What Does a Train Engineer Do?

Explore the career requirements for train engineers. Get the facts about training and certification requirements, salary, and potential job growth 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 are in charge of driving a train and managing the loads it carries while also communicating its progress by radio to others. Train engineers are often expected to work first as a conductor or assistant in order to gain experience working with trains. They may also be expected to complete a relevant education program at a technical or trade school. You should be prepared to have a demanding schedule, often working many days in a row then having days off at a time. The following chart gives you an overview about a career as a train engineer.

Degree Required High school diploma
Training Required On-the-job training is provided
Key Responsibilities Safely operate passenger and freight trains;
monitor locomotive controls and readings and make adjustments;
communicate with dispatchers about track and environmental conditions, scheduling or route changes
Licensure and/or Certification Federal Railroad Administration certification is required for each route
Job Growth (2014-2024) -2% (for all locomotive engineers)*
Median Salary (2015) $56,240 (for all locomotive engineers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Train Engineer?

As a train engineer, you may operate freight, passenger or urban transit trains. Your main job duty is to transport passengers or freight between train stations or from one location to another. You must inspect the condition of the train and cargo before departing to ensure that everything is operating properly. If repairs are needed it's your job to instruct the maintenance crew on the problems that need attention because you're ultimately in charge of the safe operation of the train.

Once en route, you must monitor the controls, speed, air pressure and other functions of the train. You must follow a mapped route and be aware of weather or track conditions in the areas in which you're traveling. You must react to weather changes or other situations that could affect your ability to travel in certain areas, change routes as needed and ensure the safety of your train and those traveling on roadways that are in your path.

What Training Do I Need?

Most train engineers begin their careers working in entry-level positions such as a brakeman or switchman. Most rail companies have minimum requirements for being an engineer including being at least 21 years old, completing high school, passing a physical exam and completing a training course. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulates train engineers. Under FRA regulations, you must complete a certification program and hold a license. Certification is offered through your employer, as mandated by the FRA (www.fra.dot.gov).

To meet licensing requirements you must complete a formal training program and pass a hearing and vision test, a background check and a knowledge and skills test. You must also pass periodic operational rules efficiency tests in order to maintain your license. Training may be offer through the employer or through a college or vocational school. During training you'll learn areas like the basic operations of a train, how to handle adverse weather and safety regulations. Training typically includes classroom instruction and hands-on training.

What Could I Earn?

As of May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), locomotive engineers earned a median annual wage of $56,240 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the 25th-75th percentile salary range for locomotive engineers was $46,650-$66,740 in the same year.

What Are Some Alternative Related Careers?

Delivery truck drivers have similar job duties and education requirements as train engineers. You'll be expected to keep track of your cargo as you load and unload it from your vehicle. You will also be required to communicate with clients and dispatchers, keep your truck in good condition, manage paperwork and take customer payments. You may have a regular delivery routine or may receive instructions from your employer for each delivery. A high school diploma is generally required to become a delivery truck driver, along with a valid driver's license and some on-the-job training.

Flight attendants are required to have a high school diploma and received FAA training, though employers may prefer to hire those who have some college experience or even a degree. As a flight attendant you will be expected to participate in flight inspections, communicate with pilots before and during the flight, tend to the passengers' needs, offer emergency medical care if necessary and ensure that passengers know the uses of safety equipment in an emergency situation.

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