New Employee Orientation at BNSF Railway

Today I completed day 2 of a three-day new employee orientation at BNSF. While that may seem excessive (it did to me), I now totally appreciate why they do it. I have developed a better grasp of the railroad culture and the history, specifically related to our 170 year old company, its roots in the very early fabric of this country, and how critical it is in current day. It is abundantly clear that they view their people as their most valuable asset. One way that is made clear is that fact the president and COO of a 22 billion dollar a year company comes and visits every new group of 50 employees (new hires, and those converting from scheduled/contract work), and spends an hour with no prepared material, but rather just answers any questions that we have. Or the other VPs who come to talk about their divisions, including one who made a point of going around the room and shaking hands and introducing himself to every person in the room. One common takeaway is how critical safety is, in what is a very unforgiving environment for many employees. This is underscored in everything they do, including safety briefings at the beginning of every meeting, whether you are in an office job or in the field. The other consistent theme is the fact that leadership is expected from every single employee. They don’t hire people that they don’t see as potential future leaders, and it’s not only viewed as an opportunity, but as somewhat of an obligation.

One part of today’s session was an art tour, viewing some of the 1000 pieces of fine art across the campus. I didn’t understand the significance of the collection until today, but much of it was commissioned art that was done in the early 1900s of the northwest (for Burlington Northern) and southwest (for the Santa Fe line) that was used in marketing to draw people out to the west. When viewed in that context, I found it pretty fascinating. In the corner of the visitor’s center is the very desk that John Hill sat at as he founded the Great Northern Railway, in the 1800s. There was also an old clock (pic below) which stood in the Santa Fe station. On regular intervals, telegrams were sent out with the time of that clock, and all sub stations had to set theirs to it. Then residents in all those towns would set their clocks to match those substations. It was the central source for an early ‘universal clock’ of sorts. Another thing that I found interesting on the tour was a hall that contained original framed land grant deeds from the 1800s, with several signed by presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant (pic below). When seeing all the history, and knowing how crucial the work is to our current society – around a 230,000 cars moved product on the BNSF line today – it would be hard to build some pride about your job.

Driving home today I took a different route up Hwy 156 which took me directly alongside a very busy BNSF line, upon which I saw a coal shipment come by, followed by another one with an intermodal (shipping container) load mixed with a ton of UPS truck trailers. It’s definitely a lot more meaningful to me today seeing the bright orange and black BNSF locomotives than it was for me a couple months ago.