What Is a Railroad Yardmaster?

Explore the career requirements for railroad yardmasters. Get the facts about job duties, training requirements, employment prospects and salary 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 Railroad Yardmaster?

A railroad yardmaster is the supervisor of a rail yard. They monitor the activities of all workers, including signal operators, switch operators and brake operators. They also coordinate freight car movements so that they are in the correct position for loading, or so that defective cars can be removed from the train. Before a train leaves the rail yard, the yardmaster verifies that it is carrying the appropriate cargo.

Mechanical aptitude and an affinity for trains are among the requirements for a career as a railroad yardmaster. To learn more about what it takes to land a job in this field, along with job outlook and salary figures, take a look at the following table:

Education Required High school diploma or GED
Training Required Training provided by employers
Key Responsibilities Direct the movement of rail cars, manage train routes, develop timetables
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2% decline (for railroad conductors and yardmasters)*
Median Salary (2015) $55,930 (for railroad conductors and yardmasters)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Railroad Yardmaster?

Yardmasters manage the activities of railroad yards. Many of the job duties are also performed by railroad conductors. As a yardmaster, you may be responsible for making or breaking trains, switching traffic to other parts of the track, communicating with engineers about where to move cars and how to configure trains, operating switches or facilitating defective car removal. Other responsibilities could include documenting accidents and delays, inspecting train cars, managing the regulation of air conditioning and lighting, performing emergency protocols and managing train routes. You could also be in charge of developing railroad timetables, confirming destinations, relaying messages from dispatchers, recording revenue from tickets and supervising employees.

Do I Need a Degree?

To work as a railroad yardmaster or conductor, you usually must first work as a brake or signal operator, and in order to work as a brake or signal operator, you'll need a high school diploma or its equivalent. Training for yardmasters and conductors often takes place in programs offered by the employer. In these programs, you could learn about basic train operation, train documentation, the limitations of a particular kind of train, speed requirements of certain trains or track restrictions. You could also learn about train classification, trip planning, signaling, tonnage requirements and hazardous material transportation. Other areas of study might include car placement and car pick up.

Are There Good Job Prospects?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment of railroad conductors and yardmasters was expected to decrease 2% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). However, the number of retiring railroad workers, the transportation demands of a growing population and rising gas prices were expected to result in some new positions in the railroad industry. The median salary for railroad conductors and yardmasters was $55,930 as of May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

You might also want to consider a different job in the railroad industry. For example, as a locomotive engineer, you would be responsible for driving long-distance freight or passenger trains between destinations. Another job possibility is a position as an on-board conductor. Like yardmasters, conductors are involved in the loading and unloading of cargo when the train is in the yard, but they also supervise staff when the train is in motion. On passenger trains, they make announcements to keep passengers updated on upcoming destinations, and they may also take ticket payments. For a job as an engineer or a conductor, you need to have at least a high school diploma.

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