America's railroad system contains thousands of miles of roadbed and rails. The system also has thousands of junctions, rail yards and depots. All of these infrastructure assets must be maintained in safe and fully operational condition so that passenger and freight trains can move every day without mishap or injury to the people who depend on trains for their transportation needs. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Track Inspectors have the responsibility to ensure the rail system is maintained in a safe condition.
Certification as a track inspector begins with in-depth knowledge of every aspect of railroad track construction. Inspectors must demonstrate the ability to detect deficiencies or defects in the track and be able to identify remedial actions that must be taken to repair the track. When inspecting new construction, inspectors must be able to identify construction errors that will lead to catastrophic track failure. Knowledge of inspection techniques can be gained through a combination of training and experience.
Successful candidates must demonstrate proficiency in detecting conditions existing in the track or roadbed that violate state and federal safety regulations. Specific safety issues the regulation covers are the ability to determine unsafe conditions in the alignment of steel rails, condition of cross ties that pose a risk to passing trains and defects in the track surface that would pose a safety risk to trains passing over a particular area in the roadbed.
Inspector candidates must have one year of railroad supervisory experience to qualify for certification. Qualifying experience includes supervising work crews constructing and maintaining rails, roadbeds, and insuring the work being accomplished complies with applicable operational and safety standards. Candidates must demonstrate to the certifying official the ability objectively make decisions and must demonstrate the ability to objectively report deficiencies and safety violations. Track inspectors must be able to comply with state and federal reporting requirements.
Training courses or college classes must be taken in conjunction with supervisory experience to qualify for certification. Training courses are provided by a wide variety of professional training and consulting companies. Each training program may involve up to 10 courses designed to prepare inspectors for every level of inspection requirements. University courses such as those offered by The University of Tennessee will enable a candidate to meet the educational requirements.
Railroad workers who desire to eventually become a FRA Track Inspector should begin as early as possible in their career to develop the supervisory experience, training and education requirements that will be needed to meet the certification requirements.
FRA Track Inspectors must be prepared to work in every conceivable weather condition. Track inspectors are required to work from extreme heights when inspecting railroad bridges and overpasses. Track inspectors are exposed to welding hazards and loud engine noises.