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Become A Train Engineer

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Working As A Train Engineer

  • Controlling Machines and Processes
  • Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
  • Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material
  • Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment
  • Getting Information
  • Unpleasant/Hazardous Environment

  • Mostly Sitting

  • Repetitive

  • Stressful

  • $56,240

    Average Salary

What Does A Train Engineer Do

Workers in railroad occupations ensure that passenger and freight trains run on time and travel safely. Some workers drive trains, some coordinate the activities of the trains, and others operate signals and switches in the rail yard.

Duties

Railroad workers typically do the following:

  • Check the mechanical condition of locomotives and make adjustments when necessary
  • Document issues with a train that require further inspection
  • Operate locomotive engines within or between stations

Freight trains move billions of tons of goods around the country to ports where they are shipped around the world. Passenger trains transport millions of passengers and commuters to destinations around the country. These railroad workers are essential to keeping freight and passenger trains running properly.

All workers in railroad occupations work together closely. Locomotive engineers travel with conductors and sometimes brake operators. Locomotive engineers and conductors are in constant contact and keep each other informed of any changes in the condition of the train.

Signal and switch operators communicate with both locomotive and rail yard engineers to make sure that trains end up at the correct destination. All occupations are in contact with dispatchers who give them directions on where to go and what to do.

Locomotive engineers drive freight or passenger trains between stations. They drive long-distance trains and commuter trains, but not subway trains. Most locomotive engineers drive diesel-electric engines, although some drive locomotives powered by battery or electricity.

Engineers must be aware of the goods their train is carrying because different types of freight require different types of driving, based on the conditions of the rails. For example, a train carrying hazardous material through a snowstorm is driven differently than a train carrying coal through a mountain region.

Locomotive engineers typically do the following:

  • Monitor speed, air pressure, battery use, and other instruments to ensure that the locomotive runs smoothly
  • Use a variety of controls, such as throttles and airbrakes, to operate the train
  • Communicate with dispatchers over radios to get information about delays or changes in the schedule

Conductors travel on both freight and passenger trains. They coordinate activities of the train crew. On passenger trains, they ensure safety and comfort and make announcements to keep passengers informed. On freight trains they are responsible for overseeing the loading and unloading of cargo.

Conductors typically do the following:

  • Check passengers’ tickets
  • Take payments from passengers who did not buy tickets in advance
  • Announce stations and give other announcements as needed
  • Help passengers to safety when needed
  • Deal with unruly passengers when needed
  • Oversee loading and unloading of cargo

Yardmasters do work similar to that of conductors, except that they do not travel on trains. They oversee and coordinate the activities of workers in the rail yard. They tell yard engineers where to move cars to fit the planned configuration or to load freight. Yardmasters ensure that trains are carrying the correct material before leaving the yard. Not all rail yards use yardmasters. In rail yards that do not have yardmasters, a conductor performs the duties of a yardmaster.

Yardmasters typically do the following:

  • Review schedules, switching orders, and shipping records of freight trains
  • Arrange for defective cars to be removed from a train for repairs
  • Switch train traffic to a certain section of the line to allow other inbound and outbound trains to get around
  • Break up or put together train cars according to a schedule

Rail yard engineers operate train engines within the rail yard. They move locomotives between tracks to keep the trains organized and on schedule. Some operate small locomotives called dinkeys. Sometimes, rail yard engineers are called hostlers and drive locomotives to and from maintenance shops or prepare them for the locomotive engineer. Some use remote locomotive technology to move freight cars within the rail yards.

Railroad brake, signal, or switch operators control equipment that keeps the trains running safely.

Brake operators help couple and uncouple train cars. Some travel with the train as part of the crew.

Signal operators install and maintain the signals along tracks and in the rail yard. Signals are important in preventing accidents because they allow increased communication between trains and dispatchers.

Switch operators control the track switches in rail yards. These switches allow trains to move between tracks and ensure trains are heading in the right direction.

Locomotive firers are sometimes part of a train crew and typically monitor tracks and train instruments. They look for equipment that is dragging, obstacles on the tracks, and other potential safety problems.

Few trains still use firers, because their work has been automated or is now done by a locomotive engineer or conductor.

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How To Become A Train Engineer

Workers in railroad occupations generally need a high school diploma and several months of on-the-job training.

Education

Rail companies typically require a high school diploma or equivalent, especially for locomotive engineers and conductors. 

