Becoming a Railroad Conductor: Salary Information & Job Description

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Are you interested in helping railroads operate efficiently? Is the stress, scheduling and training worth it to become a railroad conductor? Keep on reading to find real job descriptions and career prospects to learn if becoming a railroad conductor is right for you.
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Becoming a Railroad Conductor: Pros and Cons

As a railroad conductor, you will manage the operations at freight and commercial rail yards. Take a look at some of the pros and cons to becoming a railroad conductor below.

Pros of Becoming a Railroad Conductor
Minimal educational requirements*
Job training is provided by employers*
Regular rest hours are enforced*

Cons of Becoming a Railroad Conductor
Federal licensure requirements go into effect as of 2012*
Physically demanding, especially in inclement weather*
Work weeks can extend beyond the standard 40 hours*
Irregular scheduling is common*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Occupational Information

Job Description

Railroad conductors coordinate the efforts of all crew members involved in freight and passenger rail transport. As a railroad conductor, you'll review schedules of arrivals and departures for passenger trains and freight shipments. Then you'll assemble teams of rail workers to assist with securing, unloading and loading each car.

You will be responsible for ensuring the safety of each car by distributing weight efficiently, collecting fares and tickets, assisting passengers and coordinating deliveries of goods. Prior to departure, you will work with the train's engineer to ensure the smoothest trip possible. Engineers are responsible for actually operating the train between stops, while a variety of rail yard workers are responsible for miscellaneous support duties as assigned by the railroad conductor.

Salary Information

In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the mean annual income for railroad conductors was about $55,000, which makes the hourly wages around $26 (www.bls.gov). Railroad conductors who were in the top 10% of wage estimates made about $36 or so an hour, which lead to a yearly median salary of $76,000 or greater. The highest paying states for railroad conductors were New York, New Jersey, Mississippi, Kentucky and Minnesota. Railroad jobs were expected to decline by 3% in the years 2012-2022, according to the BLS.

Vocational Training and Licensing Requirements

Job Training

Virtually all railroad companies require railroad conductors to hold at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. Much of the training undergone by railroad conductors takes place on the job or as part of a company-sponsored training program. Conductor training programs are sometimes available at community colleges as well. Some mathematical aptitude, problem-solving skills and leadership abilities are necessary.

Federal Licensing

Federal Railroad Administration licensing used to be a requirement for railroad engineers, but recent changes in legislation is extending these prerequisites to railroad conductors. You can qualify for this license by completing the formal training program offered by your employer. As part of this process, you have to complete a safety conduct background check. You also need to complete a hearing and vision test and examinations of your knowledge and practical skills. Occasionally, you'll be issued an unannounced test to maintain your federal license.

What Are Employers Looking for?

Employers are looking for railroad conductors who possess the necessary physical attributes to succeed in this career. This includes good hand-eye coordination, eyesight and hearing in addition to being able to tell the difference between colors. Due to licensing requirements, employers need applicants who are at least 21 years old. Read on to learn what requirements employers were looking for from potential railroad conductors in March 2012:

  • A railway in North Dakota has an opening for a conductor trainee that requires someone willing to work outdoors, lift up to 75 lbs. and perform switching functions. A high school diploma or GED certificate is necessary.
  • An opportunity in California calls for a conductor who can also serve as a breakman and perform some mechanics.
  • In New York, there is a conductor trainee position that requests a person capable of being on call 24 hours a day. Prior railroad experience is not necessary.

Standing out as a Railroad Conductor

There is no room for hesitation when an emergency arises as a railroad conductor. You're responsible for the lives of passengers and co-workers, as well as other precious cargo. Demonstrating clear and concise communication abilities can make a huge difference for railroad conductors. If you've taken communication or management classes, you'll demonstrate an additional level of professionalism that your peers might not have. The longer you remain with a company, the more you may access a variety of work perks - like priority on scheduling your shifts and vacation days.

Other Career Choices

If you're interested in an alternative vehicle transportation career, you could consider becoming a truck driver. Truck drivers deliver goods to specific destinations with time constraints placed upon them. A specialized driving license may be necessary depending on the type of rig you drive. You can receive your training and education through a truck driving vocational school. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers earned a median of roughly $38,000 according to the BLS as of 2011.

If you like working with railcars but would like to perform mechanical work, you can become a railcar repairer instead of a railroad conductor. In this occupation, you service and repair streetcars, subway cars, mine cars and railroad locomotives. Specialized job training is required for railcar repairers. The BLS reported that railcar repairers made a median of around $48,000 as of 2011.

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