'Safety Is No. 1 with Me': Reflections of a 50-Year Railroader

By Jack Dugal, locomotive engineer

Insights Collage Featuring Jack Dugal for 50 years of service | LR

Photos clockwise from top left, Locomotive Engineer Jack Dugal with his grandson Liam at Union Pacific Family Days; participating in the May 8 50-year honorees ceremony at UP Center are Executive Vice President-Operations Eric Gehringer, CEO Jim Vena, Dugal and President Beth Whited; Dugal at the Grand Canyon; at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum are Dugal and fellow 50-year honorees, from left, Stanley Grishom, Mickey Richard, David Perez, Dugal, Dana Carman Sr., Joseph Perry, Vadim Woods and Mike Freeman; and Dugal with co-worker Tony Peters, yardperson.

When I started my railroading career in September 1973, I expected to stay six months. More than 50 years later, I still take great pride in taking my turn in the seat operating locomotives.

From operating special trains for dignitaries to serving as a peer trainer supporting locomotive engineers on new routes, I’ve made many memories at Union Pacific.

Fresh out of the University of Arizona after studying math and sociology, I took a friend’s advice and hired on as a brakeperson with the Chicago and North Western at the Chicago Freight Terminal (CFT). I worked briefly in Wisconsin before returning to CFT, specifically Proviso Yard, where I’ve worked since.

My work has involved building trains, safely transporting freight to local customers and interchanging with other railroads. We take trains across several railroads, each with its own rules, protocols and territories – challenges I find appealing.

I’ve seen many changes in technology, from end-of-train devices replacing cabooses to equipping crew members with hand-held radios to the advent of Positive Train Control (PTC) and Zebra mobile devices.

Adapting to change hasn’t been too challenging – I like railroading, and I understand things quickly. Plus, people are more than happy to help or provide more training. I follow the old saying: “If you don’t know, don’t go.”

Safety has always been my No. 1, and I’m proud I’ve worked my entire career without a reportable injury or incident.

When I offer advice to new locomotive engineers, I tell them to do their homework before they even get on the engine. I run through the route in my mind at least twice before I turn on the radio and enjoy the rest of my drive. That’s how I remained injury free.

My teammates and management share the same view and have a lot to do with my safety success. They have made my career special – it’s satisfying work I enjoy doing with them. One of my co-workers, Tony Peters, surprised me with a Chicago Bears jersey with No. 50 and my name on the back to honor my 50 years. We’re in Chicago – of course we’re Bears fans.

Most importantly, I’m thankful for the support and understanding of my wife of 45 years, Karen. She’s amazing – while working full time as a flight attendant and raising four children, she always would see to it that I had everything I needed for work. I’m very proud of our children, including two doctors, an executive vice president and a general manager.

As I get closer to retiring with 51 years of service, I look forward to welcoming a second grandchild to the family and traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe. Thank you, Union Pacific, for the memories and friendships I’ve made over the last 50 years.

Union Pacific celebrated this year’s group of 50-year employees on May 8 at its Omaha headquarters. Watch the 50-year honorees highlight video.

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