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How to Become a Train Conductor

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

If you’ve ever felt excitement at hearing the blast of a passing train whistle or wanted a job that crisscrossed the nation, then you might find satisfaction pursuing a train conductor career. Train conductors are part of a crew responsible for moving customer freight and passengers between railway destinations. The job involves coordinating movement of trains, switching rail cars, operating brakes and hydraulics and observing traffic and signals, and often requires outdoor work in all kinds of weather.


Conductors are typically required to hold at least a high school diploma. You need to have good coordination, listening and decision-making skills. You must also have the ability to learn and comply with numerous laws and regulations regarding the safe and proper operation of trains. Other requirements include an ability to learn hand signals and systems software, and an ability to operate on a strict schedule. Before you can become a conductor, you must complete a period of on-the-job training. Large freighters and passenger lines such as Amtrak conduct their own training, while smaller companies might use a community college program.

Other Requirements

You have to be at least 18 years of age to apply for a conductor trainee position. Because the transportation industry is safety-oriented, you must be able to pass a rigorous application and screening process. This means you will be required to pass a drug and medical background test. Once hired, you will begin on-the-job training that can last up to 17 weeks. Don't expect to commute back and forth to the same place every day. Once you are a train conductor, you will be gone from home days at a time. Travel is what this job is about.

License and Certification

Train conductors are certified through on-the-job training. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, conductors for freight railroads might learn the right way to load and unload different types of cargo during training. Conductors on passenger trains will learn ticketing procedures as well as how to handle passengers. New candidates will need to pass a Federal Railroad Administration test before they can work as conductors. In addition, as part of a transportation crew, you will be subject to random drug testing. Since most railroad workers belong to unions, you build up seniority the longer you work at your job. It usually takes at least three years of seniority before you can bid on transfers to other regions or similar job requests.

Application Process

The larger companies that employee train conductors, such as BNSF, Union Pacific, Amtrak and New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, have rigorous application and screening processes that begin online. Some will require that you sign into a portal and take a qualifying test. For example, Union Pacific requires applicants to pass a test of basic reading comprehension. Keep fit, too. Once your application is accepted, you will likely have to pass a medical fitness examination.

How to Stand Out

The BLS projects that employment of railroad conductors will decline 3 percent from 2012 and 2022, which means there might be heavy competition for available jobs. To increase your chances of getting hired as a train conductor, first get experience on a train crew or get a job in the transportation industry where you will gain experience and knowledge of safety and systems.