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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.
Career Overview*
  • Median Salary$64,030
  • Career Outlook6% growth through 2030
  • Certifications FRA Certification

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? Have you a minor obsession with safety and compliance issues? Then, do we have a job for you! Why not pursue an exciting career rambling across the country as 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. Fortunately, we here at Blue Collar Brain have done the research for you.

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. Let’s look a little deeper at the education and training requirements for most conductor posts. 

Education

Potential applicants who research how to become a train conductor may feel a little apprehensive about the education requirements for the position. Fortunately, most railway companies only require a high school diploma or a general education degree (GED). 

In some cases, existing railroad employees who do not meet this requirement receive support from their companies to pass the GED. Railroad companies remain free to raise their requirements above the federal standards, so be sure to check with each employer.

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.

While you will have to sometimes deal with people, the interactions will be much less than many other careers which is why this career made it to our list of jobs for introverts.

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.

Train Conductor Job Outlook

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.

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It is expected that the need for train conductors will grow by 6% through 2030.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you still have questions? Review the following frequently asked questions to see if you can find the answer to your query.

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

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

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