BNSF vs UP?
While I don't live in North Texas, I stumbled across this forum and figured it was as good a place as I'd find to post my question. (I know we Alaskans have a rivalry with y'all down there--after all, if you cut Alaska in half, Texas'd be the third-largest state--but I hope you'll look past that and help me! :-)
I'm trying to get a sense of employee satisfaction ratings for BNSF and UP. I get the general sense that people are happier at BNSF ("you can't spell stupid without UP," etc.), but I want to get a more concrete picture.
I'm currently a brakeman with the Alaska Railroad (will be trained and promoted to conductor either this winter or next) and plan on staying here for at least a few years, but if and when I decide to move on--and if I decide not to change careers--I want to know who I'd be happier with.
One factor is that UP does have a (small) yard in San Luis Obispo, CA, and they had a post for a conductor job out of there on their site recently. That's my home town and where my family lives, so I would be interested in applying for that position. However, I'm also very flexible (young, single, no specific ties to any place) and wouldn't mind living elsewhere in Southern California or even elsewhere in the country, perhaps even intentionally moving around to explore different parts of the country.
Our brakeman training class was held up here in Anchorage, but our instructor was contracted from the NARS--so I don't know if I can claim that I've gone through the NARS training. I'm guessing and hoping that my previous experience with the ARRC would look good enough for them not to throw my application away and maybe even put me to the head of the pile. And if our instructor from BNSF/NARS was any indication of the quality of BNSF people, I think I like the company already.
I also have a few questions about the average working conditions on both railroads. If you have any info that helps answer these questions, I'd be grateful--but I know they're nitpicky and specific, so don't feel obligated.
-What is the average starting hourly wage? What's your contract say about wage increases? The ARRC seems fairly generous, from what I've heard--we start out at $18.04 per hour, which is 65% of the maximum (reached after 5 years of continuous service). I also see on the UP website that train service employees "Earn up to $40,000 your first year and up to *$75,000 in future years." Especially with that asterisk next to $75,000, I'm a little concerned--guys with as little as 7 or 8 years in here at the ARRC make anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000+ (I know of at least one that got $105,000 last year, and I think the senior guys who hold good five or six day per week road jobs are pushing $120,000).
-I know it probably varies vastly between terminals, but what do the extra boards look like in terms of work? Is everybody called right on rest and worked to the bone, or does it turn fairly slowly or at least so you can get a good night's sleep? Are new guys sent right to the extra boards, or do the senior workaholics take all the XB holes and let us new guys work on yard jobs? What's guaranteed pay on the board?
-I've heard rumors that BNSF allows extra board workers five days off per month and allows them to tie up for more than Hours of Service minimums (10 hours at any time and 14 hours on a turn, if I'm not mistaken--at least that's what a coworker of mine who has a friend on the BNSF said). Truth to these rumors, and anything comparable at UP? (The ARRC doesn't do this--I've been on the board solid for two months with no days off, but it's been fine since I'm almost never called on rest and have even gotten a break for a day or two, although you've always gotta be waiting for that call...truthfully, I don't mind working all the time as long as I don't have business to attend to, like picking up my car from the shop, and I'm not consistently getting 5 hours of sleep per night)
-What's the leave policy? I love to travel and am even getting forward to being laid off this winter so I can use some airline miles and go to Australia or South America. And once I hit 100% of the pay scale, I'll have enough seniority here to get approved for a couple months' annual leave per year (or more!), and I should be able to afford it. Can BNSF or UP transportation employees get long leaves like this, or are you stuck with nothing but a couple weeks of vacation per year?
-How about transferring or traveling around the system? On the ARRC, we have two major terminals (Anchorage and Fairbanks) and a two minor ones (Seward and Healy). As long as you hold the seniority to win a bid at another terminal, it's no problem to move around (though the really junior guys often get forced back and forth). If I applied and hired out at, say, UP's West Colton, CA yard and a job opened up in San Luis Obispo, how hard would it be to get there?
-Last, is BNSF and UP dual-qualifying people for both train and engine service? The ARRC is, although I don't know if that's an ARRC thing, a union thing, or a federal regulation (I seem to recall that it might be the latter). Being on the ground is fun, but I'd like to try my hand at running a train, and if I like it, I'd like the chance to cross crafts and do that after hiring out.
Thanks in advance for any help anyone can give! Hope y'all are enjoying your jobs! Come visit Alaska sometime!