Thursday, December 9, 2010

Remote-controlled engines now switch out trains in Port Laredo

Remote controlled train loading grain at Kansas Silo
Progress usually is synonymous with the abolishment of jobs and positions. Locally, we have two companies that have a history of their employee numbers diminishing by leaps and bounds. I'm referring to Union Pacific Railroad and the Texas & Mexican Railway.  At one time, way back in the 1970s perhaps, each train crew consisted of an Engineer and a Fireman up front in the Locomotive Engine plus a Train Conductor and two brakemen. This was a total of 5 employees per train.
In the 1970s, new labor agreements and newer technology started to eliminate many of the crews' positions. First to go was the 2nd brakeman, now only one was needed. Walkie-Talkies made it possible to swithout a train without having to visually see the signals from the other crewmembers. Next, the Firemen, who had managed to somehow hold on to their jobs despite the fact that hardly any steam engines were left, started to be eliminated through attrition. As they retired, they were not replaced. Union agreements continued to weaken crews. A rule calling for trains not to exceed 71 car lengths made it possible to get rid of the remaining brakeman.
Now, there were two: the Engineer and the trusty old Conductor. Well, this didn't last long. The railroad decided that the cabooses were no longer needed and started to seat the Conductor up front with the Engineer. Well, even that didn't hold up for long. Now, even here at UP's Port Laredo Yard, there are remote-controlled  engines going back and forth, with no one on board, switching out the next train to San Antonio. Progress indeed. Now you know where the term "I've been railroaded" comes from.


  1. Yup that seems to be the norm with corporate USA. Raking in billions in profit and getting rid of the human employee or dismantling benefits. Reverting back to the old ways when employees had only the small payday, long work day and nothing else.

  2. Remote control?!

    That explains why the train is honking its horn at will when passing through the Chacon.

  3. There is remote control at Port Laredo (Mile Marker 13) on the UP. I'm sure the Tex Mex has remote control in its new yard out of town. I can't confirm if they use remote control when actually crossing town- I certainly hope not. They probably have at least an engineer and if we're lucky, the conductor. Although, that's much to their dismay, they'd rather get rid of all train and engine employees.