Monroe: Metra Conductor Finds Role Suits Her Well

Jackie Moore Photo by Rhonda AlexanderJackie Moore at work on the University Park Metra train. (Photo by Rhonda Alexander)  

Monroe Stop IconBy Rhonda Alexander
The Red Line Project

Posted: Thursday, Nov. 4, 2011

As the loudspeaker announces the final call for boarding train 119 on track 4, the conductor calls out to the last of the passengers scurrying to make the train as the buzzer signals the doors are ready to close.

“All aboard to University Park!”

Chicago has almost 3 million residents and more than 45 million people who visit every year, according to the City of Chicago Office of Tourism. The bus system and carpooling definitely helps, but without the multiple rail systems this city has in place, traffic would be in perpetual deadlock.

In the midst of the chaotic commute stands a calm Jackie Moore, one of only 26 women of the 314 conductors employed by the Metra Electric line. 

“There have been times when I had to think hard about whether this job was right for me -- especially in the beginning,” Moore said. “I would have to be ready at what seemed to be a moment’s notice. Sometimes you only get two hours notice to report in. If you’re a single mother, that means you have to have childcare arrangements on standby as well.”

Tom Miller, spokesperson for the Metra Electric line, said there is no specific reason why only 8 percent of the line’s conductors are female when every applicant has an equal opportunity to be hired. 

“Everyone has an equal opportunity to be hired, but applicants need special traits that  management is looking for,” Miller said.They also need the ability to handle any situation that may arise.”

Moore has been a conductor for 17 years with the Metra Electric line.  Moore isn’t driving the train, but is very much in command of what happens inside the passenger cars during her route to and from University Park. She collects the fares and tickets. She makes sure there is order on the train. She makes sure the policies and procedures are followed-especially the institution of the “quiet car” sections.

“During the route, I keep an eye out for the signals in order to stay informed about what is happening during the course. At the end of the route, I make sure the hand brakes are on so the train doesn’t continue to roll after the passengers and everyone has departed.”

The Metra Electric Rail system is part of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). It runs almost parallel to the  Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA) Red Line El. Passengers can actually walk from the Metra Electric’s Millennium Station stop to the CTA Red Line without ever having to encounter the elements of the weather as the two lines connect through the city’s underground shopping mall/passageway.

Moore said she uses the passageway to do some light shopping or stop for a meal during her layover or lunch break. In such a male-dominated field, it only took Moore four years of “being on the board” -- working on call, with as little as two hours notice to report for duty on time -- to become a regular conductor for Metra. The way she tells it, she happened to be in the right place, at the right time.

“Gender plays no role in how quickly one advances from being on call to regular duty,” Moore said.

She pointed out that her male co-conductor, Omwah Sneed, who has been on the board for seven years and is still waiting for his opportunity to become a full conductor. 

“It’s really just a matter of the circumstances conductors retiring, quitting, getting sick, and advancing to other positions within the system that determine how quickly anyone can advance,” Moore said. “Management goes strictly by seniority and merit.”

Moore said sexual harassment isn’t one of the issues that she or any of the other females she has worked with has encountered. Nor is arbitrarily discounting a woman from a route simply because the man with seniority doesn’t want to work with a woman. Those types of incidents, according to Moore, are few and far between.

“People are going to be people and sometimes, there is just no accounting for some of the things they do … simply because they have the seniority,” Moore said.

Surprisingly, gender plays no role in the pay scale either, according to Moore. There is transparency with regard to salary because of the methods used to post positions. Pay is determined according to seniority, the shift, number of hours in the shift, whether it’s a split shift, the number of days worked in a row, etc.

According to Michael Gillis, a spokesperson for Metra Electric, salaries range from $50,000 to about $85,000, depending on seniority and the routes a conductor works.

“The jobs are posted with the pay rate right next to them,” Moore said. “If you have the seniority to choose the shift you want, it’s yours, whether you’re a man or woman. Everybody around here knows how much everybody makes.”

Moore’s nature won’t allow many issues to change her pleasant demeanor. She wears a friendly smile as she welcomes each passenger aboard might even make some mistake her for a pushover-especially when her small stature is taken into account.

If she has to, Moore has no trouble asserting her authority, as was the case when three teenage boys boarded at one of the stops and attempted to challenge her. As she proceeded to request their identification for proof that they qualified for the reduced rate, one of the young boys, who happened to tower over her physically, began to act in a manner that was confrontational. 

Moore’s face changed from welcoming and friendly, to authoritative and commanding in less than five seconds. All 5-feet 2 inches of her stood at attention as she addressed the teenager.  

“Young man, you don’t want to go to jail for a dollar and 50 cents, now do you?”  she said. 

On occasion, Moore has had to resort to calling the Metra police, who stay on standby for situations that get out of hand. And even though she may sometimes have to metaphorically use her “iron fist,” most of the time, all it takes is a reasoning tone in her voice to resolve potentially volatile situations.

Moore said the most important trait one needs to succeed in this job, regardless of gender, is good judgment when it comes to interacting with people.

“It doesn’t hurt if you really do like dealing with the public either,” she said with a laugh.

Moore’s duties as a conductor involve much more than simply interacting with an unpredictable public, collecting fares and doling out tickets. She is also responsible for assisting with watching the signals along the route to ensure the safety of the passengers and workers who may be on the tracks.

She has reports to fill out that assist the system in keeping up with ridership. This helps to determine trends and potentially affects systemic financial factors on several levels. 

In addition, when the train comes to its final stop and all passengers have been removed from the train, another of Moore’s duties as a conductor is to call in to dispatch to report and receive information that may affect the returning route – for example: speed restrictions because of inclement weather, kids playing on the tracks, extra workers on the tracks, etc.

Then, she and the rest of the crew, which included only one other conductor and the engineer had a 10-minute “break” to fill out more paper work and breathe before starting the whole route over again…in reverse back to Millennium station.  

With so many responsibilities and other factor, why does Moore continue to do the job? 

With no hesitation at all, Moore’s beaming smile precedes her response.

“I love it,” she said. “I never liked the idea of being in a cubicle or office all day. I love interacting with people. The pay is good and I’m never bored. What more could you ask for?”

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