The “Help Wanted” sign is out at the nation’s largest railroads. Steve Forsberg at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad says it’s a growth industry. Like the rest of the rail industry, he says the Burlington Northern’s in the middle of the greatest hiring surge in the industry’s history, and one reason is the moving on of the baby-boom generation.
They’re also hiring because railroads are now carrying a record amount of traffic. The cost of fuel’s one reason, but so is the expansion in manufacturing in Asian countries, which ship their goods to west-coast seaports that send them by train across the country. There’s record demand for inter-modal traffic as a result. That inter-modal hauling is the way a lot of goods are carried around the world today, in “containers” the size of a semi truck.
Containers have become “the universal shipping boxes,” he explains. They can be loaded with goods and look like truck trailers, but can be lifted off their chassis and wheels to be hauled by steamship, train and truck. BNSF began operations in Iowa in 1995 after the Burlington Northern merged with the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe railroad, and today it operates 710 miles of track in the state. With nearly 34-thousand miles in 28 states, BNSF is one of the nation’s largest — but the very biggest railroad today is the Union Pacific, headquartered in Omaha.
U-P’s Jack Koraleski says they’ll hire five-thousand people or more this year alone. Koraleski says while there are jobs for engineers and conductors and mechanics, they also need the kind of engineers who design and build tracks, and administrative and professional help from marketing and sales to human-resources and even lawyers.
Both say the railroads are seeing demand higher than ever before. “We move everything that keeps America going,” Koraleski says. He ticks off automobiles, the coal that generates our electricity, ag products, ethanol, grain and beverages. “We move the shuttle booster motors for the space shuttle…the whole shooting match.” Both agree that intermodal transport and energy prices will continue the demand for railroads and their future includes more expansion.