How Do I Become a Train Conductor?

Research what it takes to become a train conductor. Learn about the training requirements, career outlook, job duties and potential salaries to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Train Conductor?

Train conductors serve as supervisors on long-distance trains. They oversee loading and unloading of cargo and/or passengers, and they coordinate the activities of onboard staff. Over the course of a journey, they keep passengers informed by making announcements about upcoming arrivals and scheduling changes. They also make sure that safety procedures are followed at all times. The following table presents an overview for this career:

Education Required High school diploma
Training Required On-the-job training and/or railroad-sponsored training program
Licensure/Certification Certification required
Job Growth (2014-24) -2%* (railroad conductors and yardmasters)
Average Salary (2015) $56,760* (railroad conductors and yardmasters)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Training Will I Need For a Train Conductor Job?

Training for railroad jobs is often handled through employer programs. You're eligible for an entry-level position after you've completed high school and have passed a drug test. You may also consider earning a certificate or associate's degree. Programs in railroad operations, railroad conductor technology or conductor training are offered by community colleges, often in partnership with area railroads.

Community college programs explicate your role as a conductor in assuring the safe operation of a train and your responsibility to stay alert for changing conditions. Programs mix classroom study with internships that provide direct work experience. Your courses may cover railroad history, operation rules and conductor service duties.

What Is My Employment Outlook?

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported that there were more than 169,000 people working for freight railroads in 2015 (www.aar.org). About 84% of those working on Class I railroads were unionized at that time.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were approximately 113,300 railroad workers, of which 45,100 were conductors and yardmasters in 2014 (www.bls.gov). Employment across the industry was projected by the BLS to shrink by3 percent from 2014-2024, although some railroad occupations may grow if passengers and businesses utilize rail transportation for travel and shipping as a response to any increase in the price of gasoline.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

Your work will revolve around making sure crew members of your train perform their respective jobs. You'll work with the yardmaster and engineer to troubleshoot any problems with other trains or obstacles on the track. You may report mechanical problems to the engineer and keep passengers apprised of any changes in itinerary.

Your duties will be focused on safety, whether of your passengers or other cargo. As a conductor, you need to monitor the distribution of weight in freight cars and inventory their contents. On passenger trains, you'll collect tickets and work with the engineer to meet departure and arrival schedules.

What Salary Could I Expect to Earn?

According to the BLS, the average wage for railroad conductors was $56,760 in May 2015. At that time, conductors working for local governments earned an average salary of $58,470, while those working in the rail transportation industry earned $56,810.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Rather than working as a conductor, you could consider a different job in the railroad industry. For instance, as a locomotive engineer, you would be responsible for driving passenger and/or freight trains for long distances. If you would rather work on the ground, you could become a signal or switch operator. Signal operators install and maintain communication signals next to railroad tracks and in rail yards. Switch operators control the parts of railroad tracks that determine which direction a train move. For any of these jobs, you usually need to have at least a high school diploma.

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