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Become A Yard Hostler

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Working As A Yard Hostler

  • Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment
  • Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material
  • Controlling Machines and Processes
  • Getting Information
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Deal with People

  • Stressful

  • $72,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Yard Hostler 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 Yard Hostler

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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Top Skills for A Yard Hostler

  1. Tractor Trailers
  2. Dock Doors
  3. Container Tags
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Switched trailers and containers from dock doors and on the yard.
  • Moved containers with a yard goat from docks to parking space
  • Obtained my CDL Class 'A'.
  • Key the slot number into the computer system.
  • Performed daily yard checks and audited containers around yard twice weekly.

Yard Hostler Demographics

Gender

Male

78.9%

Unknown

13.5%

Female

7.6%
Ethnicity

White

55.7%

Hispanic or Latino

26.6%

Black or African American

9.6%

Asian

4.9%

Unknown

3.2%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

69.2%

Russian

7.7%

Portuguese

7.7%

Turkish

7.7%

French

7.7%
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Yard Hostler Education

Schools

San Bernardino Valley College

10.7%

The Academy

10.7%

California State University - Fullerton

7.1%

Mt San Antonio College

7.1%

Atlanta Technical College

7.1%

Hocking College

7.1%

South Plains College

3.6%

Moraine Valley Community College

3.6%

Southern Crescent Technical College

3.6%

State University of New York College of Optometry

3.6%

Edison State Community College

3.6%

Lincoln Technical Institute

3.6%

Front Range Community College

3.6%

Montgomery Community College

3.6%

University of the Pacific

3.6%

Brigham Young University - Idaho

3.6%

University of Oklahoma

3.6%

Redlands Adult School

3.6%

Cuyahoga Community College

3.6%

Tri-Community Adult Education

3.6%
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Majors

Business

22.5%

General Studies

16.9%

Automotive Technology

9.9%

Graphic Design

8.5%

General Education, Specific Areas

5.6%

Electrical Engineering Technology

4.2%

Criminal Justice

4.2%

Management

2.8%

Psychology

2.8%

Heavy/Industrial Equipment Maintenance Technologies

2.8%

Industrial Technology

2.8%

Wildlife Management

2.8%

Electrical Engineering

2.8%

Education

2.8%

International Business

1.4%

Mechanical Engineering Technology

1.4%

Pharmacy

1.4%

Management Science

1.4%

Computer Information Systems

1.4%

Recreation Management

1.4%
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Degrees

Other

47.9%

Associate

21.3%

Bachelors

10.6%

Certificate

8.5%

Masters

4.3%

Diploma

4.3%

License

3.2%
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What is it like to work as a Yard Hostler

5.0

O.K.

March 28, 2019 on Zippia

What was your job title?

Yard Hostler.. Show More

What do you like the most about working as Yard Hostler?

My job is simple. I like to work alone, I'm self motivating. I have more than 12 years doing this job, that was in Aviation. All the Air craft were larger than an 18 wheeler, I also have a CDL- Class A. The weather dosen't bother me. Overtime dosen't bother me. I prefer to work nights,but I'm open to work any shift... Show More

What do you NOT like?

Micro management, and people who have no business trying to run things they know nothing about... Show More

How Would You Rate Working As a Yard Hostler?

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