The train dispatcher has been an integral part of railroading since the
mid-19th century and without them, even with today's high tech signaling
systems (like CTC, PTC and [to a lesser extent] ABS) trains could not
safely and efficiently operate (particularly on railroad lines with only
one track). If you are interested in being a train dispatcher it
requires a significant amount of training to become familiar with the
territory in which you will be handling and directing trains as well as
learning what type of freight they will be hauling and the power (locomotives) typically used.
(To search for potential railroad careers directly please use the search box below from Indeed.com, one of the leading online career websites.)
A trio of late Family Lines units and an early example of CSX's "Stealth" livery have a freight of covered hoppers near Petersburg, Virginia on August 26, 1991. Note the rare BQ23-7 within the consist.
Before the days of advanced signaling systems, telephones, and the Internet train dispatching
required one to have an intimate knowledge of Morse Code and train
movements were hand written. Track warrants and train orders were given
to trains as they passed a railroad station/depot where the dispatcher
was located. To received the orders a conductor of the passing train
had to have a quick hand and fast reflexes, as the dispatcher used a
long pole with a big loop on the end to hoist the paper orders up to
him. During these early days there obviously was no centralized
dispatching centers and the dispatcher was known as a station agent.
As railroad signaling systems became more advanced, like centralized
traffic control (CTC), positive train control (PTC), and automatic block signals (ABS) there became less of a need for a dispatcher to be located out along the tracks and today the biggest railroads use either one main dispatching
building, or a small series of buildings around the system to keep
trains flowing safely and efficiently. Recently, the idea of a railroad
centralizing all of its dispatching has lost a bit of its luster as
companies like CSX Transportation have decided to break down the
department into regions. Ironically, centralizing was thought to be the
most efficient way to handle the practice but some railroads, anyway,
are now not so sure.
Conrail C40-8W #6159 and two other units travel next to Happy Creek Road with NS stack train 213 at bucolic Front Royal, Virginia on the afternoon of September 11, 1998.
While the position and hours of train dispatchers is not quite as hectic
as train crewmen it still comes with a lot stress so it is not exactly
for everyone. You must remain quite vigilant for the territory assigned
to you, knowing how to operate the computer programs you will use and how to decipher the dispatch board. Along with these tasks you must also stay in constant contact
with the many trains operating within your territory. A seasoned
dispatcher makes the task look easy but in reality it takes a very long
time to master.
To get an even better idea of what a train dispatcher does and what is required of the position here is a brief set of requirements Union Pacific expects:
We're looking for applicants with superior interpersonal and
analytical skills, able to speak clearly, read and understand operating
and safety rules, exercise good judgment, analyze problems and take
corrective action. Successful candidates will demonstrate a strong
aptitude for utilizing information systems and thrive in a fast-paced,
pressure-filled work environment with changing priorities.
Multi-tasking is a must. You must be able to identify and distinguish
colors displayed on a video monitor and video display in order to read
track labels, switch indicator lights and other safety sensitive
The most qualified applicants will possess a college degree or the equivalent in experience (Train Dispatcher or logistics line management). Strong preference will be given to a college degree in transportation, logistics, business administration, economics or engineering. A graduate degree and/or prior supervisory, transportation industry, military, or Air Traffic Controller experience is a definite plus. Minimum qualifications must be maintained during the training. This is a safety-sensitive position subject to toxicological testing.
Norfolk Southern's Office Car Special (OCS) led by F9A #4271 is tied down in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the night of May 20, 2008 before continuing on to Brownsville the next day.
Similar to what a trainmaster will go through, when dispatching expect
the unexpected and most definitely expect to be chewed out, as again,
it can be very stressful and you must be on top of things constantly.
In any event, if you are not even sure if a career in railroading is
right for you but would like to learn more about what it takes to work
in the industry you might want to consider the book Working on the Railroad
from noted author Brian Solomon. Solomon's book details the history of
working in the railroad industry and the difficulties and hardship
employees faced back then as well as today.