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Locomotive Operator Training Programs

Becoming a locomotive operator requires the completion of a training program, which might take place at a technical school or through a transportation company. Read more about the path to becoming a locomotive operator, and explore what skills you'd learn during your training.

What Training Programs Are Available?

Some community colleges and technical schools offer locomotive operator training programs that are meant to prepare you for entry into a transportation company's own training program. School-based programs typically take 4-8 weeks to complete, depending on whether you attend class full-time or part-time. You can usually opt for weekend or evening classes if you need to keep your current job. When you finish the locomotive operator training program, you'll be ready to interview at passenger and freight train companies.

Training ProgramFour to eight weeks
Course TopicsSafety procedures, operating rules, hazardous materials, history of railroad industry
Job RequirementsHigh school diploma, 20 years of age, federal license
Median Salary (2018)$61,480 (Railroad Workers)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)3% decline (Railroad Workers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Will I Learn?

Locomotive operator training programs give you a broad foundation in general rail yard operations. You'll learn about rules, regulations and safety procedures. Air brake training teaches you about the movement of air through trains and how to control speed. You'll use the General Code of Operating Rules and the Air Brake and Train Handling handbooks established by the Federal Railroad Administration. In the operations portion of your training program, you'll learn about traffic control, track warrant control and block signals.

Safety training is also required in a locomotive operator training program, and you'll learn about hazardous materials and safe operating practices. You'll likely also learn about railroad terminology and the history of the railroad industry. Some programs also include instruction in interviewing and job hunting.

How Do I Become a Locomotive Operator?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you're probably going to have to work your way up to a locomotive operator position through working in the rail yard. You'll need to be a high school graduate and be at least 20 years old to operate a locomotive.

Many companies hire from within based on seniority, selecting backup engineers to take on permanent, full-time positions. To move up to a locomotive operator position, you'll need formal training that includes classroom work, simulator training and hands-on train operation. Smaller companies might require new hires to seek outside training programs, says the BLS, but many companies provide their own training programs. A federal license is required to work as a locomotive operator.