Can you sign this before playing with your trains?

After sitting on the train at Union Station for a few minutes and then moving approximately 2000 feet away, this announcement (almost word for word) came over the loudspeaker:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. Because our signals are down, we are required to wait for paperwork before we can move forward. This paperwork ensures that we will have a safe and easy journey for all of the passengers on board. The paperwork must be delivered when we are stopped. Once it has arrived, we will resume our normal speed. Thank you for your patience.”

Oh, come on.

What is this paperwork going to do to replace the function of a signal or the function of the traffic controllers that work at the station? More importantly, when was the last time you were given a piece of paper that “ensured you a safe and easy journey”? I’d like to get something like that to stick in my wallet. Think I can buy one in the Cafe Car?

HR gets criticized a lot for requiring a preposterous amount of paperwork. In part, it’s the nature of the job – overdocumentation is not going to be a factor in a lawsuit. But the critics are partially right – there’s a lot of crap that HR asks for that is really just a nuisance for employees.

Sure, there’s stupid paperwork – you’ll find it everywhere you go. At my office, we need you to fill out a form before we’ll change your address. But it’s the lack of legitimate explanation that pisses people off (and that’s true for more than just paperwork, in case that wasn’t apparent). Going back to my example, our payroll department requires a signature to process these changes so that if anything goes wrong on a government tax form or on a deposited check, we have backup to show why the address was updated the way it was. Simple, right? It’s still annoying, but at least it makes sense enough for people not to argue back.

Hey Amtrak, maybe you should explain yourself a little better. Though I will say thank you for the big laugh you gave me in addition to this entry while we were stalled in the terminal.


2 responses to “Can you sign this before playing with your trains?

  1. I know this sounds crazy, but when the signals fail on the corridor, often for reasons like having cables cut by a backhoe somewhere, the fallback method is to have specific authorizations distributed in paper form. For trains on the road, the permissions are read off to an engineer, confirmed by a conductor, and read back to the dispatcher. This is to ensure that in each operating block of railroad, there is only one train. I realize it’s old-fashioned and analog, but it also enforces a methodical, safe operation when automated aids are not available. For more on these things, called train orders, see:

    For the form itself, see page 43 here:

    This procedure has nothing to do with HR, and can be found in the NORAC operating rule book. More on that here, including the many participating railroads:

  2. @Ran – Thanks for the explanation. If you go back and read the entry, I didn’t actually think that it had to do with HR purposes, I was just likening the need for paperwork with the paperwork that HR asks for in a business setting. If the conductor had actually explained this, I probably wouldn’t be so critical (though I’m pretty judgmental, so who knows?). Like I mention in the entry, it’s really the ambiguity and the poor rationale that I was jumping on. Thanks for clarifying.

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