National railroad veterans group supports local fight for rights

After millions of miles logged and half a lifetime devoted, it’s a feat to get them in the same room.

The men and women who comprise the local chapter of the National Association of Retired and Veteran Railway Employees, or NARVRE, gather monthly to exchange stories and rally for their rights.

NARVRE, a nonprofit organization, was established almost 75 years ago to protect railroad retirees’ rights as granted by the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937. Some legislators recently have taken aim at their benefits, and NARVRE, which boasts more than 25,000 members nationwide, is fighting back.

The local chapter, Unit 44 – also, the only chapter in Nevada, said president and North Las Vegas resident Robert McIntyre – formed in January and meets monthly at Marie Callender’s, 8175 W. Sahara Ave.

Its May meeting coincided with the 107th anniversary of the land auction that established Las Vegas as a viable town around the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake City Railroad’s "Water Station 25."

Some members retired to Las Vegas, but some chugged along their whole careers in the industry that put this city on the map.

"It wasn’t the casinos that started Las Vegas, it was the railroad," said Union Pacific retiree Richard Vizcarra. "The railroad even owned the water rights at a time."

Vizcarra, who lives blocks away from the original train station, and fellow NARVRE member Tom Bussey, a Western & Atlantic Railroad retiree, reminisced about Las Vegas’ whistle stop at their recent meeting.

"There was a fountain outside what they called ‘Water Station 25,’ and we’d go out there for a drink," Bussey said. "It would hurt your teeth, the water was so cold."

The group, which seeks to expand beyond its current 25-member status, has representatives who spent at least 30 years each working for railroad companies such as Amtrak, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and Western & Atlantic Railroad.

"What they all had in common is you didn’t have to steer," said former Union Pacific engineer and chapter secretary Janet Parker. "You were trained very intensely for the job you had."

Members also hold superlatives for their tenure.

Chapter treasurer Joan Bockolt was the first female engineer on her Chicago-Washington D.C. Amtrak route. She held the title as only woman on the line for 10 years, she said.

McIntyre belongs to the fourth generation in his family to work the railroad.

Chapter vice president Doug Wells, a 43-year railway veteran, passed his profession on to his son, who has 27 years of experience now, said Wells’ wife, Joan.

Some group members worked more than 24 consecutive hours and survived, or narrowly caused, derailments in their day, Vizcarra said.

Past times aside, NARVRE exists to protect tomorrow, McIntyre said.

The latest group target is alleged budget report language by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which suggests that the federal deficit could be aided by eliminating certain Railroad Retirement benefits. NARVRE members balked at the suggestion, which could reduce their benefits to Social Security monthly levels, as federal funds did not contribute to many of their pensions or retirement securities, Vizcarra said.

The railroad unions say the language goes against promises made by Congress in the past, according to the UTU News.

If the budget report leads to legislation, retirees could stand to lose about $1,700 per month.

The group is also eyeing proposed cuts and changes to funding for government-owned railway Amtrak.

A political action committee, NARVREPAC, was formed almost three years ago to provide contributions to political candidates from both political parties who support railroad retirees.

The Railroad Retirement Board also serves railroad veterans’ and retirees’ interests.

NARVRE keeps members informed of issues related to their retirement benefits via a monthly newsletter and chapter lesions. Bockolt serves as the Las Vegas liaison.

McIntyre said an estimated 1,100 railroad workers and retirees live in Southern Nevada. He invited them, as well as spouses and family members, to attend a NARVRE meeting.

Dues are $13 per year for individuals and $20 per year for couples.

The next meeting is planned for 10 a.m. July 17 at Marie Callender’s, 8175 W. Sahara Ave.

"The railroad is its own subculture," McIntyre said. "It’s not Main Street America. If you worked on a railroad, you’re eligible to join (NARVRE), and you probably should."

For more information, visit narvre.org, call 456-5025 or email rpmwaterstation 25@cox.net.

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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