ELKHART — Rick Fiene didn’t see much room for growth at his old job, so he hopped on a different career track.
An Elkhart resident since 1999, Fiene took a job with the Norfolk Southern Railroad last year as a conductor on westbound trains to Chicago. He had a pretty good idea of what to expect, from having friends and family in the railroad and doing some research before applying, and he quickly found that the pay as well as the variety in the new job suited him just fine.
“My father actually worked for the railroad when I was younger, I had a couple friends whose dads just retired from the railroad, so I kind of had an idea of how things were and how things were gonna be, and I just came in with an open mind,” he said Wednesday at the railyard on the southwest side of the city. “I knew it wasn’t a typical 9-to-5 job, and quite frankly I was a little tired of working a typical 9-to-5 job.”
There’s no typical routine he follows now, but he said an average day might start with a call saying he has to be on board an outbound train in a couple hours. He and an engineer then head west, keeping a close eye on the freight behind them and the tracks ahead of them the whole time; rest for about 10 hours after they get to Chicago; then take an eastbound train back home from one of the dozen-plus yards in that region.
It’s a process that can take anywhere from 25 to 42 hours and he usually does it three times a week. He’s happy with the work and satisfied with the pay, and between now and mid-2019, Norfolk Southern hopes to hire as many as 65 more conductors like him to run routes out of the second largest railyard in its 22-state system.