End of the Line

Jonathan Make
6 min readMar 2, 2023


It was a strange day on the railroad — and not even a long day, either.

Letting me go did not take long, and I am appreciative of that fact. It was handled with a decent amount of tact, by people I like. That helps immensely.

End of the line-ish? Source: Wikimedia Commons website.

I received a call this past Tuesday afternoon from the railroad’s crew dispatching center, at a time when I expected to have been called to work. I had just attended my second union meeting. This was only possible because I had spoken at length with the same dispatching center about getting my guaranteed unpaid time off from work, in order to attend the gathering.

Usually, I would have received an automated call instructing me on the where and when of my next shift. Instead, one of the dispatchers himself was on the phone line, and he said I should go to computer simulation training.

Bring my PPE (personal protective equipment), I was told, along with my work handheld device. Since I don’t use the latter, I just brought the former.

I did wonder to myself why I would need my equipment for the simulation. There is a simulator locally, although I think it is mainly used for locomotive engineers to do their training.

The dispatcher who called me, a guy I have dealt with a few times before and who I always appreciated my dealings with, seemed as confused by the situation as I was. He did not know where exactly at work I should go. He came up with a time to report for duty — 5:50 p.m. — because that was the requisite one-and-a-half hours after he had called me. He gave me the phone number of someone who I did not recognize, saying that this person was conducting the training.

Our peer trainer, I learned between the time I was called and when I showed up in person, also was going to be there. He was not much more in the loop than I was, and he initially was not planning to be there. But he got invited, and he was interested to see what this training was about. That made two of us.

At the appointed time, I showed up at the manager’s building at the train depot. I walked into the building with one of the local managers, which was a good thing, as I had forgotten the password for that facility. A guy I personally like (and I have learned a fair amount from him as well), I asked him how he was doing. Not well was his answer, as it had been a hard February. He was glad the month was over. (The date was Feb. 28.)

Once inside the building, I chit-chatted with the peer trainer, who already was there. It was the usual banter with the trainer, enjoyable as always. From speaking with him, I learned that the guy who was supposed to be doing the simulator training was a new manager in Laramie.

After settling in, the Cheyenne manager who walked in with me asked to meet. I wondered for a minute if I was in some sort of trouble, but I quickly dismissed the thought.

There were no incidents that had happened during my short time on the railroad, so I had no worries. I was enjoying the job and seemed to be doing well.

Once inside the manager’s office, he said that my offer of employment was rescinded. He indicated that the rail carrier may not have thought that I was “a good fit.” This is something that can happen to new employees, and I was just about finished with this so-called derail period. This turn of events obviously came as a surprise, so I asked the manager what had happened.

Yet on the other hand, I was not completely shocked by this development, because the railroad kind of works like this. This is why there is a union, with protections for workers. It’s just that during the derail period, the union cannot do much for new employees who for some reason run afoul of the company. I think my derail time would have ended in about a week.

The manager either did not know why I was being fired, or was not at liberty to disclose the details. My guess is, it’s a mix of both of those factors.

It is also possible there is no reason I was being laid off, and that for some reason the company wanted to save money for a little while before the next wave of new hires start their jobs. Railroads are in the middle of a hiring crisis; they simply cannot get enough people. So it’s a mystery why they are firing any newbies, especially without a stated reason.

The manager said he was just the messenger of bad news, and that he did not know why this was happening. All he knew, he said, is that some other new employees also were losing their jobs in Cheyenne. And he mentioned some sort of tension between the two service units that our main route goes between. I was not even aware of any such friction.

I am glad at least that the railroad had this guy deliver the bad news. He was nice as ever, said upon questioning that he had no idea how I could find out what transpired, and wished me well.

I gave him my radio and also my reflective vest. He said I could keep my Federal Railroad Administration license-card, as I was still certified as a conductor.

He suggested I check out BNSF locally if I wanted to stay in railroading. I did just that later that evening.

I always knew that something like this could happen, as random as it appears to have been. The carrier can jettison new employees for pretty much any (non-discriminatory) reason.

I have worked my entire adult life, and have never been fired. I had a perfect attendance record at the railroad. I never had a bad interaction with a manager, and was never reprimanded for anything, either. I don’t think in the end any of that really matters.

The union leaders I shared the news with were likewise shocked, and they said they would look into the situation. I appreciate their brother- and sisterhood, even if the union can’t do much for anyone who is laid off before their employment becomes permanent. For those with protection, the union will go to the mat for any member who loses their job.

Showing the vagaries of my current (or is it my former) employer, as I was writing this, I received an automated message from the company. It was incorrectly informing me that I was the third person in line to leave Cheyenne as a conductor on a train to Rawlins. I kept getting these messages through the night.

Even if I had not just been laid off, I would have already been on duty, so these notifications still would have been moot. I just find that it perfectly captures the whole situation.

While I am holding out some hope that my fellow new employees and I can get our jobs back, I am using this time to apply to other jobs. Most likely, I will return to an office — and perhaps journalism, or at least some other kind of public service.

I will greatly miss most aspects of being a conductor, which even with the layoff was the least stressful job I have ever held. I am already missing being outside while on the clock. I am trying to work out more at the gym to offset the loss of all of the physical work we used to do “on the ground” when we got off the train.

It is nice being home with my family for a longer period of time than is usually possible with railroad schedules. Thanks to that job, I will never again take this home and family time for granted.



Jonathan Make

I work at USPTO but my views only here. Buff about good journalism, writing, art & culture. Heart my wife, son & pets.