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North Bay housing costs have SMART scrambling for engineers

Smart will only hire experienced engineers. They are, however having trouble getting people to hire on because of the coast of living in the North Bay, coupled with the fact that smart pays lower than other passenger railroads, which in turn already have lower pay than freight carriers. Also, smart is not a participant in Railroad Retirement (RRB). Its employees pay into the California Public Utilities Retirement System (CalPERS). This is also likely a factor in their recruitment woes, as it is basically financial retirement suicide to leave an RRB job and go to one without it.

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Good info Jordan,  living in California in general is way too darn expensive.


Depends where in California you live and who pays your utility bills.  Food and heating/cooling costs are a lot less here than say Texas or Massachusetts.

Maybe they could recruit and train people instead of getting experienced people. Or get some of the people getting laid off.

Interesting point Jordan.  While no doubt the RRB is a big issue, their employees surely don't have to live in Marin Cty.  Housing costs in Windsor, a short drive from the yard are a lot lower than San Rafael.  Caltrain engineers somehow survive staying in San Francisco overnight.  Long shot but SMART could even consider the purchase of an old Pullman sleeper and park it on a new spur south of the San Rafael station for employees who need to lay over in San Rafael.

My guess is that the pension thing is the major issue and maybe some uncertainty about the future of SMART.

Caltrain engineers somehow survive staying in San Francisco overnight.

Like the article and myself both said, smart's wages aren't competitive with the rest of the industry. They have lower pay than most other passenger carriers, which in turn already pay less than freight railroads.

Long shot but SMART could even consider the purchase of an old Pullman sleeper and park it on a new spur south of the San Rafael station for employees who need to lay over in San Rafael.

The plan is for all crews to return home to Santa Rosa at the end of every tour of duty. Furthermore, the FRA prohibits crews at away-from-home terminals from staying on property, or anywhere near RR noise for that matter.

"The rents are too damn high!"  ;-)

Just a minor update:

Potential applicants for smart no longer need to be currently certified engineers. They are now hiring for conductor-only positions, but current conductor certification is required, with at least two years experience.

It also appears that the smart employee roster is going to be very heavily former BNSF. With the continuing consolidation and relocation of many operations and assignments formerly located in the Bay Area and Fresno to Stockton, quite a few BNSF employees working in Richmond, Oakland and Pittsburg are jumping ship to smart, rather than relocating to Stockton. The move comes with a pay cut, but it means regular working hours rather than the varying "on call" lifestyle most freight railroaders have to endure.

BNSF wants to change the districts for road crews. Currently, crew districts for trains to and from the SF Bay Area are:

Richmond/Oakland to Fresno. Both Richmond and Fresno are home terminals.

Fresno to Bakersfield. Home terminal Fresno.

After the changes crew districts will look like this:

All trains except North Bay Z Trains:

Richmond/Oakland to Stockton. Both Richmond and Stockton to be home terminals. Crews will flip back and return home every day.

Stockton to Bakersfield. Home terminal Stockton.

North Bay Z Trains:

Richmond to Bakersfield. Home terminal Richmond.

Fresno to retain small extra boards for yard jobs/locals/grain trains. Crew districts for trains heading north to the Pacific Northwest will remain unchanged.

After all is said and done, it is expected that Richmond will lose about 20 positions and Fresno will lose around 40-50. No yard jobs, locals, or road switchers should be impacted by the changes. Richmond yard itself should be relatively unchanged operations wise. In fact, they're rebuilding and rehabbing much of the yard, starting with the west lead through the tunnel to ferry point.

The new Richmond to Bakersfield pool has actually already gone into effect, and is currently undergoing a four-month trial run.

All of the smart jumpers I know of are from the bay area. The Fresno guys and gals I've spoken to all plan on staying with BNSF, but will relocate. Most plan on moving to Stockton or SoCal, with a good number opting for Texas and Arizona.


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