Military to Amtrak Passenger Engineer

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Military to Amtrak Passenger Engineer

Postby Army4772 » Wed May 10, 2017 5:20 pm

This is my first post on railroad.net ... I am currently an Officer in the Army with 14 years of service. Therefore I will be eligible to retire in in 6 years (Jan 2024). I have a Master's Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. I have also done multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. As an officer, I am a planner... So, I have been exploring careers that I can transition to upon my retirement. I am interested in a career with Amtrak as a Passenger Engineer. I am a father of 5 and will be 46 yo when I retire. I plan on retiring in the Wash DC area.

I understand that, if I were to be hired, I would start at the low end of the totem pole (seniority). I also understand that the hours are varied and the schedule is unpredictable. Lastly, I understand that with a large family I will not be able to participate in many activities (sporting events, school events, some holidays, etc) as I begin this new career. Having said that, I have the following questions:

- Is there anything I can do over the next 6 years of my career to increase the likelihood of being hired when I retire (schooling, etc)?
- Will my age be a limiting factor in getting hired?
- What do routes for new hires look like out of the DC Area? While I don't mind an unpredictable schedule, I would rather not be away overnight if possible.
- Do DC routes all initiate out of Union Station? i.e. Would that be where I would start and finish my day?
- What is a reasonable pay range that I can expect during my first 3-5 years? I understand that I will have to take a pay cut, but I am hoping my retirement income will make up the difference (with housing and allowances I currently pull in roughly 120k/yr).
- How long does it take (estimate) before I will able to have a more predictable schedule?

Well, that is probably too much. I understand this post is lengthy and contains many questions. I appreciate those of you who take the time to read it and respond. I know that there is a wealth of experience in this forum and I am hoping to soak up all of it that I can. Thanks for your time.
Last edited by Army4772 on Thu May 11, 2017 12:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Amtrak Passenger Engineer

Postby Jeff Smith » Thu May 11, 2017 9:07 am

Welcome to the forum and thank you for your service! I'm an Army retiree, and I actually work with transitioning veterans. You've got a ways to go, and I wish you the best of luck in getting to 20!
Next stop, Willoughby
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Re: Amtrak Passenger Engineer

Postby Army4772 » Thu May 11, 2017 12:31 pm

Thanks Jeff! If the next 6 years go by as fast as the last 6, I really don't have that long to go at all... I realize I am a ways out, but when trying to plan assignment locations and family considerations I figure it doesn't hurt to think ahead. Also, I want to do whatever I can to increase my competitiveness in the interim.
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Re: Military to Amtrak Passenger Engineer

Postby Acela150 » Thu May 11, 2017 9:29 pm

First off, let me thank you for your service.

Secondly, I will answer your questions in RED font next to your questions.

But what you do have is a good mind set going into this. You know that you will have no seniority and will have to work your way up to earn a regular assignment. It also helps that you understand what the lifestyle is, missing family events, etc. Not many people understand that or even know that going into a testing session. I have previous RR experience in Freight and knew what I was getting into.

I also will add that Amtrak is big into hiring Vets. Many railroads are. Simply cause, with all due respect Military Vets are "Yes men/women". Meaning they will do what is asked of them. Many railroaders who are "non vets" won't do what they're asked of simply cause they know that management doesn't pay back favors. So basically a Train master says "I need you to taxi to abc to take train 123 to 321". And most of the time this is after they have worked their assigned job for the day and about about to tie up and go home.

So with having your 20 years of Military experience trust me you have a decent shot.

Army4772 wrote:I understand that, if I were to be hired, I would start at the low end of the totem pole (seniority). I also understand that the hours are varied and the schedule is unpredictable. Lastly, I understand that with a large family I will not be able to participate in many activities (sporting events, school events, some holidays, etc) as I begin this new career. Having said that, I have the following questions:

- Is there anything I can do over the next 6 years of my career to increase the likelihood of being hired when I retire (schooling, etc)? No, with being a military vet you're golden.
- Will my age be a limiting factor in getting hired? Since you are a vet, I would doubt it.
- What do routes for new hires look like out of the DC Area? While I don't mind an unpredictable schedule, I would rather not be away overnight if possible. Working out of DC their are two crew bases. Zone 2 (Washington-NYC) and Zone 5 (Washington-Richmond,Florence, SC, Pittsburgh, PA, Newport News, VA, Lynchburg, VA, Charlottesville,VA) Zone 2 goes home everyday. Zone 5 is a toss up depending on which job you're assigned to. If you get hired for Zone 5 there is a better chance of overnighting.
- Do DC routes all initiate out of Union Station? i.e. Would that be where I would start and finish my day? Once again depends on your Crew base Zone 2 takes trains to NYC that could start out of DC or come from VA, Zone 5 it's all depending on your assignment on where you will go.
- What is a reasonable pay range that I can expect during my first 3-5 years? I understand that I will have to take a pay cut, but I am hoping my retirement income will make up the difference (with housing and allowances I currently pull in roughly 120k/yr). This I can't speak for. But I'm aware that top rate currently for Engineers at Amtrak is close to $43/HR after 5 years. On the railroad anything over 8 hours is OT. I think in time you'll come close if not exceed what you make currently.
- How long does it take (estimate) before I will able to have a more predictable schedule? It could vary. The way I look at things is take the first job you can hold no matter how much seniority you do or don't have. Even if the job is crap, at least you'd have some kind of set schedule. I have friends that are Engineers that have about ballpark 8 years and one holds the extra board in Zone 1 and the other holds a decent job in Zone 2 out of Philly. Funny thing is the guy on the board has more seniority. But they both have about 8 years and I think they started holding about 5 years or so in.


