Living the dream: From rail fan to conductor

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Nov 14, 2023

Read Time
3 min

Living the dream: From rail fan to conductor

Collin Wilson, a 20-year-old conductor in Lebanon, Missouri, has known since he was a child that he wanted to be a railroader, specifically at BNSF. What started as a love for Thomas the Tank Engine morphed into what he hopes to be a lifelong career.

“One day when I was really young, I was sitting at home watching TV and Thomas the Tank Engine popped up,” Wilson told his hometown newspaper, The Laclede County Record, which featured him in September. “From there on, it just took off.”

Wilson loved playing with all of his Thomas the Tank Engine toys, and as he grew older, he began model railroading and traveling the country to take scenic photos of trains.  

“I grew up running to the crossing in Lebanon any time a freight train came through, and all I ever saw was BNSF, so I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do and work on the network that comes through my hometown,” Wilson told the newspaper.  

As a conductor, Wilson is in charge of keeping track of what’s being shipped. It’s also his job to make sure train cars are connected and that the train is braking correctly.

“As a conductor, I’m basically in charge of train orders from station to station -- if we have to set out [freight] cars, if we have to pick up cars -- and making sure we have the right number of cars, keeping track of our train’s footage so we can fit in case we have to move the train into a siding, making sure we’re working off the right signals that tell us what to do and making sure we’re traversing the route safely,” he told the Record.

Wilson’s job comes with a lot of responsibility, and he enjoys it. His favorite days involve the heavy work of putting trains back together. Recently he had, in his words, a fun day when he “cut” a train for a crossing (separated to create an opening for vehicles to temporarily cross through).

Like all our train crews, Wilson is on call 24/7. He has two hours to get to work after receiving notice, and then will work a 12-hour shift. Once his shift is over, he’s off for 12 hours and others get called for duty.

Wilson finds his time on the trains relaxing and looks forward to his workdays.

“I really enjoy that swaying feeling of the trains. It’s relaxing to me. It’s therapeutic,” he told the reporter.

Wilson hopes that he can eventually be a locomotive engineer. He is taking classes online from Missouri State, and plans to use his degree to work in management as a yardmaster, trainmaster or terminal manager,

“I was so excited to be hired by BNSF,” Wilson said. “I’m literally running down a living piece of history every day.”

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