August 3, 2018
» Metra in Chicago seeks a deputy executive director. [More]
» Ben Franklin Transit, Richland, WA, is looking for a planning & service development director. [More]
» Victor Valley Transit Authority, Hesperia, CA, requests proposals for a battery energy storage and demand response system. [More]
View more Classified Ads »
TO PLACE AN AD: E-mail the requested date(s) of publication to: Mailing address is: Passenger Transport, 1300 I Street NW, Suite 1200 East, Washington, DC 20005. Ad copy is not accepted by phone. DEADLINE: 3 p.m. EST, Friday, one week prior to publication date. INFORMATION: Phone (202) 496-4877.

Growing the Commuter Rail Workforce Improves Service, Provides Meaningful Careers

General Manager and Chief Executive Officer
Keolis Commuter Services

All public transit agencies strive to continually enhance safety, improve performance and create a better passenger experience. Since Keolis Commuter Services (Keolis) became the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) operating partner for Boston area commuter rail in 2014, we have made considerable progress in a variety of areas including service, fleet management and technology. But an often-overlooked area in transportation operations is the critical importance of the people within the workforce and how best to attract and retain the workforce of tomorrow.

Conductors are the face of a passenger rail service, with these highly trained men and women playing an integral role in helping ensure the safety of passengers and providing a positive commuter rail experience. This is why we have placed a great emphasis on growing our active conductor roster.

In 2015, an average of 368 conductors and assistant conductors worked on MBTA’s commuter rail network. Due to a dedicated initiative to retain and hire more conductors and assistant conductors as a key component to further improve service, Keolis today employs 452 conductors and assistant conductors, a 23 percent increase over three years. Of note, a July graduating class of 16 new assistant conductors follows a January graduating class of 27—the largest ever.

Identifying and offering cutting-edge training packages that truly reflect the modern—and future—public transit landscape cannot be overstressed. MBTA assistant conductors participate in an eight-week Keolis program that includes customer service, railroad safety and the commuter rail network and facilities. The program consists of classroom instruction, exams and time on board trains. A recently unveiled locomotive simulator for engineer certification will also be made available for conductors to train on.

Equally important, and fundamental to an organization’s engagement with employees, is to provide opportunities for cross-training and career growth. At Keolis, for example, we offer employees tuition reimbursements for career development and provide in-house training classes to develop stronger skills in areas such as Microsoft Excel or delivering presentations.

Supporting our ethos of providing training and equipment that works in the real world, Keolis regularly seeks input from those on the front line. For example, all assistant conductors are now trained on our new mobile point-of-sale system. This system allows passengers to pay on board with credit cards and will be available on all trains starting this fall. Conductors contributed to the development of this new technology through a pilot program that incorporates their feedback into the design.

Incorporating employee feedback extends to the service too. Employees from all departments were consulted in developing a detailed plan to improve service on the Framingham-Worcester Line. The approach was so successful, it is currently being implemented on other lines across the commuter rail network.

With 10,000 more trains per year running compared to when we took over operations in 2014, increased numbers of effective and dedicated conductors are essential. Matching this growth, we’ve increased our workforce by approximately 19 percent to even more effectively manage the service and business. Public transit agencies across the country dealing with or seeking to attract increased ridership understand the magnitude of this task.

Never has there been a more critical time to recruit, hire, train and retain conductors and management staff who are sufficiently flexible and adaptable to thrive in the ever-changing integrated transportation landscape—all while providing exemplary service to riders. Keolis’ global reach affords its employees the opportunity to learn best practices from colleagues around the world, deepening the knowledge pool in Boston. Our talent acquisition teams balance this institutional knowledge both by promoting from within and seeking new hires with fresh perspectives.

Having more conductors helps improve commuter rail service, allowing for easier and faster boarding at stations and making service more resilient with broader staffing options. The 10-year average on-time performance is 87 percent for MBTA commuter rail. In 2016, 2017 and 2018 year-to-date we’ve operated at 89 percent on time, a steady positive trend that can continue with further investment and improvements.

Conductors have a responsibility for the safety of everyone on board trains. While it is certainly correct to associate the term “hero” with first responders—police, fire, nurses, EMTs, etc.—we also think of our conductors, assistant conductors and the many other railroad employees who help us deliver rail service every day as heroes. Some of these individuals have performed lifesaving activities while on the job, such as administering CPR, deploying automated external defibrillators and keeping passengers out of harm’s way. Their skills and commitment are testament to the training they receive. We cannot thank these Keolis Boston team members enough and were pleased to recognize them for their actions at our first Keolis Heroes ceremony last month.

A career as a conductor is an exciting and rewarding one. These front-line operators fully play their part in getting millions of riders where they need to be. With a hands-on, realistic approach to training, public transit agencies can ensure their riders are served and protected while perpetuating a dynamic workforce able to learn, retain and—­critically—pass on skills to the next generation of the public transit workforce.

"Commentary" features authoritative points of view from various sources on timely and pressing issues affecting public transportation. APTA would like to hear from you. If you are interested in submitting a original, thought-leader Commentary for consideration, please contact Senior Managing Editor David A. Riddy.


What will it take to make the cities of tomorrow both smarter and safer? Building safety into Intelligent Transportation Systems. Intelligent transportation Systems are transforming the way people and goods move through busy cities and traffic corridors. And they’re also paving the way to a safer future. Get the whitepaper to learn more.
« Previous Article
Return to Top
Next Article »
© Copyright American Public Transportation Association
1300 I Street NW, Suite 1200 East, Washington, DC 20005
Telephone (202) 496-4882 • Fax (202) 496-4321
Print Version | Search Back Issues | Contact Us | Unsubscribe
Twitter Flickr Blog YouTube Facebook