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Become a Train Conductor: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a train conductor. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a train conductor. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Train Conductor?

Train conductors coordinate railroad activity. They work on both freight and passenger trains, and their duties differ with each position. Generally, conductors manage schedules, oversee switching orders, and ensure that their cargo or passengers are secure. Conductors occasionally must deal with demanding or unruly customers in the event of train delays. The job involves constant travel, and long routes require conductors to spend many days away from home working evening and weekend hours.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent
Certification Professional certification required
Key Skills Excellent communication, leadership, speaking, and customer service skills; experience using train control, inventory management, railroad equipment systems, and freight reservation programs; proficiency with bar code scanners or portable satellite systems
Salary (2015) $53,878 per year (Median salary for railroad conductors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, Payscale.com

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Steps to Becoming a Train Conductor

Step 1: Gain a Position Working for a Railroad Company

Though no prior experience is required to secure a position as a train conductor, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that some conductors enter the industry by working as signal or brake operators in a rail yard. These workers may be promoted to train conductor positions after gaining familiarity with the railroad industry and how trains and yards function.

Success Tip:

Sharpen key interpersonal skills. Train conductors, especially those who work with passengers on a daily basis, should have strong communication and customer service skills. An aspiring train conductor can hone those skills by collaborating with other workers and communicating effectively.

Step 2: Complete On-the-Job Training

Conductors receive on-the-job training from their employers. This training can last up to three months and allows aspiring train conductors to learn from experienced conductors. They're instructed about the daily duties of their job and the proper procedures for loading cargo on freight trains. Larger rail companies have their own training programs, while smaller ones may utilize community college programs, such as a railroad conductor technology certificate program, to train their new hires.

Success Tip:

Join a professional association. Several professional organizations are available to train conductors. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) focuses on conductors who work chiefly with freight trains, while the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) exists for conductors who work mainly with passenger trains. The benefits of membership are similar, including such perks as networking opportunities, industry publications, and professional development opportunities.

Step 3: Obtain Certification for Career Advancement

Certification is now mandated for train conductors. Train conductors must attain certification that complies with federal rules to hold their job. Certification comes courtesy of individual railroad employers, but each company's standards must satisfy federal requirements. Obtaining certification depends on compliance with rules about drugs and alcohol, meeting vision and hearing requirements, and passing performance and knowledge-based tests. Train conductors are also subject to background checks.

Hopeful train conductors should begin by gaining employment as a signal or break operator at a rail yard, then complete on-the-job training and earn certification.

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