AT WORK: Train conductor for the new Hartford Line

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As the long anticipated New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line launches, a dozen conductors will be on hand to make sure more than 30 trips a day go well.

The Record-Journal recently sat down with conductor Joseph Missale, 24, of New York, formerly of the Long Island Railroad, to talk about his job and decision to join the new line. He spoke from Union Station in New Haven. 

Q: How did you get started in this profession?

Missale: It’s kind of funny how I got started because I kind of attribute the railroad to my grandfather. He used to work in towers around Connecticut and drawbridges and he actually ended up at MetroNorth as a dispatcher so he’s been working along Connecticut forever. Then his son, my uncle, he works as a conductor for MetroNorth and he works out of here in New Haven. I’m the third generation.

Q: What is your background?

Missale:  I graduated high school, I was in college for one year, I was actually studying physical therapy and at the time I had just applied for the Long Island Railroad and once I got the email saying they wanted to test me I weighed my options. Do I go for six more years? Do I get my career started right now? I said I have the family routes so I know they would guide me and help me along the way if I had any questions so it was kind of like a no-brainer for me.

Q: Why did you decide to join CTrail?

Missale: I was with the freight (line) and I was just looking for a better opportunity. My roots were in passenger service and interacting with people is something I enjoy. As you can see I’m talkative and I do like meeting new people and giving them that experience. It pops up so many times where someone is on the train and it’s their very first train ride. You want to give them that enjoyable experience and I missed that with the freight. I saw a lot of room for growth.

Q: What kind of preparation do you need to be a conductor?

Missale: Initially when I first got hired on the railroad it was series of a bunch of tests and it was pretty much a one and done. If you failed you were out. That was my first start with Long Island Railroad. Then I went to the freight side. 

Q: What does the freight side entail?

Missale: So we would report to work and there would be generally a train coming in that would have a bunch of different goods on it whether it was lumber, stone, just a bunch of different things for customers along the various lines we had. So once that train would come in, we pretty much would dissect it. As the conductor it was your job to set up the train. If you knew you had a train going out that night you wanted to set it up so it would go in order of the customers along the line. 

 Q: What kind of skills do you need to be a conductor?

Missale: A lot of times when I tell people I’m a conductor they say, ‘oh you’re the guy driving the train,’ no I’m not – that’s the engineer. Especially with this new project, CTrail, it’s a two men crew. We have to be on the same page.  

We take the same tests as the engineer, we know essentially the same things. We pretty much are on the same page, and we have to be because if there is a move that needs to be done that is required by the dispatcher, we have to be on that same page especially if I’m backing the train up. 

Q: What kind of situations have you dealt with on a train?

Missale: Yesterday the dispatcher brought us in here in New Haven on track 10... and as soon as we got in the dispatcher said essentially ‘I messed up, I can’t have you guys stay there.’ There was no crew available there yesterday so we actually backed up the train, we got behind a signal that would take us into another track and there it just stayed. 

Especially if there was ever an emergency on the train, you know until ambulance and EMS shows up, you’re the first person that’s in charge. If someone is in danger or someone is having a heart attack, I’m trained in CPR and AED. All the conductors here are now.  

Q: There’s been several incidents in the last few years of trains derailing, how do you handle those reports?

Missale: There’s a lot of train stories in the news these days, you hear about derailments all the time, you hear about someone fell asleep or someone had sleep apnea. We get tested on all of that. 

Schedules are hard on the railroad, where I came from it was not uncommon to work 12 hours every day, sometimes six days a week. It’s definitely difficult to stay focused, you’re seeing the same tracks over and over, and you can feel sleepy.  The main thing is to stay focused. It just makes me want to do a better job. 

Q: How do you think the train industry has changed in the last decade?

Missale: It’s definitely becoming more modern. There’s really no margin for error anymore, the industry is very focused on safety. 

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