Do you love trains? Are you interested in working for a railroad? Learning how to become a train conductor might lead you to the perfect career for you.
As a train conductor, you will help to coordinate railroad activity. You might work with passenger or freight trains, but likely you will work with both. When you become a train conductor, you will have plenty of responsibilities.
Before entering any career, it’s a good idea to understand what you will be doing. Let’s look at the job duties and the steps for how to become a train conductor.
Job Duties of a Train Conductor
Your actual job duties as a train conductor will vary depending on the type of train you are working on. You will likely lead a locomotive and perform many different functions including crew communications, customer service, management, and even passenger welfare.
Some of the common job duties include:
- Overseeing the comfort, safety, and transport of passengers
- Checking the tickets of the passengers to ensure they are where they belong
- Accepting payments from those without tickets
- Assisting passengers
- Altering passengers of stops coming up
- Following the necessary laws and rules from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
- Adhering to the instructions given by yardmasters and dispatchers
- Communicating safety information to crew members
- Conducting train pre-checks before departure
- Communicating schedules, cargo lists, and any changes to the personnel at the station
- Observing the tracks and looking for obstructions
The job duties you will take on will likely be determined by the type of train. They may be different for a passenger train compared to a cargo train.
How to Become a Train Conductor in 4 Steps
Step #1 – Finish High School
You will need a high school diploma or GED to work as a train conductor. You should look into any courses in electronics, mechanics, engineering, and communications while in high school, as well. This can help to better prepare you to become a train conductor.
It’s also a good idea to keep up with your physical health. Train conductors need to be in good physical health. It’s a very demanding job and physical stamina will be important if you want to become a train conductor.
Step #2 – Pass the Certification Course
You will need to pass the conductor certification course to become a railroad train conductor. This is usually offered by community colleges and other institutions. You will need to pass the right exams throughout this course to become certified.
Along with becoming certified, you will need to adhere to the rules when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Train conductors also need to meet the hearing and vision requirements. It’s also necessary to pass a background check.
Step #3 – Gain Experience
Most train conductors will start in an entry-level position. This may include a station or crew position, which can lead to advancement in the future. Gaining experience is a very important step if you want to become a train conductor. You will likely need several years of experience before you can become a train conductor.
Step #4 – Become Licensed
In some cases, you may need to earn a license to become a train conductor. You will want to check with your employer to see what you need to do. Some will require you to become licensed and others may not have the same requirements.
Other Jobs You Can Take on at a Railroad
Since you will have to advance to become a train conductor, it’s important to have a list of other jobs railroads offer. Some of these positions will be entry-level, while others will require training.
- Signal maintainer
- Train dispatcher
- Brake operator
- Track laborer
- Locomotive electrician
- Locomotive engineer
- Rail car loader
- Field manager
- Railroad mechanic
- Terminal Operator
These positions are other options if you want a career working for a railroad.
Common Skills Needed to Work as a Train Conductor
If you want to become a train conductor, you will need the right training. You will also need to develop the right skills including:
- Customer Service – If you plan to work as a train conductor, expect to need great customer service skills. It’s common for conductors to work with passengers. You will need to be friendly and welcoming. Passengers may have questions you will need to be able to answer, too.
- Communication – As a train conductor, you will need to be an excellent communicator. You will need to communicate with crew members, passengers, station workers, and many other people throughout the day. Without strong communication skills, you won’t do well as a train conductor.
- Time Management – It’s important to keep your train running on time. You will need to follow travel and shipping schedules as a train conductor. Making sure your train arrives at the station on time is an important aspect of your job.
- Mechanics and Operations – Having exceptional mechanical and operations skills are very important for this career. You should have excellent risk prevention and special awareness. If you understand train mechanics, you will be able to identify issues before they become a big problem.
Along with these skills, a train conductor has to be in good physical health. You will need to have good physical stamina and excellent vision and hearing. Since you will spend most of the day on your feet, it’s important to be in good physical condition.
Since part of the job will include hearing warning sounds and reading signs, you will need to have excellent hearing and vision. Most employers will require you to pass a physical examination if you want to work as a train conductor.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Train Conductor
How much can I make as a train conductor?
According to Indeed.com, you can earn a salary of about $90K per year as a train conductor. This is up quite a bit due to the developing crisis as train conductors are in shorter supply.
Some of the top employers will pay over $100K for train conductors right now. Your location may also help to determine your pay. Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Fort Worth, and Chicago are the highest paying cities for train conductors.
What type of benefits do I get as a train conductor?
Most train conductors will gain access to a robust benefits package. This will likely include health, vision, dental, disability, and life insurance. You will also get a 401(k) and you may gain access to employer matching. Paid time off is common, along with an employee assistance program.
Some train conductors may also gain access to a flexible spending account. A flexible schedule is possible, but not likely for most train conductors.
Do I need a college degree to become a train conductor?
No. This career doesn’t require a college degree. You will complete on-the-job training or a railroad-sponsored training program. Most employers will require a certification program, but this will not take as long as getting a college degree.
According to OnlineDegree.com, about 35% of train conductors have a high school diploma, while 38% have some college experience. Only about 13% have a bachelor’s degree and about 10% have an associate’s degree.
How long will it take me to become a train conductor?
Depending on the requirements of your employer, you will need two to four years to become a train conductor after high school. Typically, you will need to complete the certification program and gain some experience in an entry-level position. Train companies will likely offer five to six weeks of training, as well, before you get assigned as a train conductor.
Who will I work for as a train conductor?
The easy answer is you will work for a railroad. Train conductors work for private companies or the Department of Transportation. You might work on a freight train or a passenger train. Companies, such as Herzon Transit Services, Amtrack, Trans-Global Solutions, and Genesee & Wyoming employ train conductors.
Is this career growing?
No. The job of a train conductor is not expected to grow over the next ten years. In fact, about 900 jobs in this career are expected to be lost by 2024. While it’s not a growing career, there are still jobs out there for train conductors.
If you want to work for the railroad, you can work your way up to the position of a train conductor. Most workers will need to gain a year or two of experience before entering this career. Some employers will require even more experience and may have specialized training you will need to go through.
It starts with finishing high school. Once you’re out of high school, you can take the necessary steps to become a train conductor. You will likely need to take a certification course and your employer may require licensing of some sort. Landing an entry-level job is a big step in the right direction when it comes to how to become a train conductor.
This can be a rather rewarding career for the right person. If you’re willing to gain the experience, you can enjoy a well-paying career as a train conductor. There may be open positions for train conductors in the near future due to the current crisis in the country. Employers are also paying a higher wage, according to some sources.