No Really - Don't Touch Me: Confessions of a Train Conductor

What does that train conductor really think of you? (Photo: Thinkstock)

What it’s like to ride the rails of New Jersey Transit every day — not as a passenger, but as an employee? We caught up with a train conductor who’s been working the track for over a decade to see what brings out the worst in passengers. But don’t ask his name. “By law we’re not required to tell you our name, just our number,” the conductor explained. “I don’t want anyone to know me.”

1. My job is harder that you think. People are under the impression that my job is easy, that I just walk down the aisle saying “tickets.” But it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. We’re governed by state laws and federal laws, constantly alert to sounds and equipment.

2. I don’t know the answers to your questions — and even if I did, I can’t tell you. I would like to have more communication with the community, so they know we can’t answer every question. We’re here to get you from point A to point B, that’s basically all we can do. People are always looking for answers: why was the train late or why the announcement wasn’t made. We have no control over that.

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Why are passengers so rude? (Photo: Thinkstock)

3. People do annoying, germy things. Don’t put your ticket in your mouth and hand it to me. People also have licked their fingers before handing a ticket to me.

4. People ask annoying, time-consuming questions. The most common kind of question is, does this train go to such-and-such street? I prefer you get on the right train before you ask the question. What happens a lot of time is people get on the wrong train and have to figure out how to get back. It’s a headache for everyone that could have been avoided.

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A commuter train. (Photo: Thinkstock)

5. Don’t try to sneak past me without a ticket. Certain people try to sit on a certain spot of the train, where they feel like they’re not going to have their ticket collected. But me, I get everybody. I see them.

6. I might seem nice, but don’t touch me. I’m a people person. I’m sympathetic to people. You have issues? You want to dump on me? I’m fine, as long as you don’t touch me. I have a uniform on, so I have to be held to a higher standard. There are times where people cross the line — like racial slurs, threats, violence — but I have to let it go. It’s hard to do that sometimes. I just walk away. 

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7. Each train I call an ‘adventure train.’ You never know who you’re going to meet: the prettiest girl, the ugliest guy, the guy with the beige suit. You’ve got to have a thick skin out here. Especially for the female conductors. You see a guy who is 6’5” and 300 pounds; you’re petite, it’s intimidating. But there’s a way to approach that guy, too. Deal with him intellectually. My thing is, I try to flip the script and play a psychological game. If you call me stupid, well, I’ll say, “Okay, thank you. I want to know why you think I’m stupid.”

8. I don’t like the quiet car. I’m against it because we have no control of the car. We can make announcements, but if two people get into it, we can’t do anything about it. We can tell you to quiet down and make an announcement, but that’s it. Right concept, bad idea.

9. We’re human just like you. If the train’s delayed, be patient — we’re trying to go home, too!

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