What Does a Locomotive Engineer Do?

The locomotive engineers who operate trains do far more than sound the horn and guide passenger or cargo trains to their destination. Read on to find out more about what a locomotive operator does and what training is required to enter this career field. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Locomotive engineers operate diesel-electric and some battery-powered trains that carry passengers and cargo. While operating locomotives, train engineers operate controls, such as the airbrakes and throttle, and monitor speed, air pressure, and battery voltage. Of all rail workers, locomotive engineers were the highest paid in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov).

Train engineers must complete a training program offered by a railroad company and undergo skill, hearing, and visual tests. The College Board (www.collegeboard.com) reports that in order to become a locomotive operator, you also must have experience as a rail worker and be at least 21 years old.

Important Facts About Locomotive Engineers

Median Salary (2014) $54,500 per year
Required Education High school diploma, several months of training
Certification Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) certification required in all states
Similar Occupations Train Conductors, Yardmasters, Rail Yard Engineers, Locomotive Firers, Railroad Brake, Signal, or Switch Operators

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Duties and Responsibilities

The job begins prior to departure, when a thorough mechanical check is required to document issues and make adjustments. Locomotive engineers must possess comprehensive knowledge of routes, changes to the tracks, and how the weight of a train or number of cars affects speed and braking. Engineers must also maintain certification, which can be revoked for unsafe operation of a train. Other job duties for locomotive engineers include:

  • Maintaining good physical condition, eyesight, and hearing
  • Remaining alert for track obstructions to avoid accidents
  • Following schedules and coordinating with conductors to ensure timeliness
  • Contacting traffic controllers concerning delays
  • Maintaining licensure by completing continuing education credits

Work Environment

The BLS reports that passenger train engineers can typically expect accommodations and temperatures aboard the train to be more agreeable than those found on trains that carry freight. Freight train engineers often work weekends and irregular shifts to meet customer demands, and they may be away from home for long periods if they will be travelling long distances. Those aboard passenger trains often have more predictable shifts. The BLS projects that the employment of locomotive engineers will likely decline by about two percent between 2014 and 2024, due to the increase in productivity in the rail industry because of practices like double-stacking trains or adding cars to make trains longer.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:

Popular Schools

  • Lincoln Tech

    Lincoln Tech responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Lincoln Tech:

    • Certificates

    Campus-Based Programs Available:

    View All Locations
    • New Jersey: South Plainfield
    • Tennessee: South Plainfield, Nashville
  • Penn Foster High School

    Penn Foster High School responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Penn Foster High School:

    Online Programs Available

  • Washington-Holmes Technical Center

    Campus Locations:

    • Florida: Chipley
  • Washington County Community College

    Campus Locations:

    • Maine: Calais
  • Washburn Institute of Technology

    Campus Locations:

    • Kansas: Topeka
  • Uintah Basin Applied Technology College

    Campus Locations:

    • Utah: Roosevelt
  • Southern Maine Community College

    Campus Locations:

    • Maine: South Portland
  • South Louisiana Community College

    Campus Locations:

    • Louisiana: Lafayette
  • The University of Montana

    Campus Locations:

    • Montana: Missoula
  • Somerset County Technology Center

    Campus Locations:

    • Pennsylvania: Somerset