How To Become A Train Conductor

You may be a perfect candidate to become a train conductor if you enjoy feeling the wheels turning as you travel, are customer-service-oriented, and have a good head for business.

Do your career plans need a good kick in the caboose? Do you find yourself shouting “All aboard!” when loading passengers into your personal vehicle?

Then, do we have a job for you! Why not pursue an exciting career rambling across the country and become a train conductor?

Explore the great outdoors, big cities, and small towns in between during a rewarding career as a railroad conductor. Not many people know how to become a train conductor. Railway workers represent a tight-knit community in which greenhorns must pay their dues to work their way up the pecking order.

Transportation careers are a great career path, and getting started in one specific job can also lead to other opportunities!

From train conductor job duties to the skills required to obtain necessary certifications, we’ll walk you through everything it takes to land the job of your dreams. Have a look at this informational career guide and see if working as a train conductor might suit you.

What Does a Train Conductor Do?

Train conductors act as managers, overseeing the safe operation of trains. At certain times, train conductors will direct the actions of other employees. Other times, conductors serve as liaisons between engineers and yardmasters. Conductors also work with the general public, ensuring their safe passage. 

Before you find out how to become a train conductor, you should know the various daily tasks that these veterans on the railway carry out. Here is a list of potential job duties for conductors:

  • Monitoring the loading and unloading of freight
  • Managing the load distribution across all train cars
  • Ensuring compliance with all safety regulations
  • Checking passenger tickets and receiving payment
  • Assisting passengers while boarding
  • Troubleshooting problems with the help of engineers and yardmasters
  • Reporting mechanical issues to engineers 
  • Announcing arrival at stations
  • Updating passengers on any itinerary changes

Becoming a Train Conductor

Becoming a train conductor requires minimal education and training. Many train conductors work their way up the ladder from entry-level positions with national and regional railway companies.

The Federal Railroad Administration does require a certification process in order for someone to become a conductor.  

High School Diploma/GED

As with most jobs, you will need a high school diploma or GED.

On The Job Training

As a trainee you will work alongside a more experienced conductor. This can range from 6-14 weeks on average. Classroom training may also be part of the training on some railroad lines.

Trade School/Community College

This is optional but can improve your employment opportunities and chances for growth. These are usually certificate programs with classes lasting just a few weeks.

Certification

Whether you choose to complete training with an employer or attend a trade school, the final step is to get certified. This is usually achieved by taking a test.

Education

Fortunately, most railway companies only require a high school diploma or a general education degree (GED) to get started.

In some cases, existing railroad employees who do not meet this requirement receive support from their companies to pass the GED. Some railroad companies may have higher requirements for education than others, so be sure to check with the company you are interested in working for.

You can also opt to attend a trade school or community college that offers railroad conductor programs. Doing this can help boost your chances of employment and increase your opportunities within a company.

Internships & Training

Applicants for a train conductor position undergo one to three months of on-the-job training during the lead-up to the certification exam. Many companies design, develop, and implement their own training programs consistent with federal regulations. Others may send their employees to regional training centers or local colleges.

Training includes familiarizing oneself with a specific route and working with the crew to make sure they adhere to rules regarding the loading and unloading of freight. Conductors on passenger trains will learn ticketing and payment processing procedures. Most applicants will shadow a veteran conductor to experience routine daily tasks. 

As mentioned above, applicants for a train conductor post only need a free, public high school diploma or GED. The price of a GED varies by state for applicants that don’t meet the minimum education requirement. In some states, residents can take the GED for free. In others, the price can range from $120 to $150.

Most railways pay for all training that relates to their train conductor positions.

Certifications & Licenses

All train conductors on national, regional, and commuter routes must pass a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) exam. The exam consists of a written test, skills test, and supervisor’s determination that the applicant knows the route. Applicants must pass the exam for each new route they undertake.

Recommended Skills For Train Conductors

Do you demonstrate the multivarious skills, qualities, and characteristics needed to become a train conductor? Because train conductors wear many hats during their work, they possess a very broad skill set. On just one train journey, a conductor may act as manager, liaison, logistics specialist, customer service representative, and more. Check out the below list of necessary skills and qualities to see if you have what it takes.

We did add this career to our list of jobs for introverts due to the minimal amount of real interaction you need. Most people will buy their tickets online or at machines which means less need for sales. You may get an occasional question or have to deal with an issue, but for the most part your time with people will be pretty minimal.

Communication

The ability to express oneself to coworkers and passengers can mean the difference between life and death.

Customer Service

Maintaining customer satisfaction to ensure repeat travelers is important.

Leadership

The ability to direct rail yard workers and other personnel can be a factor in a typical day so leadership skills are a must.

Sense Perception

Good hearing and eyesight are necessary. The commands and signals must be heard to be successful.

Stamina

The job can require long hours and many hours on their feet as they travel back and forth in the train.

Pros & Cons Of Being A Train Conductor

Like all career paths, working as a train conductor has its advantages and disadvantages. Some individuals prefer job security over potential upside and vice versa. Others focus primarily on benefits and perks. Take a look at the following pros and cons to see if a career on the railroad might be right for you:

The railway company to which the applicant has applied will administer all tests.

In addition to the requirements above, applicants must pass a background check as well as frequent drug and alcohol tests to receive and maintain certification.

PROS

  • Good pay for minimal education requirements
  • Great benefits package
  • Dependable retirement pension
  • Minimal managerial oversight
  • Freedom to work outside of an office or factory
  • Much variety: Every day is different

CONS

  • New hires are on call 24/7
  • Work may be in poor weather conditions
  • Railroading is a strictly regulated industry
  • An employee must work 30 years and attain the age of 60 for pension
  • Conductors can’t drink alcoholic beverages while on call
  • Work schedule can result in frequently missing out on family and social events

How Much Do Train Conductors Make?

Train conductor salaries have increased during the last couple of years. In 2020, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) put the median salary for conductors and yardmasters at $64,030.

The median salary shown means 50% of employees in the field make less than that amount and 50% make more.

number icon
$64,030
is the median annual salary for a train conductor.

Train Conductor Job Outlook

number icon
6%
increase in the amount of jobs through 2030.

Train conductors are still needed, but the growth of this industry is slower than most.

Many expected openings as a train conductor will be coming from those that retire or change careers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the more common questions about this career.

Is It Worth It to Join a Professional Railroad Association?

Yes. Joining either the Association of American Railroads (AAR) or the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) can advance your career. Not only will you receive news about job openings through association newsletters, but you can also attend association networking events and career development conferences.

Is There an Age Requirement to Become a Train Conductor?

Yes. All applicants must have attained the age of 21.

With only 77,700 jobs for train conductors and yardmasters, the job market remains tight. Not everyone who applies for a conductor position will receive employment. However, many other jobs that require a similar skill set can provide a rewarding career. Take a look at career paths similar to that of a train conductor:

  • Delivery truck driver
  • Material moving machine operator
  • Passenger vehicle driver
  • Maritime transportation worker
  • Tractor-trailer truck driver
  • Flight attendant
  • Taxi driver/chauffeur

Are You All Aboard the Railroad Conductor Career Train?

Becoming a train conductor requires versatility, patience, and specialized training. The highly structured seniority system means that new conductors will have to pay their dues before they bring home the median salary.

If you still find yourself exploring a variety of career paths, take a look at our other career overviews. At Blue Collar Brain, we strive to become your most trusted resource for information about trade careers. 

*Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics