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Job Description of a Train Conductor

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 130,000 Americans employed by the railroad industry, more than 40,000 of whom are train conductors. The railroad industry provides various types of transportation, including subways, passenger trains and freight trains which transport goods to various destinations across the United States. Train conductors have varying job descriptions in accordance with the type of railroad for which they work.

Duties of a Freight Train Conductor

The position of conductor on a freight train is an entry-level position which is a stepping stone for nearly all other railroad crew positions. The conductor is responsible for coordinating all of the train crews’ activities, the freight that is being transported and for the safe arrival of the train to its destination. Duties include reviewing schedules, throwing rail switches, maintaining shipping records and paperwork, properly distributing weight throughout the train and operating freight cars in the rail yard.

Duties of a Passenger Train Conductor

Passenger train conductors are responsible for coordinating all activities with the train’s crew, collect train tickets and train fare, assist passengers on/off the train, answer passenger questions, ensure passenger safety and make all necessary announcements to passengers. Additionally, the conductor communicates with the rest of the train crew, providing the route, timing and any changes. The conductor signals the train’s engineer to begin moving and keeps a record of the train’s arrival and departure times at any stops.


Freight conductors often work 12 hour days with schedules that vary. Federal guidelines mandate minimum rest time; however, most conductors work more than 40 hours per week with shifts that may rotate between weekends, nights, days and holidays. Heavy lifting and physical demands are integral to the job. Passenger train conductors can expect to have regular schedules. The working environment in a passenger train is more comfortable than that of a freight train, with air conditioning and adequate seating.

Job Outlook

Freight conductors with a class 1 railroad such as CSX or Norfolk Southern can expect a promotion within five to 10 years. According to American Rails, conductors on a class 1 railroad must accept the promotion once it is offered. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be an increased demand for both passenger and freight rail services, advancing technology will consolidate duties and counterbalance the need for more employees.


The railroad industry requires a high school diploma or GED. Most railroads provide comprehensive training programs both in a classroom setting and “on the job.” Railroads have extensive safety rules which must be learned and adhered to; therefore, employees are required to successfully complete the company’s training program prior to beginning work.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2010 the average hourly wage for railroad conductors on freight or passenger railroads is approximately $26.39. The average income for railroad conductors is more than $54,000 per year for both freight and passenger railroads.


Caryn Anderson combines extensive behind-the-scenes writing experience with her passion for all things food, fashion, garden and travel. Bitten by the travel bug at the age of 15 after a trip to Europe, Anderson fostered her love of style and fashion while living in New York City and earning her degree at New York University.