When I tell people that I specialize in railroad law, they inevitably wonder two things. What is railroad law? I imagine people thinking that I have Sir Topham Hatt as a client and we discuss the legality of certain train moves by Thomas and Percy on the island of Sodor. (It’s not exactly like that. You can get a good idea of the answer to that question by reading previous blog posts.) The second thing people wonder is how I found out about railroad law and why I decided to make a career out of it. This post tries to give a clear answer to that question.
I come from a family of railroaders. I have grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and cousins who work as conductors, engineers, and signalmen. Above is a photograph of my great-grandfather, Daniel Haley (far left). He worked for the Buffalo Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway in the early 1900's, mostly transporting coal from Pennsylvania to Buffalo. He was a member of Local 681 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Engineers. He retired from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1939. Next to him in the photograph is Michael Haley, his brother.
My grandfather (Daniel’s son) is pictured below. John Haley was an engineer for Conrail and worked out of Salamanca, New York. Some of his sons and grandsons also worked for the railroad, and still live in Salamanca. Although he died when I was relatively young, I still have vivid memories of my grandfather. I would bring him my report cards from school and he would give me a silver dollar for good grades. Perhaps it’s only fitting that I would put my education to good use by helping people like him.
I knew before I went to law school that I wanted to practice railroad law. My step-father was a vice president in the United Transportation Union, representing engineers and conductors from across the United States and parts of Canada. I grew up at union meetings and conventions. From a young age, I learned about the issues railroad employees have to deal with, including the risk of injury and the constant threat of harassment and intimidation. The labor relations departments of most major railroads in this country have a mindset that has not yet progressed beyond the Industrial Revolution. Railroad workers are treated by management like they are the enemy, even though they work long hours and weekends, away from home, and in dangerous conditions to help generate billions of dollars in revenue for the company.
I became a lawyer so I could help railroad employees deal with these issues. If the railroads are forced to comply with the law, and are challenged when they don’t, it helps to make the job safer and more secure for everyone. With that kind of payoff, why would I do anything else?