Kevin Walker describes what learning to operate a train feels like with a whistle and a two-word phrase: “pretty intense.”
Walker, 30, is an alumnus of Mark Mattis’ locomotive engineer and conductor course at Bucks County Community College (see story on page 44). The son of an Amtrak worker, Walker says his father urged him to take the course and learn the ways of the railroad. “I figured, ‘I was 30 and I didn’t have a career,’” the Fairless Hills resident says. “I saw the course at Bucks and figured I’d take it.”
Because of his father, Walker says he had a general idea what working on a train was like. Or so he thought. “Wow, is it the opposite of what you think,” he says. And what he thought was, “How hard can it be?”
Rather than just cruising along on metal rails, Walker found out that learning to operate a train, from basic driving to the myriad rules at the federal level, is an exceedingly detailed activity. “Every rule has another rule on top,” he says. “But it’s not hard, if you take the time.”
Walker starts work as a freight conductor for Conrail on December 1, a feat he says he could not have achieved without taking Mattis’ course. Beyond a familiarity with rail operations, he says, the course made him appear as a more serious candidate to Conrail, rather than someone looking for a job who might be gone in a few months.
Being single helps. “The railroad takes a lot of your life,” Walker says. “But the rewards are tremendous.”