Becoming a Locomotive Engineer: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a locomotive engineer career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary to see if becoming a locomotive engineer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Locomotive Engineer

Locomotive engineers are responsible for the safe transport of people and cargo. Find out some of the pros and cons to being a locomotive engineer by reading below.

Pros of Becoming a Locomotive Engineer
Minimal educational requirements*
Employers usually provide job training*
Good job opportunities for qualified candidates*
Promotional opportunities with seniority*

Cons of Becoming a Locomotive Engineer
Low job growth (-4% from 2012-2022)*
Federal licensing is required for employment*
Work scheduling is often based on seniority*
Irregular and odd work hours are common (1/3 worked 50 hours a week in 2010)*
On long distance jobs, you're required to spend multiple days and nights away from home*

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

Career Duties and Earnings Potential

Job Description

When a locomotive engineer receives an assignment, a mechanical and maintenance check is performed on the locomotive. You'll work with others to ensure that the locomotive is operational. Any adjustments and issues that arise with the inspection are documented and taken care of.

Once all the cargo and passengers are safely aboard, you'll drive the train towards a specific destination. When you're operating a train, you'll use specially designed controls like air brakes and throttles. You'll also have to check gauges and instruments that monitor air pressure, speeds and amperage. If any problems arise, a locomotive engineer has to come up with a safe solution to the issue. By having a thorough knowledge of the route you need to take, you can ensure that you arrive at your destination on time.

Salary Information

Locomotive engineers were reported to make an average of $57,000 annually according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014 ( Individuals in the top 10% of wage estimates for locomotive engineers earned $77,600 yearly. Washington, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi and Arizona were the best paying states on average for locomotive engineers as of May 2014.

Vocational Requirements

Career Training

An employer typically sponsors a new locomotive engineer through a formal training program. This program consists of hands-on and simulated instruction along with education in a classroom setting. Your training can last for a few weeks to a few months depending on your employer. Before qualifying for this program, you'll need a high school diploma or a GED.


In some circumstances, a locomotive engineer might need to possess a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). The requirements for this licensure are dependent upon the state you're employed in, but an examination is generally issued and has to be passed in order to obtain your CDL.

All engineers are required to be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration. For this requirement, a written test is issued to locomotive engineers to test them on their locomotive engineering knowledge. From there, you'll need to take a skills test to ensure you know how to properly operate a locomotive. Finally, a supervisor has to oversee and certify you in a specific route. If you're assigned a new route, you have to be re-certified. If you don't switch routes, you'll still need to be re-certified after a few years. Finally, a hearing and vision test must be passed in order to be certified to work.

What Do Employers Want in Locomotive Engineers?

Employers are looking for locomotive engineers with strong technical, mathematical, analytical and mechanical skills. As a locomotive engineer, you have to meet certain physical and age requirements to be considered by an employer. This includes being at least 21 years old, possessing color vision and having good eyesight. To learn what some real employers were looking for, you can read below about some information taken from some job postings in March 2012.

  • A trainmaster opening in Illinois calls for a locomotive engineer with a working knowledge of road and railway operations.
  • In Texas, a position for a railcar switchman requires someone with the ability to lift 50 pounds consistently and work outside in all weather conditions.
  • A railway in Wisconsin requests a locomotive engineer with good computer skills.

How Do You Stand Out as a Locomotive Engineer?

While you're in high school, you can benefit from taking communication classes. Taking some postsecondary courses on communication at a community college can also help set you apart from other locomotive engineers. Communication skills are a vital part of this career because quick and responsible decisions have to be made, so the more effectively you can communicate, the better prepared you'll be.

Keeping yourself physically fit is another way to stand out amongst your peers. This can be a physically demanding career, so exercising and eating right can be beneficial. Physical stamina is of the utmost importance due to the continuous hours you have to work. If you're willing to take shifts other people aren't interested in, you can demonstrate an extra level of commitment to your employer.

Alternative Career Choices

An alternative career involving transportation is bus driving. As a bus driver, you'll follow a routine schedule where you pick up and drop off passengers at designation stops. You have to ensure that passengers are following safety procedures. Passengers often have to pay a fare or present a pass in order to be allowed on a bus. Transit and intercity bus drivers had an average annual income of about $37,000 according to the BLS in May 2011.

If you're interested in working on water instead of land, you can apply your transportation skills towards a career in water vessel piloting. As a pilot, you'll drive ships from harbor and out to waterways. You might follow rivers and straits or you might transport materials across the ocean. Special training and licensing is required to pilot a watercraft. In May 2011, the BLS found that water vessel pilots were reported to make around $72,000 on average yearly.

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