Daniel Hauser does what many children dream of doing. Not only is he an engine driver, he's also piloted aeroplanes. This interview finds the former pilot talking about the differences and similarities between the two professions.
I work for the RhB as a part-time (20%) engine driver, but also as a part-time (60%) project member with a focus on evaluating, realising and launching the "öV-Pad" app. The app's a new, continuously updated railway information system that compiles operating regulations, specifications for the various types of rolling stock, duty rosters, timetables and much more besides. It's ultimately intended to simplify the work not only of engine drivers, but also of train guards and personnel involved in shunting operations and construction services. It's scheduled for launch in March 2020.
There's no such thing as a typical day. I'm always in the office for a few days, interspersed with being on the RhB network as a driver. Today, I had a meeting with a wheelchair user at Landquart station. We're keen that people with reduced mobility should be able to benefit from our footplate rides scheme, so we're looking at everything that has to be considered before we can offer this service. It means we have to find out how to position the wheelchair in the driver's cab so that the person can see out, while ensuring that safety isn't compromised. After all, the driver has to be able to access the fire extinguisher, for example, or get to the other passengers quickly in the event of an emergency.
I originally studied geography until the second intermediate diploma. I then trained as a pilot with what used to be Swissair and flew planes there for several years. After Swissair went bust, I had to look for other employment and decided to train as an engine driver. On completing my training, I was offered a job with Edelweiss Air, which meant I was able to combine my two passions and worked for 15 years both as a pilot and an engine driver. At the same time, I was asked to train as a flight instructor on the Airbus A320 and as a line check pilot authorised to instruct and supervise pilots in both plane and simulator. As Edelweiss Air grew and grew, there came a point when I had to decide whether to stay with the airline on a full-time basis or leave the profession. I opted to stay with public transport and now spend most of my time working for the RhB.
The demise of Swissair taught me what it feels like to suddenly lose your job. Public transport offers job security – but it's also less problematic ecologically: my studies opened my eyes to environmental protection, and I know quite a lot about the interdependency of ecology and climate. For many people, flying is no longer something special; it's been normalised. I was finding it increasingly hard to reconcile that with my conscience, which is the other reason I decided to go into public transport.
You may not believe it, but I always wanted to be an engine driver or a pilot. After my school-leaving exams, I was able to get a taste of life on the footplate during a Swiss Federal Railways open day. Because having a degree gave you an advantage back in the Swissair days, and because there was no call for pilots at the time, I decided to study geography. During my studies, I applied for selection as an airline pilot for Swissair and was accepted. On losing my job after the airline was grounded, I found myself able to fulfil my second childhood dream and got the chance to train as an engine driver with the RhB.
It's so hard to say. What fascinates me more than anything is seeing the changes of scenery along the way: it's interesting to observe how things evolve according to the passing seasons. Speaking with my engine driver's hat on, however, my out-and-out favourite line is the one between Chur and Disentis: the section through the Rhine Gorge with all its speed changes, bends and stops is demanding, and I really enjoy it. Purely in terms of views, though, my favourite line is the Albula between Chur and St. Moritz.
Here I have to distinguish between long-haul and short-haul. In terms of long-haul flights, the destination I liked best was White Horse in Canada with its beautiful yet challenging approach and departure aspects.
If you're talking about culture and engineering, then it has to be Japan: the city of Kochi in Shikoku on the Pacific Ocean has wonderful scenery, and from there you can take the Japan Railways Dosan Line through the mountains and to Okayama for the connection with the San'yō Shinkansen high-speed service.
In terms of short-haul, speaking as a pilot my favourite destination was Madeira with its very demanding landing and random winds – you never know when the airport may close as a result. The gusts of wind are very unpredictable there; sometimes you have to land on the neighbouring island.
Geographically speaking, I love Iceland with its fascinating weather and active volcanoes.
I prefer spending them at home in the Glarus mountains. I studied geology as part of my geography degree, so I can read and classify the various layers of rock. Generally speaking, I love being out and about in the Alps. That's one of the reasons I didn't like flying to the classic long-haul tourist destinations, but preferred being on short-haul flights, where I could get home more and spend more time on the interesting aspects of flying at each end.
Both professions find you making high demands on yourself. You have to be reliable and precise in the way you work, and punctuality is extremely important in both lines of work. As a flight captain, you have to be able to make decisions in a structured yet rapid way; those decisions always have an immediate effect. What's more, you have much more customer contact than an engine driver, plus you manage a whole team. The personal contact with passengers is something I miss at times – it always gave me a lot of pleasure. That's why you'll often find me standing by the engine before departure, ready to answer questions. On the other hand, engine drivers have far more time for themselves: when I was flying, I sometimes had to leave the house at 5 in the morning and wasn't back before 7 in the evening – if I was lucky. So I now have a much better quality of life with more time for my hobbies.
I think it's important to be self-assured and stand by your decisions; you also have to be mentally alert. You have to be prepared to go the famous "extra mile" and keep your mind on the customers. Customer focus means clearly identifying yourself with the product.