Cover image for Railroad voices
Railroad voices
Niemann, Linda.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xi, 158 pages : illustrations ; 23 x 27 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD8039.R12 U66 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



An evocative and honest portrayal in words and images of railroad life in America, Railroad Voices is a collaboration by two of the first women to work as railroad brakemen. Linda Niemann hired on the Southern Pacific in 1979 in California, where she continues to work as a conductor for the Union Pacific, and Lina Bertucci hired on the now-defunct Milwaukee Road in 1974.

The eighteen-year-old Lina Bertucci used her camera to hold her own in the freightyard, and the resulting fifty-eight photographs in this book present an insider's view of a world few people have access to. This is the true world of work: the face of exhaustion, of hours spent waiting, followed by intense activity, of the outside maze of tracks and house-size boxcars the workers shepherd with their bodies and a two-dollar lantern. We notice what individuals these people are--the clothes they choose to wear, their tattoos, their faces. And they are, of course, looking at Lina, or aware of her presence in their previously all-male sanctuary.

Linda Niemann's folkloric memoirs give this environment voice. The railroad for her has become an eighteen-year career and her poetic subject. As the last brakeman hired, Niemann has had to follow the work all over the Southwest, collecting travelers' tales along the way. Her stories carry the images forward in time to the present-day railroad of short crews, no cabooses, and streamlined, downsized operations. She tells the human stories these changes generate, while delighting in the language and details of the craft. Image and text interplay to place the reader inside an exciting, changing, and dangerous world that has for generations been a major part of American culture.

Author Notes

Linda Niemann is a conductor for the Union Pacific Railroad. She has a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of Boomer: Railroad Memoirs. Lina Bertucci is a photographer and a teacher of photography at the International Center of Photography, the New School, and New York University. She received a Master of Fine Arts at the Pratt Institute.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Niemann and Bertucci produced this book from personal experiences over the last 20 years working various railroad jobs, from brakeman to conductor. Bertucci contributes 58 memorable black-and-white photographs, starkly revealing the exhaustion and stress of railroading in the faces of her co-workers. Niemann's accompanying narrative tells of her experiences as a boomer, someone who moves with the railroad wherever there is work. She describes the lives of her co-workers, her own personal restlessness, and the world of main lines and yards in California towns like Colton, Watsonville, and Bakersfield. This book is not for those who want to savor the romance of the rails. Instead, it portrays the effects of modern railroading's bureaucracy, schedules, and dangers on its workers. The pictures are compelling and the narrative almost poetic. Essential for collections on railroading and recommended for all others.¬ĎLawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ., Erie, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The railroad voices heard in this attractively produced work are recorded by Linda Niemann, who in the late 1970s "went railroadin'." Niemann worked for the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) and Amtrak, and describes the challenges that a female train crew member encountered in a historically male workforce. Moreover, Niemann captures the difficult life that most operating personnel confront, including sleep deprivation, dirty working conditions, and ever-present dangers from rolling stock and individuals who inhabit the railroad corridor. Yet, she vividly reveals the special bonds that develop among "rails," whether male or female. Some readers might be offended by rough language and sexually explicit descriptions of rail life, but arguably they correctly portray the "real" railway workplace. The book includes superb photographs of employees and equipment taken by Lina Bertucci, who in 1974 entered train service on the former Milwaukee Road. Railroad Voices offers fascinating insights into modern railroading from a rare female perspective. All levels. H. R. Grant; Clemson University