Editor’s note: On March 1, Gaylon Bancroft became Illinois Division assistant superintendent. This article was prepared while he held the same position on the Georgia Division.
Ask Gaylon Bancroft what time an assistant division superintendent clocks off duty, and he’s likely to say never. “It’s a 24/7 assignment,” he asserts. “We’re responsible for items 24/7 because of the nature of our business.”
In actuality, while on the Georgia Division, Bancroft’s day began around 3:20 a.m. with a run – what he described as his “WellNS before work.” By 5 a.m., he arrived at division headquarters in Atlanta’s Goode Building or some other location on the division and normally finished his day around 6 p.m. “Fridays, if I was lucky, I got out a little earlier and beat the traffic, but I stayed involved around the clock.”
As a right hand to former division superintendent Neville Wilson, now director operations and locomotive, Bancroft made many day-to-day decisions to ensure a safe and efficient operation. Among other things, he coordinated train movements across the division; prepared budgets; directly supervised six trainmasters and oversaw the employees who report to them; scheduled training for division officers and approximately 1,200 train and engine employees; shepherded safety performance and SPIRIT culture initiatives; responded to employee injuries and significant interruptions to main line operations, including derailments; reviewed disciplinary cases; and met with customers.
“This position has got its hands on almost everything that’s involved in operations,” he said. “There’s a lot of planning and train coordination that takes place between departments to keep trains on schedule and meet other department objectives. It’s a busy life, but it’s rewarding because you can see if the things you put into play work and meet corporate objectives.”
During the past two years, he has helped introduce behavior-based safety into NS’ operating culture, serving as mentor and trainer to new officers and encouraging success among all employees.
“The new culture has changed the railroad for the good,” he said, noting that changing ingrained attitudes and behaviors is not an overnight process. “We might not always get the change right, but being willing to change is one of the biggest keys to making it happen.”
Bancroft’s railroading career began when he took a job as a track laborer on Michigan’s Grand Trunk Railroad in 1978 while pursuing a degree in material logistics management from Michigan State University. “It was a tough way to go through college,” he said, “but I made it.”
In 1987, Bancroft joined NS as a conductor in Chicago. He began his management career the following year, starting as a trainmaster in Detroit. In all, Bancroft has worked on five of NS’ 11 divisions, including three stints on the Georgia Division. He became the division’s assistant superintendent in 2010 after serving three years in the same role on the Central Division.
No matter the division, Bancroft said an assistant superintendent must have a good work ethic and communication skills, including the ability to listen and understand. “You have to believe in the Golden Rule,” he said, “and treat people the way you want to be treated.”