The plus to Amtrak is that your seniority is National. Meaning you can hire out of DC Zone 5, and if you don't like the jobs you can bid to DC Zone 2 to run to NYC and back. Or You hire out of DC in Zone 2 and you want to move to Let's say Miami, you can Bid to that crew zone. I had mentioned that I have a friend who is an engineer in Zone 1, he currently runs between NYC and Boston. He lives in the NYC area and will routinely Bid to Zone 2 (NYC-WAS,PHL,HAR) stay there for a while then go back to Zone 1. Mostly to keep his Physical Characteristics current. I think he is actually a member of these forums.

Good luck!
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Re: Military to Amtrak Passenger Engineer

Postby Army4772 » Fri May 12, 2017 12:09 pm

Thanks for your detailed response Acela150!

Glad to hear that Amtrak is big on hiring vets... Now I just need to hope that the timing works out when I transition. I love what I do for the Army, but I know when the time comes I will be ready to move on.

I am tracking that I will have to start over seniority wise, that will be an interesting thing for me if I get hired. I am used to leading Soldiers and though I love it, I will be ready to lighten that load when the time comes. I am sure, however, that there will be plenty of new stressors that come with being an engineer if/when I go that route.

Once again, thanks for your thoughtful reply.
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Re: Military to Amtrak Passenger Engineer

Postby 8th Notch » Sat May 13, 2017 1:02 pm

I would encourage you to be open to other positions on the R.R as well, Amtrak only usually hires a very small amount of engineers a time per crew base and usually the number of applicants are easily several hundred.
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Re: Military to Amtrak Passenger Engineer

Postby Gadfly » Thu May 25, 2017 4:59 pm

Army4772 wrote:Thanks for your detailed response Acela150!

Glad to hear that Amtrak is big on hiring vets... Now I just need to hope that the timing works out when I transition. I love what I do for the Army, but I know when the time comes I will be ready to move on.

I am tracking that I will have to start over seniority wise, that will be an interesting thing for me if I get hired. I am used to leading Soldiers and though I love it, I will be ready to lighten that load when the time comes. I am sure, however, that there will be plenty of new stressors that come with being an engineer if/when I go that route.

Once again, thanks for your thoughtful reply.


Are you absolutely SURE this is what you want? You see, I'm a rail retiree, and I am just fascinated by people who have worked for years as a manager or military officer, used to commanding others to do what YOU demand of them, then suddenly deciding that their "calling" is the "romance of the rails" (NOT!). Are you SURE that you can handle being on the BOTTOM of the "pecking order", seeing others, with higher seniority than you, bidding assignments that are out of reach for YOU. Will you really think its fair that your job was cut off, but Bob So 'n So held his? Sure????? :-)

There is, of course, the chance that you might get hired on AS a manager of some section, etc. Remember: railroads, believe it or not, are not ALL about trains. The railroads LOVE managers and officers because their culture has always traditionally been military-oriented and regimented.

Make sure this career choice isn't driven by some childhood fascination with trains. Make no mistake; it IS a good career.................but. There a BUNCH of "Buts"--including the "Butts" you'll run into on the railroad! :( Railroading IS very different. It has its own culture and language. The atmosphere can be very severe and harsh. The varying schedules and lack of regular off days (in the early years) takes a VERY high toll on marriages! Is your family prepared for this? You can't just "mark off" just because you want to. If the board is exhausted, you BETTER be there.

Me, knowing what I know from all those years on the railroad, I would not embark on this at 50 years old. While it won't be "bad", you will not receive the full
360 month, age 60 retirement that we did. If you hire out at 50-51 years old (you're 46 now?), you'd be pushing 80 to get the full pension. No one's gonna do that. This gives you.......what? 16 years to work to age 66.

So, Don't let me discourage you , but I would find something in private work as a manager rather that hire out to the railroad. I just think you could do better pension-wise outside the rail industry. Whatever you decide, GUD LUCK to you! :-D

Gadfly,
Retired, Norfolk Southern
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Re: Military to Amtrak Passenger Engineer

Postby phillyrube » Tue Jun 06, 2017 8:33 am

Just a thought, if you can sway from the operating crew desire. Norfolk Southern has a managerial program that is pretty good. I used to work with two guys who retired from the police, so they are in their 50s, and entered it. They are enjoying it so far.
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Re: Military to Amtrak Passenger Engineer

Postby Gadfly » Sat Jun 17, 2017 6:07 pm

phillyrube wrote:Just a thought, if you can sway from the operating crew desire. Norfolk Southern has a managerial program that is pretty good. I used to work with two guys who retired from the police, so they are in their 50s, and entered it. They are enjoying it so far.


That is a good route to take. I see so many people who are just taken by all the "Casey Jones" and "Romance of the Rails' stuff. They see all the "choo choo's" and read all the magazines that glorify the railroad life, then are shocked when they actually are required to deal with it. The reality is NOT like the fantasy. Another thing is that "operating crew" stuff. There is so much more to the railroad than "just" Trains, and many fields to get into. Plus, if you get into management, there is a separate pension above RRB to consider. That could make up for what you would lose in actual pension under non-management careers.
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