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How Do I Become a Subway Operator?

Research what it takes to become a subway operator. Learn about the educational requirements, job duties, necessary qualifications and salary information to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Subway Operator?

Subway operators help move passengers from one location to another by piloting trains that travel underground and above the ground. In addition to controlling the speed of the train and adhering to traffic signals, the subway operator will help ensure that passengers move to and from the train safely. Related tasks may include opening and closing the train's doors and aiding any passengers in need of assistance. Announcements will also be made by the operator concerning potential delays and scheduled stops.

Since the subway operator will often work in busy city locations, technical proficiency and consistent communications with dispatchers can be of significant aid in making sure that strict schedule demands are fulfilled. Adaptability is crucial as well because the subway operator will likely need to calm passengers and pilot the train manually during an emergency situation.

Take a look at the following table for some basic information about the profession of a subway operator:

Degree Required High school diploma/equivalent
Training Required Local transit training program
Key Responsibilities Operate train controls, make announcements, open & close doors for passengers, overall safety of the subway system
Certification Background check, medical exam, drug test
Job Growth (2018-28) 6% (subway and streetcar operators)*
Mean Salary (2018) $68,170 (subway and streetcar operators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Will I Need to Become a Subway Operator?

You can prepare for a career as a subway operator by taking high-school level courses in mechanics, business, shop, physical education and driver's education. In general, no formal post-secondary educational requirements have been established for subway operators. Local transit organizations have their own training programs, and usually, operator trainees are chosen from among already-working subway and streetcar organization employees.

In some instances, bus drivers become subway operators by completing the comprehensive training programs which can take six months. Classroom and practical training encompasses operational and evacuation procedures. Workers also learn the steps to take in emergencies, as well as how to troubleshoot train systems. Applicants are given a number of examinations to ensure their understanding of procedures.

What Job Duties Will I Have?

Your responsibilities will include operating train controls, making announcements, opening and closing doors for passengers, and making sure they board and exit the train in a safe manner. Also, you'll monitor the track signals which tell when to slow down, stop, or start trains. In cases of emergency, you'll be in charge of evacuating subway passengers from trains and radioing any mechanical issues to dispatchers. You'll have to monitor the amount of time your train stops at stations, in order to adhere to schedules. Any schedule delays will have to be reported to supervisors. You might also be required to attend safety meetings.

What Other Qualifications Are Needed?

Subway operators must possess good vision and hearing and have mechanical aptitude. Good communication skills are also needed. In many instances trainees must pass background checks, medical examinations and drug testing.

How Much Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that subway and streetcar operators earned average annual salaries of $68,170 in 2018 (www.bls.gov). A large percentage of subway operators belong to unions such as the Transport Workers Union of North America and the Amalgamated Transit Union.

What Are Some Related Alternative Occupations?

Like subway operators, locomotive engineers work in the rail transportation industry. These individuals control the movement of a number of above-ground locomotive trains, including steam and gas-turbine-electric. They may transport either passengers or freight materials. Railroad operators (brake, signal and switch), on the other hand, control the signals and the rolling stock that help keep railway traffic running smoothly and error-free. Also within the rail industry, railroad conductors and yardmasters oversee the activities of crews and/or passengers at a railyard or similar destination. Conductors and locomotive engineers require certification.

Transportation operators are needed for other industries as well. Potential occupations within these industries may include sailors and bus drivers.