Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"We've always done it that way!"

Or words to that effect. Other words, like "I'm not sticking my neck out on this one", or "There's no way the Board is going for this", or "Who else has tried this?" are other ways of saying the same thing. Promoting the status quo can be OK, but if that "how we have always done it" thinking had been in force since Stevenson's Rocket, we'd be using Stub Switches!

The real problem is the message that gets thru to any new people who have decided to cast their career lot with the Railroad Industry or the Public Agency side. I had occasion to speak with one individual, who shall of course remain nameless, who lamented the fact that some of the old heads at one particular Agency were simply unwilling to change. Even simple changes to administration issues, let alone issues involving new track engineering practices, would not be considered. This individual, new to the Agency and the Transit Industry, began to wonder if pushing the sled uphill was worth it. The logical next thought is to wonder if the future would be better in another industry.

Of course, not all ideas from new people are good. I remember asking some of the old heads at the Class One Railroad where I began my career about using a Joint Straightener to correct the problem of low rail joints that always seemed to show up after our Track Surfacing efforts. He patiently explained to me why that was not a good idea. After a few minutes, I agreed with him that my idea was not good. However, I went away knowing more about my chosen profession, knowing that my thoughts were worth consideration, and knowing that it was OK to raise some ideas. I am thankful that I worked with people like this. I believe that not only did I benefit, but also that railroad did as well.

But it is just as bad to dismiss all new ideas simply because they are new. When new ideas are considered, two things can happen. If a new idea is good, it's a win-win. If an new idea is bad, it is a win-win. That's because the newer people learn things that are important.

If an idea is not even considered, it is a lose-lose-win, with only the old, "we've always done it that way" head winning. Without the consideration of ideas, both the Agency and its employees suffer. And then, of course, we as taxpayers suffer, too. We do not get the biggest bang for our buck.

I hope there are ways for Agencies to police themselves and allow the consideration of new ideas. Some good ones do. Others don't get it. But bringing thoughts to a level or awareness is the first step. Hopefully, somehow, we can do that.


At 12:41 PM, September 20, 2005, Blogger Bob Greenwade said...

Here's a very good article, and one (as I'm sure you're aware) appropriate to many areas of endeavor, not just rail. For just a couple of other examples, my church pastor has dealt with this attitude in past churches, and it seems to rear its ugly head in law enforcement whenever someone has a revolutionary new technique or idea.

I may link to this article from time to time (I'm so glad I RSS it) and make reference from some of my own.

At 2:44 AM, September 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to leave a note to say that I'm enjoying reading this blog, which I just found tonight. Please keep posting!


Alexander Craghead
Special Correspondent
TRAINS Magazine
abcraghead (at) earthlink.net

At 6:07 PM, October 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could'nt agree more. Some may consider me an old head but the last decade of my career has seen some tremendous improvements in the materials we put in track, yet some people just will not listen. When I buy new rail, I still have people tell me to make sure you don't get any "A" rails. We haven't made "A" rails since 1989 when we started continuous casting. Fasteners have also improved as well as the overall quality of steel we use. I have seen some outstanding designs get shot down because it looks different. However, with that being said, there is merit "thats the way it's been done". I have been collecting old railway engineering books and just acquired one from 1897. It reads great, only not very politically correct. Concrete ties are having a tough time (LIRR, New York Times). WMATA still will not allow a field weld on their property. I was there in the late 70's when they required them to be X-Rayed. The old heads may never change but this industry is hurting for young bucks. What to do? Axle loads may increase again. The old stuff may not work. Some chief engineers just want to make it to retirement without rocking the boat. This may be for the best who knows.


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