Many rail transportation employees work nights, weekends, and holidays, because trains operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Many work more than a 40-hour workweek. Seniority usually dictates who receives the more desirable shifts.
Many freight trains are dispatched according to the needs of customers; as a result many train crews have irregular schedules. Many workers place their names on a list and wait for their turn to work. Jobs usually are assigned on short notice and often at odd hours; working weekends is common. Those who work on trains operating between points hundreds of miles apart may spend several nights at a time away from home.
Workers on passenger trains ordinarily have regular and reliable shifts. Also, the appearance, temperature, and accommodations of passenger trains are more comfortable than those of freight trains.
Rail yard workers spend most of their time outdoors and work regardless of weather conditions. The work of conductors and engineers on local runs, on which trains frequently stop at stations to pick up and deliver cars, is physically demanding. Climbing up and down and getting off moving cars is strenuous and can be dangerous.