Agent / Operator
Agent/Operators started being phased out of railway operations in
the 1950s. Until the mid '70s they were quite common along most rail lines in North America, performing very similar
duties in both Canada and America. There demise started with the advent of CTC (Centralized Traffic Control), reliable
telephone communication, fax machines, early computer models, car readers, centralization, road construction into
previously inaccessible locations, and more.
The Agent/Operator, he or she, performed two entirely different duties.
Reg "Radar" Fitzpatrick -
Franz, Ontario, 1977 to 1991.
Operator: Depending upon station location copying train orders would be a very important part of
his/her duties. A station could be near the midpoint of a subdivision, or just one station out from a main terminal,
or perhaps at a location where just one order a week was copied, often in emergency situations only. The operator
part invariably took precedence over other duties as it involved keeping trains running fluidly. Most Canadian
Pacific Railway stations had red and green order boards, some railways used red, yellow, and green. Most order
boards were manually operated signalling written or typed paper orders were to be delivered to passing trains.
Other duties consisted of copying lineups for local section forces, and often others who required them, from the
dispatcher, up to 5 times a day. OS'ing trains, (Reporting train arrivals and departures.) maintaining proper
blocks for trains via the train order signal, keeping a standard clock, (Time comparison occurred at 10:00 hours
daily) keeping the station's register book where required. In some instances crews had to be called to duty where
crew layovers occurred. Sometimes, it was even necessary to fire up the wood stove in a Conductor's caboose.
An Agent's duties were much more complex and varied more widely than the Operator's. Basically an Agent was the
representantive of the railway in that community around the station.
His duties were, but not limited to, ordering empty cars for any industry at that location and billing them out as
loads, including custom papers, and special tarriffs if applicable.
Attending incoming loads to industries and private customers. (Household goods in car loads for instance.)
Incoming loads could also include whole Express cars or LCL (Less Than Carload). For example, LCL might be half
a carload of refrigerators for one customer and half a carload of dogfood for another.
Looking after Express shipments, again this could vary widely depending on the number of passenger trains calling
and stopping at that particular station. The agent made a commission of 5 percent on every incoming and outgoing
item (more if interline). Business varied widely, where one agency would receive 2 or 3 items a week, others
might see hundreds of items a day. Some locations had their own draying companies to deliver shipments to the
Selling passenger tickets, including interline, which might consist of overseas steamshiop tickets, and later, even
airline tickets. Baggage also had to be included in this category.
Provide public telegram and telegraph services, both local and international, including money transfers with the
selling and cashing of money orders, press releases, and coded messages for government agencies. Commissions were
paid on these particular duties.
An agent almost needed to be a fully qualified accountant. The month-end balance sheet was a major
job and could include more than 50 supporting documents depending on the location. It took days to prepare
this paperwork and it had to be accurate to the penny.
An Agent also received and dispensed company paycheques.
Daily car service, and weather reports when required, kept the Agent busy. "Checking the yard", a daily
early morning occurrence, so the agent (and by extension the company) knew exactly what was in the yard. Often
this was also the Agent's only indication that something had been set-out overnight (dropped off from
a passing train). Cars might not be accompanied with a proper waybill. Car service was done via telegraph as late
The Agent kept all the tarriff books up-to-date. This was a major paper chore, often passed on to the
night operator when there was one, along with other duties.
Agents had their own dwelling, namely the station. Agent positions were advertised by telegrapher's bulletins twice
a month with "HFL", which stood for House, Fuel, and Light costing about $1.50 per month from the Agent's
Basic station maintenance, both for the company part and personal living quarters, was performed by the Agent.
Any major repairs were handled by the B&B Department (Bridges & Buildings). Some agents kept marvellous
yards, Elma east of Winnipeg, and Yale on CPR come to mind. At one time CPR ran a station garden competition across
it's system that encouraged some grand displays.