Training

Locomotive engineers generally receive 2 to 3 months of on-the-job training before they can operate a train on their own. Typically, this training involves riding with an experienced engineer who teaches them the characteristics of that particular train route.

During training, an engineer learns the track length, where the switches are, and any unusual features of the track. An experienced engineer who switches to a new route also has to spend a few months in training to learn the route with an engineer who is familiar with it. In addition, railroad companies provide continuing education so that engineers can maintain their skills.

Most railroad companies have 1 to 3 months of on-the-job training for conductors and yardmasters. Amtrak (the passenger train company) and some of the larger freight railroad companies operate their own training programs. Smaller and regional railroads may send conductors to a central training facility or a community college.

Yardmasters may be sent to training programs or may be trained by an experienced yardmaster. They learn how to operate remote locomotive technology and how to manage railcars in the yard.

Conductors and yardmasters working for freight railroads also learn the proper procedures for loading and unloading different types of cargo. Conductors on passenger trains learn ticketing procedures and how to handle passengers.

Rail yard engineers and signal and switch operators also receive on-the-job training, generally through a company training program. This program may last a few weeks to a few months, depending on the company and the complexity of the job. The program may include some time in a classroom and some hands-on experience under the direction of an experienced employee.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most locomotive engineers first work as conductors for several years.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Locomotive engineers must be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The certification, conducted by the railroad that employs them, involves a written knowledge test, a skills test, and a supervisor determining that the engineer understands all physical aspects of the particular route on which he or she will be operating.

An experienced engineer who changes routes must be recertified for the new route. Even engineers who do not switch routes must be recertified every few years.

At the end of the certification process, the engineer must pass a vision and hearing test.

Conductors who operate on national, regional, or commuter railroads are also required to become certified. To receive certification, new conductors must pass a test that has been designed and administered by the railroad and approved by the FRA.

Advancement

Rail yard engineers, switch operators, and signal operators can advance to become conductors or yardmasters. Some conductors or yardmasters advance to become locomotive engineers.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. All rail employees have to be able to communicate effectively with other crewmembers and passengers to keep the trains on schedule.

Customer-service skills. Conductors on passenger trains ensure customers’ comfort, make announcements, and answer any questions a passenger has. They must be courteous and patient. They may have to deal with unruly or upset passengers.

Decisionmaking skills. When operating a locomotive, engineers must plan ahead and make decisions minutes or even hours in advance.

Hand-eye coordination. Locomotive engineers have to operate various controls while staying aware of their surroundings.

Hearing ability. To show that they can hear warning signals and communicate with other employees, locomotive engineers have to pass a hearing test conducted by their rail company.

Leadership skills. On some trains, a conductor directs a crew. In rail yards, yardmasters oversee other workers.

Mechanical skills. All rail employees work with complex machines. Most have to be able to adjust equipment when it does not work properly. Some rail yard engineers spend most of their time fixing broken equipment or conducting daily mechanical inspections.

Physical strength. Some rail yard engineers have to lift heavy equipment.

Visual ability. To drive a train, locomotive engineers have to pass a vision test conducted by their rail company. Eyesight, peripheral vision, and color vision may be tested.

In addition, locomotive operators must be at least 21 years of age and pass a background test. They must also pass random drug and alcohol screenings over the course of their employment.

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Train Engineer Jobs

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Train Engineer Career Paths

Train Engineer
Engineering Technician Systems Administrator Director Of Information
Chief Information Officer
11 Yearsyrs
Field Engineer Engineer Project Engineer
Construction Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Senior Engineer Architect Assistant Project Manager
Construction Superintendent
9 Yearsyrs
Senior Engineer Information Technology Manager Technical Services Manager
Director Of Technology And Services
11 Yearsyrs
Design Engineer Project Engineer Engineering Manager
Engineering Director
13 Yearsyrs
Engineer Project Engineer
Engineering Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Process Engineer Production Manager General Manager
General Manager Of Operations
9 Yearsyrs
Engineer Systems Engineer Systems Administrator
Information Technology Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Design Engineer Project Manager Program Manager
Marketing Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Program Manager General Manager
Operations Director
9 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Construction Manager
Operations Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Civil Engineer Structures Engineer Project Engineer
Plant Manager
11 Yearsyrs
Civil Engineer Construction Manager Operations Manager
President Of Operations
11 Yearsyrs
Mechanical Engineer Application Engineer Product Manager
Product Director
11 Yearsyrs
Field Engineer Systems Engineer Business Analyst
Product Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Mechanical Engineer Manufacturing Engineer Project Engineer
Project Superintendent
10 Yearsyrs
Process Engineer Manufacturing Engineer Quality Engineer
Quality Manager
11 Yearsyrs
Engineering Technician Field Engineer Construction Manager
Senior Construction Manager
14 Yearsyrs
Project Engineer Program Manager
Senior Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Project Engineer Project Manager
Senior Project Manager
12 Yearsyrs
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Do you work as a Train Engineer?

