HOMETOWN HELPERS: PATH train veteran, his Jersey shore retirement delayed, keeps commuter line sanitized during coronavirus outbreak
Longtime PATH train employee Gene Cala, pictured, delayed his retirement from PATH and stayed on the job.(PATH)
Longtime PATH train employee Gene Cala had a plan for the summer ahead: Retirement, a new place down the Jersey shore, sunshine and sleeping in.
Coronavirus changed everything. The self-described old-school, blue-collar veteran delayed his departure and stayed on the job, working 16-hour shifts to clean, sanitize and disinfect the bi-state commuter line’s cars while ensuring the worry-free passage of its riders, motormen and engineers.
“We’re keeping it clean and safe for essential workers,” explained the 32-year mass transit worker. “Right now, we’re playing a big role in keeping the system running. It’s a very important operation.”
The lifelong Jersey City resident joins his colleagues for the 7:30 a.m. start of their shift at the railroad’s running repair facility, known to the workers as “the car wash.” The trains, either seven or eight cars long, arrive at the shop one after another, and the five-man cleaning crew dons its personal protective equipment and gets down to business.
Cala, 66, says there’s a definite method to the mass cleanings.
“We do our basic sweep — clean up garbage, debris,” he explains. “Then we start disinfecting. We spray and wipe the floor, the handrails, the seats. The motorman’s car and the operating positions for the engineers. We have two sets of tracks where the trains come in, and we just go from side to side. Complete one, and then go over to the other.”
The longtime PATH worker says his younger colleagues share his commitment to cleanliness in these dark days of coronavirus. And that includes keeping themselves free of infection: Lots of hand washing, no touching of the face.
“The important things is we all want to get home safe to our families,” he explained. “But we also want to do our part to keep things running. A lot of people don’t realize that not only myself but a lot of transit workers are doing a lot to keep things up and running.”
Despite the dire circumstances, Cala and his crew manage to smile through the craziness.
“It’s a pleasure to come and work with the young guys,” he said. “It’s a good work atmosphere. We try to laugh a little at times like this, and work with the least amount of stress possible.”
Cala might not make it down to Seaside Heights for the summer of 2020, but the proud PATH old-timer is grateful for the chance to toil alongside his comrades in cleanliness.
“I’m a very fortunate person,” said the self-deprecating Cala. “Very lucky. There are a lot of people who passed away or lost their jobs. All I’m doing is working a few extra months, and doing my little part to help.”