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Subway Operator: Job Duties & Requirements

Subway operators require a little amount of formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and safety requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

Subway operators usually drive subway trains in underground tunnels or on aboveground tracks. Most subway trains have computerized steering mechanisms, but operators still regulate the speed of the vehicle. Operators also keep an eye out for potential hazards. Most operators receive on-the-job training for this career. Additionally, public transit trade organizations often host conferences that include additional operator training seminar programs.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent
Other Requirements On-the-job training or completion of training seminar program; adherence to safety regulations is mandatory
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*6.5% for all subway and streetcar operators
Median Salary (2013)*$63,660 for all subway and streetcar operators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties for a Subway Operator

Also known as transit or light rail operators, subway operators drive public transit vehicles that operate on rail systems, including subway trains, trams, and elevated trains. Operators are responsible for making sure that passengers get on and off vehicles safely. While driving on the tracks, operators must watch for lit signals that indicate problems or traffic further down the track. Some operators also announce the names of locations and junctions whenever the trains stop at stations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), operators must ensure passenger safety during railway emergencies or during a break down (www.bls.gov). In case of an emergency or break down, operators use radios to notify dispatchers and other supervisors of the problem. Operators can sometimes repair minor problems related to system malfunctions, but they must first assess the level of repair needed and decide whether a trained mechanic is required. Occasionally operators have to lead passengers off of the train and into a safe location away from the rails.

Job Requirements for a Subway Operator

BLS records indicate that most subway operator positions only require a high school diploma. Nevertheless, the majority of operators gain initial transit experience by first driving a bus for the public transit system. During bus driver training, transit drivers learn how to operate and maneuver vehicles through urban and rural districts. Individuals also learn the fundamentals and safety procedures of the public transit system, and many of these fundamentals are directly related to operating subway trains.

Subway operator training can take up to six months. Workers learn about operating different types of transit trains, troubleshooting problems, evacuation procedures, and transit reporting protocols. While under the close supervision of experienced operators, students practice driving trains as they solve real and simulated subway driving problems. In order to complete operator training, many transit authorities require individuals to pass exams that cover questions about train operations and safety protocols.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the employment of subway and streetcar operators is projected to increase by 6.5% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). In May 2013, the BLS reported the median annual salary among such operators as $63,660. The states employing the most operators included Maryland, California and New Jersey; states offering the highest average wages to such workers were listed as California, Florida, Oregon and New Jersey, with salaries averaging more than $50,000 a year in those states.

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