Train Engineer Demographics

Gender

Male

76.1%

Female

20.1%

Unknown

3.8%
Ethnicity

White

57.9%

Hispanic or Latino

16.2%

Asian

10.7%

Black or African American

10.5%

Unknown

4.7%
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Languages Spoken

Spanish

46.9%

French

9.9%

Arabic

7.4%

Mandarin

6.2%

Russian

4.9%

Italian

3.7%

Portuguese

2.5%

Chinese

2.5%

Greek

2.5%

Carrier

2.5%

Polish

2.5%

Haida

1.2%

German

1.2%

Romanian

1.2%

Georgian

1.2%

Cantonese

1.2%

Ukrainian

1.2%

Navajo

1.2%
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Train Engineer Education

Schools

University of Kentucky

9.7%

University of Phoenix

7.6%

Texas Tech University

6.9%

Texas A&M University

6.9%

North Carolina State University

6.2%

Arizona State University

5.5%

University of Florida

5.5%

Purdue University

4.8%

University of Mississippi

4.8%

University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez

4.1%

Pennsylvania State University

4.1%

West Virginia University

4.1%

Cornell University

4.1%

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

4.1%

Mississippi State University

4.1%

Wayne State University

3.4%

Auburn University

3.4%

University of Maine

3.4%

Ohio State University

3.4%

Tennessee Technological University

3.4%
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Majors

Civil Engineering

29.1%

Mechanical Engineering

16.1%

Business

11.3%

Electrical Engineering

9.4%

Engineering

4.8%

Chemical Engineering

4.6%

Computer Science

2.5%

Manufacturing Engineering

2.3%

Environmental Control Technologies/Technicians

2.2%

Electrical Engineering Technology

2.0%

Management

2.0%

Engineering And Industrial Management

2.0%

Petroleum Engineering

1.7%

Project Management

1.7%

Computer Engineering

1.7%

Industrial Engineering

1.5%

Environmental Engineering

1.5%

Education

1.3%

Communication

1.3%

Mining Engineering

1.2%
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Degrees

Bachelors

48.0%

Masters

25.5%

Other

15.0%

Associate

4.1%

Certificate

3.1%

Doctorate

3.1%

Diploma

0.9%

License

0.2%
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Real Train Engineer Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Release Train Engineer Dealertrack, Inc. Lake Success, NY Dec 15, 2016 $140,000
Drive Train Engineer OGIN, Inc. Waltham, MA Oct 03, 2014 $105,000 -
$120,000
Drive Train Engineer Flodesign Wind Turbine Corporation Waltham, MA Dec 03, 2012 $103,000 -
$120,000
Power-Train Engineer MB-Technology Na LLC Redford, MI Sep 08, 2015 $72,000
Power Train Engineer MB-Technology Na LLC Detroit, MI Sep 12, 2014 $67,725 -
$83,200

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Top Skills for A Train Engineer

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  1. Ensure Rail Safety
  2. Training Programs
  3. Autocad
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Lead engineer responsible for the development, administration and review of customized audiovisual operator training programs.
  • Performed voltage drop calculations and power system analysis using AutoCAD.
  • Completed a training rotation in the engineering, sales, and field engineering departments.
  • Analyze capacity of existing domestic water and sanitary sewer systems for private industry developers in order to determine site feasibility.
  • Maintain, monitor, analyze system components and make recommendations regarding computer system security and resource utilization.

How Would You Rate Working As a Train Engineer?

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Top Train Engineer Employers

Jobs From Top Train Engineer Employers

Train Engineer Videos

Real train engineer: day in the life/ Train Engineer Jim

Life As A Railroad Engineer. What it is like to work for a railroad.

A Day in the Life of a Conductor

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