Same Problem Different Jobs
Last year I read an article in CBC News that noted that 75% of freight train engineers reported that they were sleeping on their job because they slept during the job (pun intended). The freight train engineers claimed that they regularly found themselves nodding off while at the controls due to fatigue caused by long working shifts.
This article reminded me of a personal and shameful fatigue-related incident that happened during my first peak season job as a conductor in the Toronto to Vancouver passenger train. Before I proceed, I must admit that the working shifts in passenger shifts are not that bad and although my problems are similar to those reported by freight train engineers, my causes are very different from theirs.
The Tiresome Incident
It happened in the middle of May just a week after the start of the peak May to October rail travel season. It was my first peak season day as a conductor of the crammed passenger train from Toronto to Vancouver and there was no assistant conductor as promised by the company.
Additionally, I had spent the last few days, including the previous night, partying with my friends as I comforted myself that I would fewer duties with an assistant conductor on-board. When I inquired on the missing train conductor, the freight train engineer intimated that the company had noted how well I managed the train without an assistant conductor and hence thought instead of hiring one they would offer a bonus and a quick promotion instead.
I was gratified and honored by this meritorious appraisal as I boarded the train with my shoulders held high. The only hitch in all this was that I had forgotten how demanding the job became during the peak season.
The Hectic Ride
My problems started immediately after the train left Toronto. You should know that as the train conductor, my formal job description entails normal operational and safety duties in the train. However, as the only crew member in the train, besides the train engineer who cannot be disturbed, everything and everybody became my duty. I was flooded with passenger demands and questions, which I tried to address as best as I could despite the head-splitting hangover that plagued me.
I had slept for less than two hours before reporting on the job and I was overwhelmed with fatigue. When I could not take it anymore, I disappeared into my secluded office pretending that I was tending to paperwork, and after swallowing some painkillers I dozed off. I was awoken by the freight engineer after the train had stopped at a station for about twenty minutes and I was nowhere to be found.
After receiving a mouthful from the train engineer, I went back to work but my performance was so poor that the passengers decided that I was sick when they realized that even their threats of filing official complaints did not do nothing but motivate me. This gave me an excuse to go and lie down.
After sleeping for several hours I was refreshed and by the time I arrived at Vancouver four days later, I was ready to face the music if my behavior was reported. Luckily for me, the glorious adventure had wiped the passenger’s wrath and the freight engineer resolved not to report my poor performance as long as I promised never to repeat such a mistake.
I finally got my promotion and nowadays as I steer the train through the shining lakes and the breathtaking prairies, I always thank the Canadian beauty for appeasing my passengers on that fateful day and hence saving my career.