As the lead singer for the band Capital Sons, Karl Obermeyer is comfortable performing in front of a crowd.
On Saturday, he put on a different kind of show – joining 13 rail operators competing in front of judges as part of Metro Transit’s Rail Rodeo. During the event, operators were closely watched as they went through a series of tests and a written exam.
After the points were tallied, Obermeyer was declared the top-performing operator. And in retrospect, he said, his on-stage experience probably helped him overcome the nerves associated with operating a light-rail vehicle as judges looked over his shoulder.
“This is something you do on a day-to-day basis, but to have somebody monitoring everything you do brings it to another level,” said Obermeyer, an extraboard operator who has worked on both the METRO Blue and Green lines over the last 2.5 years. “I suppose my experience as a performer did come into play, since I’m used to having people observing me.”
But it takes more than a cool demeanor to safely operate a light-rail vehicle, as Obermeyer and the other competitors displayed throughout the Rail Rodeo.
Walking through a light rail vehicle, operators were given 15 minutes to identify five defects that would need to be addressed before going into service. Moving a train around the storage area at the Hiawatha Operations & Maintenance Facility, judges listened for proper radio communication.
Operating between the Fort Snelling and Franklin Avenue stations, judges assigned scores based on the smoothness of the train movements, adherence to speed limits and station announcements. There was also a written test and a uniform inspection.
The second-leading scorer, Peter Mooers, said the competition was a great way to build his skills and remember why safety is such an important part of his job. Mooers is currently a Green Line operator who spent two years as a bus operator and moved to rail in early 2014.
“It was a great way to build skills and make you want to improve as an operator,” he said after the competition.
Obermeyer and Mooers will have another chance to test their skills when they represent Metro Transit in the American Public Transit Association’s International Bus Rodeo. The competition will be held in Phoenix, Ariz. in June, and include a similar set of challenges.
“It’s an honor to represent the company I work for on an international level, and I’ll certainly put my best foot forward,” Obermeyer said. “Between now and then, I’ll be doing my homework.”
This is the first time Metro Transit has hosted a Rail Rodeo since 2008; the hope is to make it an annual event. Other operators who competed this year are: Hugo Fuentes, Bill Morris, Lobsang Choephel, Jeremiah Collins, Andy Dolan, Dale Reak, Mohamud Ibrahim, Berhanu Mengistu, Nasreddine Yahiani, Mohamud Ahmed and Bob Tapper. The event was judged by Rail and Safety staff. Metro Transit's annual Bus Roadeo will be held Sept. 17-22.