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A Discussion with Erik Greener On Surrounding Yourself With the Right People

Erik Greener was born in Hamilton, New Jersey. He attended the township’s public school system and throughout the years tried to stay focused to successfully finish with a high school diploma. While in high school, he took part in a vocational program for computer systems and networking. Greener still lives in his hometown and after […]

Erik Greener
Erik Greener

Erik Greener was born in Hamilton, New Jersey. He attended the township’s public school system and throughout the years tried to stay focused to successfully finish with a high school diploma. While in high school, he took part in a vocational program for computer systems and networking. Greener still lives in his hometown and after high school he was afforded the opportunity to work for a national rail company. Throughout his time at the company, Erik has developed positive working relationships amongst fellow colleagues and has dedicated himself to his craft. The company has a mandatory training program in place to adequately instruct employees like Greener to be qualified signal personnel. Once he completed the training program, Erik knew his learning couldn’t  stop there. He would seek help from others if he needed to just so he could overcome obstacles that he faced from time to time. After a while Erik became more efficient and independent, and he didn’t have to rely on others as much as before. In fact, other people started asking him for help because they noticed Erik’s grasp and his developing skill set.

After about 8 years, Erik decided to make a career move and take part in railroad operations on the consulting side where he would continue to use the skills and knowledge gained in his previous role. This new position is far more technical in the essence of being required to focus on all the other disciplines involved in the rail industry. This opened up doors for him, and it’s proving to be more tools he can use for maintaining a successful career. In the new role, Erik will be designing signal systems and all related circuitry, working with his team to efficiently collaborate, share thoughts and ideas, and reference any required documentation so ongoing and future projects can be accurately completed.

Tell our readers a little bit about what you do in your current position – what does a typical day consist of for you?

A “typical day” for me is another new day. Although I continue working on projects from days prior, I’m still open to taking on new tasks. I don’t want to see each day as just a “typical day” – I’d rather see it as a new opportunity. That new day is another day I can better myself, this way I can look back and see how far I’ve come and what accomplishments I made to get there. In years prior, I’ve worked in the field and I’ve started learning the proper methods and practices for the safe movement of trains. The company I used to work for has a training program where you spend field time with qualified people to learn from them. Then while you’re at the school, you’re in a controlled classroom environment which also has a mock-up interlocking complete with all the vital circuits. The school also has another room with switches for one of the later phases in the training program. In between phases you spend more field time with qualified people and you would perform maintenance tasks and assist with testing equipment. This would familiarize you with what you’re learning through the training process.

At my new job, I’ve already taken a lot of things from my former job and applied them with contractor submittal reviews. I’m also able to find and reference accurate information since I’ve dealt with these topics on numerous occasions throughout the years. Everything I’ve done is proving to be relevant. I know what it takes to build a functioning interlocking or control point. I mostly maintained and replaced equipment such as signals, track wires, switch heaters, impedance bonds, insulated rail joints, dragging detectors, hot journal detectors, ice deflectors, various track circuit equipment and connections to the rails (most to ensure continuity of the circuit), switches and all associated rods, multiple types of cable, fuses and fuse blocks, wire eyes and terminations, circuit revisions, cable routing (conduit, trough, pull boxes, riser boxes etc.). Now on the consulting side I’m doing more work with designing interlockings, yards, control points, tunnel environments, and redesigning existing infrastructure to make for more efficient operations. I’m still using what I’ve learned because certain methods may be more practical than others based on past experience. With my team or within other disciplines I may propose an idea that may be better than something they propose. We could collaborate on it and come to a mutual agreement before moving forward.

What trends in your industry excite you?

The trends that excite me the most have to be the constant advancement of technology. There’s always going to be new ways to improve operations when moving trains. Many years ago, railroad operations were mostly relay based which is very reliable, but in more recent years, microprocessors have been adopted which eliminates the bulk of relays. But in the software, the old relay logic still applies. I’m able to quickly jump in to a project and share ideas with my team so we can build a functioning signal system. I came from a “hands on” environment so my practical experience meshes well with the other members of my team!

What keeps you motivated in your career?

