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A Three-Decade Journey on New Jersey Trains


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James V. Samuelson, 58, is New Jersey Transit’s deputy general manager for safety and training, working from an office at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan. Since 1970, he has worked for railroads of New Jersey, where he lives.


Anything weirder than turkeys found on the platform? We’ve hit horses; we’ve hit cows. It’s a normal day on the railroad. Use your imagination: Anything that can cross the tracks and get in the way will. We’ve had 16 trees down on one track in one night.


The daily conference call with bosses: We go through each delay, train by train. We’ve had 100 percent days, but don’t ask me when the last one was.


Earliest connection to the railroad: It was my first job. I’d wait at the Fanwood Station. At 4 and 5 p.m. I’d meet the trains delivering The Daily News and The New York Times. I’d pick them up and take them to the corner store. I got a dollar a week.


Favorite book near his desk: “Conquering Gotham,” by Jill Jonnes. It’s about the building of the original Penn Station, and what happened afterward. It’s a shame that something that magnificent was demolished and replaced by what we have here today. The station we have here today doesn’t do much for you.


Any Grand Central station envy? I wouldn’t mind running Grand Central for a while. In Grand Central, there are more station tracks than they’ll ever use. They have the luxury of boarding the same trains from the same tracks every day. Unlike Grand Central, Penn Station is used by three railroads, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak.


Career advice ignored: The old-timers were saying, “You don’t want to be here; we’re all going to be out of work.” In the 1960s and 1970s all the railroads were going bankrupt. We used to shovel coal to heat the towers, and chase rats out of the basement.


Worst part of the job: Handling bad days, and trying to explain to customers. They don’t always understand that if they’re having a bad day, we’re having a bad day. Tens of thousands of people are out there sitting on trains, and there’s little you can do for them other than update them.


Best part of job: Every day on a railroad is an adventure. One day you could be running a timetable railroad, and you could watch paint dry, and another day it could be 5 p.m. and you wonder where the day went.


Which trains go which way? Even numbers east, odd numbers west — it’s really easy to remember.


Highlights of the lost and found: Laptops, suitcases, luggage, a bass fiddle.


Any misplaced children? There have been two or three incidents where the parent got off at the airport and the kid went west on the train.


When he’s not working on the railroad: I’m renovating our old house in Old Bridge. I pretty much rebuilt it from the inside out. It’s a 60-year-old house, and it’s been 25-plus years we’ve been there.


Travel advice: My wife and I were in London in January, and went to St. Pancras, where the Eurostar departs for Paris. It was built in the late 1800s, and revamped, modernized. It’s just phenomenal.


His commute: I take the train from South Amboy. It’s terrific, and always on time. It’s about 45 minutes on the express.




November 14, 2008



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The cool thing about railroaders, is they are all different, even the ones who seem mean actually do care & are just putting up that thick barrier they are forced to use because of nasty passengers.


Would like to see more of these interviews.


- A

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