With two generations of railroad workers in her family, there’s no doubt trains are in Chelsea Carr’s blood. But Carr, 23, is the first in her family to take the controls of a 285,000-ton diesel engine as an on-call locomotive engineer for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR).
Hired as an assistant conductor four years ago, Carr worked herself up to conductor, then attended engine school, from which she graduated last year.
“As an engineer, I need to operate at 100 percent,” she said, “and know every rule and how to apply them, no matter what situation I’m in.”
What does it mean to be an on-call engineer?
I could be called at any time and asked to show up within two hours to run any train line that originates from South Station. On Monday, I might be called to Providence; maybe Greenbush on Tuesday or Middleborough on Wednesday.
What did you learn at engine school?
This training program included classroom instruction, simulation, and hands-on experience. We had eight weeks of mechanical training, then learned to run trains from different outlying points.
Is one particular commuter rail line more challenging than another?
If I’m going to Wickford, R.I., for example, there’s more pressure because I’m dealing with two railroads — Amtrak runs to Wickford. If I’m going out to Worcester, there’s [freight carrier] CSX. I need to deal with not just my own crew, but a different railway’s crew as well. It’s important to get the train safely and efficiently to its destination, but sometimes you need to run around a freight train.
What goes into your job that people might not be aware of?
We need to know how to troubleshoot a problem that an engine or train might be having.
How challenging is it to run a commuter rail train to its destination?
Locomotive engineers are required to know all the characteristics of a line – where the stations and signals are, and all the rules that pertain to that particular place. If I’m going to Plymouth, I need to know the grade of the territory and whether it’s uphill, downhill, or curved, and run the train accordingly. As I get closer to the Franklin-Dean station, I’ll put a little more power on the uphill to maintain top speed of 70 miles an hour.
What’s it like to be from a railroad family?
My grandfather worked in a tower, the equivalent of a train dispatcher now. My father is a track laborer. I rode the trains when I was a little kid.
When driving a commuter rail train, what’s your favorite scenic view?
Watching the sun come up in Warwick, R.I., and seeing all the boats docked is really pretty.
Cindy Atoji Keene
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