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How to Become a Train Conductor

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Put Your Mom Skills to Work as a Train Conductor

As a mom, you're constantly supervising your little ones and directing their activities. As a train conductor, you can put those skills to work. With railroads running across the country, you have plenty of locations to choose from, and with trains running 24/7, lots of hours to choose from.

Job Description

Train conductors are basically the supervisors of the train. Their job is to make sure everything runs smoothly, whether it’s a passenger train or a freight train.

On passenger trains, you oversee the loading and unloading of passengers, collect tickets, take payment from passengers who didn’t buy a ticket beforehand, and ensure passengers are safe and comfortable. Conductors also make announcements about upcoming arrivals and any schedule changes.

On freight trains, conductors oversee the loading, organization and unloading of cargo. You also monitor the distribution and weight of cargo and keep track of the content of each freight car.

Conductors also supervise the onboard staff. Duties include communicating with other members of the crew, including the yardmaster and engineer, to address any problems on the train or obstacles on the track. The conductor and engineer also work together to ensure the train stays on schedule.

Education Requirements

Conductors are normally required to have a high school diploma. Prior experience isn’t necessary as most companies offer on-the-job training. This training generally takes place over one to three months. Large railroad companies have their own training programs, and smaller companies usually send you to a central training facility or community college.

Passenger train conductors learn proper ticketing procedures and how to handle passengers during training. Freight train conductors learn how to load and unload different types of cargo. You may also learn about railroad history, operation rules and other duty requirements.

Conductors who operate on national, regional or commuter railroads are required to become certified through a test approved by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The median annual wage for conductors is $57,480, according to the United States Department of Labor. This means half the conductors in the United States earn less than this wage, and half make more.

About the Industry

Conductors work on trains. Passenger conductors generally have a bit comfier quarters than conductors on freight trains, but they do have to deal with passengers on a regular basis.

A conductor’s schedule can vary greatly. Trains operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which means you might work nights, weekends and/or holidays. Train crew employees are often on-call and required to report to work within 90 minutes if contacted.

Depending on your train’s route, you may spend a day or more away from home. As you gain more seniority at your company, you should have better scheduling options.

Years of Experience

Most conductors don’t start the position unless they have prior train crew experience. You’ll most likely begin as a switch person or brake operator.

Switch operators control the track switches in rail yards, which allows trains to move between tracks and ensures they head in the right direction.

Brake operators help connect and disconnect the train cars. Some brake operators travel with the train.

The median salary for both of these jobs is $56,570. So, as you gain experience and move into the role of conductor, you have the opportunity for a slight salary increase. As you gain experience in any of these positions, your salary increases. Union Pacific offers conductors and engineers up to $75,000 a year.

Job Growth Trend

Job growth for conductors is declining slightly. More power plants use natural gas than coal, cutting down on the demand for coal. Less demand means less need for the transportation of these commodities, which may cause some railroads to cut back to be more cost-effective.

On the other hand, demand for railroad workers may rise as the shipment of goods between multiple transportation modes increases.