What Does a Railroad Engineer Do?

A railroad engineer does much more than just drive the train - he or she is ultimately responsible for the entire train during a run. Railroad engineers usually work up to the job title with on-the-job training in other railroad jobs. Read on to learn more about job duties in this field, including employment prospects and salary potential. Schools offering Supply Chain Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

The engineer on a train is like a plane's pilot. A railroad engineer, sometimes titled a locomotive or train engineer, runs the locomotive - the vehicle that provides the energy for the train to move. The railroad engineer reports problems with the train's condition, keeps the train on schedule, and observes safety procedures.

Duties and Responsibilities

From before a train leaves its first station, until it arrives at its final destination, the railroad engineer is in charge. Before each trip, the railroad engineer inspects the locomotives (some trains have more than one), noting their mechanical condition. The engineer makes small adjustments and reports any conditions requiring further attention. While the train moves, the railroad engineer controls its speed and progress using throttles and airbrakes. During the run, the engineer monitors an instrument panel that indicates engine conditions, such as battery charge, amperage, and air pressure in the main reservoir and the brakes.

The railroad engineer must be aware of the train's route, including track conditions, grades, signals, speed limits, and rules. The train engineer must understand how each train's make-up (the number of cars and the weight of their loads) affects the train's acceleration and braking. The engineer remains in contact with dispatchers, traffic controllers, other trains' staff, and the conductors on his or her own train. Finally, the railroad engineer ensures that the train leaves the station on time and keeps to its schedule.

Work Environment

Railroad engineers, especially those on freight trains, may work long and irregular hours. Train engineers on passenger trains may work more regular shifts but still face very long hours. Railroad engineers on trains that travel long distances may face long periods away from home. Some railroad engineers work in rail yards that haven't been automated. They move rail cars and engines in the yards and rarely leave their home base.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the employment of locomotive engineers is expected to decline by four percent between 2012 and 2022, due to the dramatic decrease in demand for train travel and transportation. The BLS also reported the median annual salary earned by such engineers as $53,310 in May 2013.

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