In 1985, Brad Cummings was about to graduate from St. Thomas, where he was studying social work. Working part-time jobs and facing a difficult job market, he came to a realization. “I said, ‘I don’t mind driving to work, it’s what happens after I get there that I don’t like. So maybe I should find a job as a driver.’” And that’s what he did. Cummings, who had some experience as a school bus driver, applied for a job in transit. Shortly after, he began his career as a part-time bus operator at the old Snelling Garage, the first of several stops in a career that ultimately lasted more than 33 years.
When he began as an operator, Cummings was asked to make a two-year commitment. At the time, he didn’t think he’d stay much longer than that. Instead, he spent the next 18 years as an operator, working at every garage except for Ruter. He enjoyed the work, but found himself entertaining thoughts about finding a different line of work. “When I quit having funny stories to tell, that was a sign,” he said.
Those thoughts came at the same time Metro Transit was preparing to start up the state’s first light rail service. He set his sights on a new goal of becoming a train operator and was among the first to take on that challenge when the Blue Line opened in 2004. “It was fun, but I was nervous,” Cummings remembered. “I was asking myself, ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’” Cummings confidence quickly grew, though, leading to an 18-month stint as a train operator.
One of the reasons Cummings was attracted to light rail was the belief that, because it was new, he would have access to more opportunity. And he was right. After serving as a train operator, he applied for a position as a rail transit supervisor. He held that position for nearly three years, working in the Rail Control Center, often alone, and managing overnight construction activities along the corridor. That role led to yet another opportunity, as one of Metro Transit’s first rail safety officers.
Because this was a relatively new position, Cummings wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But he was interested in writing and saw a chance to help craft reports, plans and other documents. One of his first big projects was to help prepare emergency response plans for the Northstar Commuter Rail Line when it opened in 2009. Cummings also coordinated training exercises with emergency responders and helped develop a training program that was presented to thousands of contractors who worked on rail corridors.
Cummings said he was happy to have made a career in transit, despite growing up in rural Minnesota and studying an unrelated field. “It was a complete surprise,” he said. “There was nothing in my life to indicate this is what I’d do. But it was a good place to work and I really enjoyed the people.” In retirement, Cummings planned to spend more time traveling and to move to Mazatlán, Mexico, where he and his wife have long vacationed.