned to move freight cars around the rail yard or to move trains out on the mainline from one yard to another. Regardless of whether or not you work on a yard or road assignment, a Conductor’s shift starts in the Booking-in Room with the Locomotive Engineer where they read and sign current Bulletins and Circulars, then gather up all the necessary paperwork. Once the crew is ready, the Traffic Coordinator can assign them to a wide variety of tasks.

A typical yard assignment involves breaking-up traffic that has just arrived. With the Engineer driving a ‘switching’ engine, the Conductor – and sometimes a Yard Helper – work on the ground switching blocks of traffic into the classification yard. The crew may also pick-up or deliver cars to and from customers near the yard, placing the loads or empties in a part of the classification yard reserved for local traffic. The Traffic Coordinator may also ask the Conductor to assemble blocks of cars onto different departure tracks for trains scheduled to depart. A conductor sometimes does this with the help of a BeltPack – a device that gives you remote control of a locomotive while working from both ends of the train.

Unless you are on a regular schedule, a Conductor’s road assignment starts with a phone call from the Crew Dispatching office or a train that originates from the yard – in which case you’ll pick-up your set of locomotives from the shop. With permission from the Traffic Coordinator to move around the yard, the Conductor couples-up the locomotives to the cars prepared earlier by a Yard Crew. Once the train is assembled and the required brake tests are complete, the Conductor calls the Traffic Coordinator for permission to leave the yard.

While on-route, Conductors handle most of the routine radio traffic – dealing with the Traffic Coordinator, Rail Traffic Control and any track maintenance personnel they may encounter along the way. It’s also the Conductor’s job to ‘call signals’ – which means the Conductor and the Engineer work together to verify each signal and their authority to continue, slow down or stop and to announce the train’s position at certain locations over the radio.

At various locations along its route, the Conductor may have to direct the train’s movements and handle switching duties as they pick-up or drop-off freight cars. If a knuckle breaks on one of the freight cars, the Conductor will have to walk the train to find the problem and make the necessary repairs.

As the train approaches its destination, the Conductor calls the yard Traffic Coordinator to find out which receiving track to place the train on. A crew’s shift ends in the local Booking-in Room, where they submit any required documentation, complete their reports and enter their hours for payroll. In some cases, crews on road assignments may be away from home for 24 to 48 hours - in which case they’ll stay at bunkhouses or local hotels.

The following day the same crew may pick-up and prepare a train for departure and then head-out onto the mainline back to their home terminal. Whether their next assignment is in the yard or out on the road – and regardless of the weather – Conductors are ready to report for their next shift 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

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