Freight Conductor: Job Description, Outlook and Salary

Jan 16, 2020

Freight conductors require little formal education. Learn about the training, job duties, and certification to see if this is the right career for you.

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  • 0:00 Essential Information
  • 0:26 Job Description
  • 1:25 Job Outlook
  • 2:07 Salary

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Essential Information

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent
Degree Field(s) None
Licensure/Certification Federal Railroad Administration certification may be required
Experience 2-3 months on-the-job training
Key Skills Communication skills; attention to detail; physical stamina to work in less comfortable conditions and irregular hours
Job Outlook (2018-2028) -1%
Median Annual Salary (2018) $62,930 (for railroad conductors and yardmasters)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

A freight conductor assesses the mechanical functioning of a freight train. He or she works in conjunction with other railroad employees to ensure safe transportation of cargo. A high school diploma is the typical requirement for this job, and 2-3 months of on-the-job training may also be needed. Candidates may be required to become certified by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Job Description

A freight train conductor reviews schedules and shipping records. The conductor ensures that cargo and weight is distributed evenly along the train, and maintains communication with the train's engineer, traffic control personnel, and other crew members. While the train's engineer directs the train, the conductor monitors any equipment issues, prioritizes mechanical problems, and arranges for repairs, stops when necessary. In general, freight train crews work in less comfortable settings than that of passenger trains, and may have irregular work schedules.

Freight conductors need at least a high school degree and must pass a drug screening and a background check. A conductor is an entry-level position, and new hires are may receive on-the-job training or complete a conductor training program at a local college. Beginning in 2012, individual railroad companies must create more standardized conductor certification programs to be overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for railroad workers are expected to decline by 1% from 2018-2028. Individuals in rail occupations tend to stay through retirement; when more workers approach retirement age, employment growth will likely pick up once more. Some work opportunities may be available for long-distance runs because not all employees prefer to spend long periods of time away from home.

Demand for freight rail should increase as the cost of fuel continues to rise. Also, advances in electronic and remote monitoring of railroad issues may reduce the number of employees necessary to perform similar work.


In May 2018, BLS reported the middle 50% of railroad conductors and yardmasters earned between $53,490 and $78,640 annually. The median annual wage was $62,930. Conductors may be paid by the hour or by the number of miles traveled. Factors such as seniority and job location may affect pay rates. In 2018, states with the highest wages for this occupation were Maryland, California, Massachusetts, Wyoming and New Jersey. Wyoming had the highest concentration of jobs, while New York had the highest levels of employment.

Freight conductors help to ensure that a train is mechanically sound. The position requires on the job training.

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