What keeps me motivated has to be the information at my fingertips, as well as the ability to ask questions to other very intelligent people in my team or in other disciplines. I’m still looking to share my knowledge and experience to help others which in the end builds great work relationships! I’m still fairly new in my current position and I’ve been offered help by others using AutoCAD and drafting software because there are other methods and practices used within those applications that I’m going to eventually learn. If I have other challenges that may come my way, I’m able to ask questions on any topic and get clarification so I can make an informed decision or have a better understanding on someone’s point of view.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

I draw inspiration from those around me. A former foreman of mine named Brian has been a big role model for me. He led by example, provided me with information and reference documents, and he also had an explanation for his answer or what he advised. The same goes for another gentleman, Lester. He’s a deputy division engineer and he also gave me thorough explanations on signal light out protection when I asked for it years ago.

At my new job, another role model would be my current boss, Joe. He’s extremely smart, almost like a walking encyclopedia! Cristian and David are other members of my team – David is very technical and another who’s extremely smart. There is definitely teamwork amongst all of us, and the fact that Joe, Cristian and David have their PE’s that’s inspiring me to pursue that avenue for myself.

How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

I typically try to keep work topics and issues in the workplace; however, there are times where I’ve been thinking about work related issues and in my own head I’ve been trying to come up with the best solution in a timely fashion just so I can go back to work and present my honest opinion to the parties who made the request. Most of the time when I’m away from work on my weekends for example, I tend to ‘get away’ and enjoy my time off by doing other things, whether those things are around the house, or I’ll go hang out with some friends and family. I like to go out to dinner or grab a drink at the bar occasionally. I could also set up a bonfire in the back yard and invite some friends over. I’ll put some music on outside and we’ll chat, have a few drinks, make s’mores, I’ll bring out a guitar and play some songs while everyone’s hanging out. In the spring and summertime we would play quoits, KanJam, and other outdoor games. I would also go to the beach for a few hours since it’s not too far from home. There are other times where I would see a movie in the theaters, go to the driving range to hit some golf balls. I don’t have patience to play the game, I just want to see how far I can hit the ball! 250 yards is around my maximum distance so far but that could be improved! A lot of my friends have their own lives and schedules but I still try to organize something for a night or an afternoon hang out just to catch up with people you might have not seen in a while. With my close friends I would share new music I discovered and we would just sit and listen for an hour or more sometimes.

What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?

For someone just starting in the railroad industry I would advise them to keep an open mind. I would express the importance of learning, patience, ambition and dedication. Success is very possible in the rail industry, you just have to want it! If you don’t apply yourself, if you don’t try to learn, you won’t get very far. I like to keep a realistic approach on this. At the end of the day nobody owes you anything. In my opinion you have to work in order to have what you want. Certain obstacles in life come with stressors. For example my training contract in my former position was a pass or fail standpoint. If you fail, you lose your job. That may seem harsh; however, in that line of work you’re moving people from point A to point B and you have to move them safely. If there ever were to be a catastrophic event and your name was tied to the specific equipment involved with that catastrophic event you could be held accountable legally.

In order to avoid that hassle, you would need to understand the possible results of your actions. If you accurately test and maintain signal circuitry and apparatus, you should have no issues. Another piece of advice I would give somebody that was just starting out is if you don’t know something, or you are unsure of something, ask somebody. Some people are afraid to ask questions and in my opinion the only stupid question is the question that’s not asked. Some people are embarrassed to ask questions but in my opinion getting the right answer is more valuable. You can use what you’ve learned from other people to better yourself. You can take what other people teach you and expand on it. When the new person gets some time under their belt, they may become a role model to another new employee just starting out. That should be motivating in itself!

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

“If anybody ever tries to talk down to you or belittle you don’t listen to them. Do what you feel is right. Do what you know is right. At the end of the day what they say doesn’t matter.”

At work, “don’t let anybody get under your skin try not to get angry at people for silly things or just because they want to push your buttons. Don’t pay attention to the negativity. Rise above and go your own way.“

What is your biggest accomplishment?

I would say my biggest accomplishment has been being able to be successful without a college education. I started with no prior knowledge of the railroad industry. I was able to see the good in every situation and every workday. I’ve worked with some very smart people and a lot of those people said the same thing. They said: “out of everything I tell you, if you’re able to just keep one thing as a useful piece of information, I’ll know I had a positive impact on you.” I took that advice and ran with it. I feel that I’m pretty well off for people in my age group and I’m at a point in my career that I’m comfortable with, however I’m still looking to achieve bigger and better things. Maybe I’ll have a big accomplishment in the future and that’s all the reason to keep trying.

