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She's been working on the railroad

By Cindy Atoji Keene

With two generations of railroad workers in her family, there's no doubt working on the rails is in Chelsea Carr’s blood. But as a locomotive engineer, Carr, 23, is the first female in her family to actually take the controls of a 285,000-pound diesel engine as she operates commuter rail trains throughout Eastern Massachusetts.

Hired as an assistant conductor with Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (MBCR) four years ago, Carr quickly worked herself up to the job of conductor, then attended MBCR’s engine school, graduating as a locomotive engineer last year. She now works as part of the MBCR’s mechanical and engineering team six days a week, on-call as a locomotive engineer. “Every set of equipment runs differently; you have to make constant adjustments,” said Carr. “You might have a seven-car double-decker set, which runs differently than six cars that are a flat set. As an engineer, I need to operate at 100 percent and know every rule and how to apply them, no matter what situation I’m in.”

Q: What does it mean to be an on-call engineer with the MBCR?
A: I could be called at any time and asked to show up within two hours to run any train line that originates from South Station. On Monday, I might be called to Providence; maybe Greenbush on Tuesday or Middleboro on Wednesday. I go wherever I am needed.

Q: What did you learn at MBCR’s engine school?
A: This training program included classroom instruction, simulation, and hands-on experience in locomotive operation. We had eight weeks of mechanical training course, then learned how to run trains from different outlying points.

Q: Is one particular commuter rail line more challenging than another?
A: If I’m going to Wickford, R.I., for example, there’s more pressure because I’m dealing with two railroads – Amtrak runs to Wickford. If I’m going out to Worcester, there’s CSX. In either of these cases, there is more traffic and I need to deal with not just my own crew but a different railway’s crew as well. It’s important to get the train safely and efficiently to its destination, but sometimes you need to run around a freight train.

Q: What goes into your job that people might not be aware of?
A: We need to know how to troubleshoot a problem that an engine or train might be having. It could be something really simple, like a governor button, which controls certain mechanisms or systems, or it could be more complex, such as a rescue move for another train.

Q: How challenging is it to run a commuter rail train to its destination?
A: Locomotive engineers are required to not just have mechanical training but also to know all the physical characteristics of a line – where the stations and signals are, inside and out, and all the rules that pertain to that particular place. If I’m going to Plymouth, I need to know the grade of the territory and whether it’s uphill, downhill, or curved, and then run the train accordingly. As I get closer to the Franklin-Dean station, I’ll put a little more power on the uphill to maintain top speed of 70 miles an hour.

Q: What’s it like to be from a railroad family?
A: My grandfather worked in a tower, which is the equivalent of a train dispatcher now. My father is a track laborer. I rode the trains when I was a little kid, so there’s a lot of nostalgia around the railroad for me.

Q: When driving a commuter rail train you must get to see parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island from a different perspective. What’s your favorite scenic view?
A: Watching the sun come up in Warwick, R.I., and seeing all the boats docked is really pretty.

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