Have you ever wondered what it would be like to conduct a train? While working on the railroad may seem like a far-off dream, the North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth makes this dream possible with a program specifically designed to help people become conductors. The New Conductor Class offered every year opens up the possibility to become a volunteer conductor with the North Shore Scenic Railroad, and even to take the love of trains even further.
There are two programs with the North Shore Scenic Railroad that help give people the knowledge and skills needed to work for the railroad. The first program, for novices, culminates in the ability to become a train conductor.
Ken Buehler, executive director of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, said that the conductor program is a rewarding way for those interested in trains to turn their interest into a reality.
“A lot of people dream about being an engineer, but they find that they like being a conductor better,” said Buehler. “The conductor is actually the one in charge of the safe operation of the train, and the one who is interacting with passengers, answering questions, and getting the chance to talk about the trains and the North Shore.”
The beginner conductor classes begin right after the new year and meet once per week for seven weeks. The course includes some classroom work and some hands-on experience running trains on the North Shore Scenic Railroad. (While anyone can take the class, only students 18 years of age or older can complete the hands-on portion.) At the end of the class, students are prepared to take the GCOR, or the General Code of Operating Rules exam. Passing the GCOR means a student can become a certified conductor prepared to volunteer on the North Shore Scenic Railroad during the busy summer and fall seasons. Not only that, but the licensing earned is transferable to other railroads beyond the North Shore Scenic Railroad.
“We get a wide range of students who take the class, from young teens interested in trains to seniors,” said Buehler. “Some people just want to learn more and get involved, and others start to look for conductor jobs on other railroads.”
The program has attracted college students from UW-Superior who are studying transportation logistics, and others interested in an economical way to learn the skills needed to pass the GCOR.
“There’s a technical college in Minnesota that trains people to become a conductor, but that costs quite a bit of money; in Duluth it’s practically free,” said Buehler.
Certified conductors have to retake the GCOR every year to keep their licensure and ensure their skills are up-to-date. For those who complete the novice program and want to continue their skills, there are opportunities for that as well: once someone becomes a conductor, they can take further classes to work their way up to becoming a fireperson, then an apprentice engineer, and eventually an engineer.
Apart from the train crew, the North Shore Scenic Railroad and the Lake Superior Railroad Museum continually have opportunities for community members to get involved and volunteer. In 2018 alone, volunteers donated over 15,000 hours at the railroad and museum. Several events take place each year at the museum where volunteers are needed, such as the Day Out With Thomas fundraiser. There are also opportunities for volunteers working within the Lake Superior Railroad Museum.
“We were started by volunteers and run on volunteer power,” said Buehler. “We are always open to inquiries from people looking to get involved.”
Those interested in volunteer opportunities can contact the North Shore Scenic Railroad at (218) 722-1273.