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Life on the Tracks with a 'Railroader'
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Life on the Tracks with a 'Railroader'

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Life on the Tracks with a 'Railroader'

Life on the Tracks with a 'Railroader'
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Marti Ann Draper retired from a career in law to become a train conductor in her late 50s. Gloria Hillard profiles life on the rails with a fourth-generation "railroader."

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Ever since Marty Ann Draper was a child, she's listened to the whistle of passing trains and longed to be aboard. Now she's 55, raised a family--heck, her kids have kids--and Marty Ann has quit her lawyer job to become a conductor. Reporter Gloria Hillard followed her onto Amtrak train number 572 boarding in Los Angeles.

GLORIA HILLARD reporting:

The train is scheduled to leave in one minute, and the woman in the blue conductor uniform is leaving me in the dust. When she finally comes to a stop, she grabs the intercom, tilts her hat back and takes a deep breath.

Ms. MARTY ANN DRAPER: (On intercom) Hello there, ladies and gentlemen. This is Amtrak train number 572. We will be leaving on time today. This is train 572 headed south.

HILLARD: At this point, Marty Ann Draper grabs a bar attached to the train car and does a gravity-defying back bend over the platform. She waves an `all clear' to the engineer and then, with no warning to the reporter wearing headphones...

Ms. DRAPER: All aboard!

HILLARD: ...and we're on our way.

(Soundbite of train whistle)

Ms. DRAPER: I was kind of born on the railroad. My parents took me on trains when I was a little girl. Thank you. So I guess I've been doing this since I've been walking.

HILLARD: In fact, she comes from four generations of railroaders, as she calls them. Her great-grandfather worked the rails, her grandfather was a conductor and her father an engineer.

Ms. DRAPER: You know, when I was a little girl, they'd say, `Well, what do you want to be when you grow up?' And I said, `I want to be an engineer like my daddy.' And they said, `Well, girls can't do that.'

HILLARD: So she grew up to become a lawyer instead. Of course, all the while, she thought about trains until that one day. You know, that day when you think...

Ms. DRAPER: If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it now.

HILLARD: Seven years ago, at the age of 48, Draper gave up law and took up railroad.

Ms. DRAPER: When you have degrees, you have a credibility problem. They think you're nuts.

HILLARD: By now, Draper has shed her blue jacket and is wearing a white shirt and red tie with a well-stocked plastic pen pocket.

Ms. DRAPER: Hi, how you doing today?

Unidentified Woman: Pretty good.

HILLARD: Around her waist is a bulky, police-style belt adorned with keys, a two-way radio and an old-fashioned ticket punch.

Ms. DRAPER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of tickets being punched)

HILLARD: As the train lurches and bobs at every corner, Draper is upright, unfazed.

Ms. DRAPER: I know where most of the big jiggles are coming.

HILLARD: She says you get to know the rhythm of the rails.

Ms. DRAPER: (On intercom) Ladies and gentlemen, we're now nearing Fullerton. Fullerton, our first station stop.

HILLARD: At every stop, she gets off the train, a one-woman welcome wagon.

Ms. DRAPER: Hi, Pacific businesss desk. Welcome. Right on up here.

HILLARD: This train is headed to San Diego. Soon the Pacific Ocean is to our right, packed 405 Freeway to the left.

(Soundbite of train whistle)

Ms. DRAPER: I do run into women on the train from time to time, usually the older women. You kind of think maybe they would've liked to have done this if they had it all to do over again.

Unidentified Man: (On radio) Amtrak 572 diverging clear path to home.

Ms. DRAPER: (On radio) Diverging clear for Amtrak 572. Out.

Sometimes we're skimming along the northern coast and I'm watching the sun set and I got the breeze in my face. You know, I think this has got to be the very best part.

HILLARD: It's at that time that she often thinks of her train engineer father.

Ms. DRAPER: He's never completely gone from me because his railroad is still here. His trains are still here.

HILLARD: And now so is his daughter, Amtrak conductor Draper.

Ms. DRAPER: All aboard!

HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

(Soundbite of train whistle)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. We'll be right back with more of DAY TO DAY.

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