What's the Difference Between a Railroad Conductor & Train Conductor?

Railroad conductor and train conductor job titles are usually used interchangeably; however, freight and passenger conductors have different responsibilities. Read below to learn more. Schools offering Heavy Equipment degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Railroad and Train Conductor Duties

As a railroad or train conductor, you coordinate the trains that transport passengers and freight to destinations across the country. Your responsibilities include communicating with dispatch about switching tracks, signaling engineers about departing from the station and documenting any unscheduled stops, delays or accidents, as well as keeping an eye out for suspicious activity. Telecommunications and hand signals are used to communicate with other railroad employees. You also have to inspect each of the railway cars to ensure they are in proper condition. Some of your other duties will vary, depending on what type of conductor you are.

Important Facts About This Industry

On-the-Job Training Typically lasts 1-3 months
Work Schedule Typically full-time with minimum rest hours, sometimes during evenings, weekends, and holidays
Similar Occupations Delivery truck drivers, water transportation workers, heavy truck/tractor-trailer drivers
Key Skills Hand-eye coordination, decision-making, customer service, and communication skills

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Freight Train Conductor

As a freight train conductor, you'll keep track of schedules and shipping records involving cargo loading and unloading. You might be required to do some medium to heavy lifting. You'll also be responsible for ensuring the train's proper distribution of weight, as well as assisting in the coupling and uncoupling of freight cars.

Passenger Train Conductor

If you work as a passenger train conductor, you are responsible for collecting tickets from passengers, coordinating the activities of the train crew and helping to ensure that passengers arrive safely to their destination. You communicate with passengers and answer any questions they may have about departure times, delays or other issues that may arise.

Job Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a high school diploma is necessary to work for a railroad company. If you're just starting out as a conductor, you'll generally need to undertake on-the-job training through your employer or else complete a community college program (www.bls.gov). Community college programs for railroad conductors are available at the certificate and associate's degree levels, and they can prepare you to become either a freight or passenger train conductor. Courses cover topics such as field and mechanical operations, railroad history, railroad safety, and the General Code of Operating Rules. Conductors will also be required to obtain certification as mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) starting in January 2012.

Career Information

According to the BLS, railroad conductors and yardmasters are expected to see a -2% decline in job opportunities between 2016 and 2026; however, job openings are expected to increase as current railroad employees reach retirement age. In May 2018, railroad conductors and yardmasters earned a median annual salary of $62,930. The bottom 10% of workers at that time made annual salaries of $44,690 or less, while the top 10% made annual wages of $95,330 or higher (www.bls.gov).

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