Train Engineer Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for train engineers. Get the facts about education requirements, salary, certification and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Train Engineer?

Train engineers, also known as locomotive engineers, drive long-distance trains from one location to another. They may operate trains that run on diesel-electric, battery or electric engines, and they may transport either passengers or freight. Over the course of a trip, they stay in close contact with dispatchers at their destination in order to coordinate arrival schedules. They also monitor the train's speed and efficiency, making adjustments in response to environmental conditions.

Train engineers can begin working in the field after extensive on-the-job learning. Learn more about the certification necessary, along with other career information from the table below.

Education Required High school diploma, on-the-job training
Key Skills Hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, communication, mechanical prowess, problem-solving
Certification All locomotive engineers must be certified through the Federal Railroad Administration
Job Growth (2014-2024) -2%*
Median Hourly Wage (2015) $27.04*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Can I Start a Career as a Train Engineer?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in order to become a professional locomotive engineer, you need to be at least 21 years old and have your high school diploma or GED certificate (www.bls.gov). It's common for prospective engineers to begin as a brakeman, machinist or conductor before training to become an engineer.

What Education and Credentials Do I Need?

Most railroad companies offer on-the-job training programs with testing that must be completed in order to begin working. These extensive training programs include coursework, train simulation exercises and hands-on instruction with actual trains. You'll need to pass a number of exams testing your knowledge, performance ability, hearing and vision. You'll also be required to pass a thorough background check.

After you've completed the required training program, you'll need to complete a written examination before receiving your train engineer's license. Once you become a working professional, you'll be required to randomly take an operational rules efficiency exam in order to maintain your licensure.

What Is the Typical Salary?

As of May 2015, the BLS stated that the median rate received by rail transportation workers was $28.77 per hour. However, the average wage of train engineers was slightly lower. The BLS estimated that the median hourly wage of locomotive operators and engineers was $27.04 per hour.

What Is the Job Market Like?

The BLS predicted a declining job outlook from 2014 to 2024. The number of jobs will likely decline due to productivity improvements within the industry. Jobs for all railroad workers are expected to decline by three percent from 2014 to 2024. More specifically, locomotive engineer positions were slated to decline by two percent from 2014 to 2024. To expand your work experience, you might want to keep a watch on the monthly postings from the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board to see what positions have opened up.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A closely related job option is a position as a conductor. These railroad workers are in charge of the loading and unloading of cargo and passengers on trains, and they oversee staff and passengers during the journey itself. The minimum educational requirement is a high school diploma. Outside of the railroad industry, you might be interested in a job as a heavy truck driver. This involves driving a truck weighing over 26,000 pounds in order to carry goods for long distances. To become a heavy truck driver, you need to have a high school diploma and complete a professional training program.

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