Recognizing 51 years of safe service: Billy Garris

Through our Safety RecognitioNS program, we’re celebrating the Norfolk Southern railroaders who exemplify our culture of safety through their injury-free service record. Their daily actions, helps ensures that we deliver safe, reliable, and resilient service to our customers.

T.W. “Billy” Garris
Drawbridge Operator
Lamberts Point Coal Terminal, Norfolk, VA

Where did you start your career at Norfolk Southern and what do you do now?  
I was hired by the Norfolk & Western (N&W) as painter helper in 1972. My father was a machinist with the N&W and he encouraged me to apply. I got a raise of seven cents an hour but much better benefits. I was promoted to full painter after a couple of months. I was later asked to take a relief drawbridge operator job and work as a carpenter helper when I was not working at the bridge. I was later hired into a full-time position as a drawbridge operator. I’ve worked at either the Eastern Branch Bridge or the South Branch Bridge for over 45 years.  

Between my father and I, we have over 85 years of combined service to Norfolk Southern.

How do you work safe?
Coming to work on the railroad made me safe. Be as alert as you can. Concentration is very important. Be as focused as you can and listen to the railroad and other employees. You can always learn something.

What’s a typical day like for you?
As a Drawbridge Operator, I help move trains, cars, and maintenance people across the bridge. I talk on the radio, and I direct trains. I also help inspectors to do their job, so the bridge stays safe and operational. I’m here to help any way possible.

What’s the best part of your job?
I take a lot of satisfaction in doing my job in the most accurate and efficient way possible. I do that in my personal life, and I try to do it in my job.   

Why did you choose railroading as a career?
I didn’t plan it at all. I was happy working at a roofing and sheet metal company. My father suggested I apply to the railroad. I didn’t expect to be here 51 years. The time has gone by very fast. If you are happy doing something, time goes by very quickly.  

Favorite pastime outside of work?
I’m very involved with my family. I spend as much time as possible with my mother, my sons and my daughter, and my wonderful wife, Ginny. I look forward to coming to work. It’s been a great ride and I hope it doesn’t end any time soon.