When Christina House started as a part-time bus operator for Metro Transit in 2007, her goal was to move over to the new light rail system. While many people cautioned, “You can’t do that — you just got here,” House said, “I did it anyway.” She operated a bus for nine months to acquire the necessary experience to become a train operator. A year later, she became a relief instructor for light rail — “like a substitute teacher,” she said — a position she held for four years while continuing to operate trains. She eventually became a full-time instructor, then moved into her current role in 2014.
“As the rail coordinator, I am in charge of the light rail instruction department. I do all of the scheduling for relief instructors. I coordinate all of the training — not only for operators but also for other departments who work with the electrical systems and switches. Anyone coming over has to be rules qualified. I also keep all of the training paperwork up to date.” In other words, House likely had a connection to everyone responsible for the 15,999,993 light rail rides in 2014.
Before coming to Metro Transit, House operated a school bus for eight years. She loved both the school bus and the Metro Transit bus. Still, she said, the uniqueness of the light rail appealed to her; Metro Transit employs 126 light rail operators, vs. 1,479 bus operators. “Not a lot of people can say they have operated a train. I like to do unique things and be different and go for it,” House said.
How is operating light rail different from operating a bus?
You’re trained in a car or truck. That relates easily to a bus — it’s just bigger. When you come to rail, it’s a whole different world. You no longer have the ability to squirm out of the way. It’s a mentally draining position — you have to be constantly aware of what’s in front of you to make adjustments sooner. The train has a secured cab. It’s just the operator in the cab. They need that quiet to focus on their job. As a bus operator, they have that face-to-face contact with the customer.
Do rail operators and bus operators have different personalities?
When we did all the hiring for the Green Line, the bus operators’ biggest complaint was, “It doesn’t take any kind of provoking for this negativity to happen on their buses.” They’re happy to get away from that. Some people discover it’s not just the quiet. The operating is different, the mental focus is different. It’s very rules-oriented. This isn’t for everyone. In training, we tell them, “Don’t be afraid to say so.”
What training is required for light rail?
The first two weeks are in a classroom, just learning the rules. Once they pass that, we get them out in the field for four to six weeks depending on how they’re grasping it. They learn how the vehicle operates, the physical characteristics of both lines. They memorize the stops, learn the cycle of the lights, get familiar and comfortable.
What’s the best part of your job?
I can still operate if I want to. I love that I am a part of every employee’s journey. I help get them the information they need, if they’re struggling I can help them. I love being involved. □