Railroad brake, signal, and switch operators take care of railroad tracks and equipment. They put rail cars together for the transport of passengers and freight.
The building of the first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, in Promontory Summit, Utah. Before this, trains could only go as far west as Omaha, Nebraska. By connecting the two coasts, travel and shipping of cargo was made much safer and more efficient. People could now travel easily from coast to coast, instead of traveling by water or by wagon. Furthermore, the completion of the railway was considered one of the most important engineering feats of the day.
Even today, travel by train is extremely energy efficient. Trains are still used for travel and shipping, and many old train routes are enjoying a renaissance as people have become more interested in traveling with a historical flair.
The people that keep trains moving, so to speak, are railroad brake, signal, and switch operators. They inspect rails, ties, cars, and engines for defects. Before and after each trip, they refuel engines and oil moving parts. They divert cars or engines that need repairs. Operators keep track of how many cars are available, how many have been sent for repairs, and what types of service or repairs are needed.
Railroad brake, signal, and switch operators get assignments from the yard conductor or yardmaster. They read the daily car schedule to determine how many cars are needed for the next day's run. They use these schedules to put the trains together car by car. Operators raise and lower levers to couple and uncouple cars. They sometimes attach cables and connect air hoses to cars, using hand tools.
Railroad brake, signal, and switch operators use remote controls to move cars from track to track in the yard. They throw track switches to route cars. They ride on top of moving cars and operate hand wheels to slow and stop them. They activate traffic signals using arms, lanterns, or electronic controls. They watch for traffic signals from other workers. Occasionally, trains stop for emergencies. In these situations, operators set flares, flags, or lanterns ahead and behind the train to warn oncoming trains.
Railroad brake, signal, and switch operators may help passengers get on and off trains. They place baggage in racks over the seats on the train. They may collect tickets, fares, and passes from passengers. They may answer questions about schedules, train rules, and stations. Following instructions from the conductor, some railroad brake, signal, and switch operators adjust controls to regulate heating, air conditioning, and lighting. The extent to which a railroad brake, signal, and switch operator assists passengers depends on the size of the yard where they work.