How did you first get into playing music and what drew you to the guitar?

I’ve been into music since childhood and grew up on classic rock mostly. At that time in my life most genres I would listen to would have rock roots in them. As a young kid everything I listened to was new to me. Certain songs I liked would come around again on the radio in the following days that I would be listening. Those times are so much simpler where you couldn’t have songs on demand like you can now, and that’s what made it so great. It would force me to listen to everything and acquiring music taste I would decide whether or not I liked that specific song. When those songs came back around on the radio playlist I would wait until the end just so I can hear the artist and song title reiterated by the radio announcer. I would write them down just so I wouldn’t forget. If I went shopping with my mom I would always go to the music section and look at CDs. If I saw a CD with an artist I was familiar with I would pick it up and ask my mom if I could have that CD. That’s basically how it all began for me. A lot of classic rock had elaborate instrumentals and that was interesting to me. I mainly focused on the songs musically before I focused on them lyrically. I’ve always tried to pick out the guitar parts before anything else, so as the years went on I kept that same approach.

I remember one day when I was about eight years old I asked my parents if I could play the guitar. I went to a local music store and they measured my hands and unfortunately told me my hands were too small to realistically play. In my elementary school growing up, they didn’t have a music program for the guitar, but they had orchestra instead. That’s the time where I started playing the violin. Being another string instrument that related to the guitar in a few ways. I was able to gain confidence with my violin playing because music came naturally to me. I used my ear to tune, I used my ear to play. I didn’t like actually reading the music off sheets, I would rather memorize all parts and just play the songs from start to finish that way. As the years went on I got a little older I decided to pick up the guitar once again. I took lessons for a short period of time and again the guitar came naturally to me.

After a while, I stopped taking lessons but I still continued to play. I only stopped because the amount of school work I was getting just kept growing, and I didn’t feel that I had enough time to go to lessons and do all my homework at the same time. I never lost interest in the guitar, I just proceeded to self teach and remain inspired by other players. I branched out a bit playing piano and a little bit of cello as well. These two instruments have only been a small piece of my musical talent. Playing Instruments is an interest that will never fade away for me. I’m always eager to discover new music. Music takes me to a different place while listening. One of my favorite things is when a band releases an album and I thoroughly enjoy every song on that album!

What advice would you give to 16-year old Erik Greener?

Stay on track with what you’re doing. Keep your hobbies, keep your friends. Keep studying even though at times it can be difficult. Nobody’s perfect. You’re going to make mistakes but take those mistakes and learn from them. Even when it’s hard just persevere because today we are doing great and the only way we have gotten here is because of the strength and drive.

Outside of work, what defines you as a person?

On my own time I am a helper to others.

One time it was late and I was working the night shift. While driving to the next job I noticed a car with a flat tire in the parking lot of the train station. Fortunately for that person, I had the tools in the back of the work truck. I took it upon myself to change the tire because the person’s spare was on the back of the 4×4. As soon as I was done there was a train approaching and when the owner got to their car along with friends I explained the series of events and the owner was beyond grateful. He provided me with a gift card he had in his car which wasn’t worth much, but I wasn’t looking for any royalties. I just thought to myself how frustrating it would have been to come back to my car after a long day at work and have a flat tire with no way of changing it. The owner and I built a friendship after that day and I’d do it again for someone else.

A few other times taking mass transit, I’ve seen women struggling with suitcases and carrying other bags over their shoulders and when it came time to either go up or down a set of steps I said “do you need a hand?” Then I grabbed the suitcase for them and carried it to the landing and said “here you go, have a good day” and I carried on with my travels. The same goes for a crowded train, if I see an elderly person, a pregnant woman, a woman carrying a baby or small kids, I would get up from where I was sitting and say “here take my seat.” To me those things are just common courtesy.

If a friend invites me over to their house, I’ll try to do my part and help keep things tidy or offer to help clean up if we had dinner or if we played card games at the table. Sometimes I would just come over to sit down and talk, just to catch up with long time friends that I consider family at this point. The simple things in life are the best sometimes.

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