Locomotive Engineer: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Sep 23, 2019

Locomotive engineers require little formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and federal certification requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Locomotive engineers ensure the safe operation of freight and passenger trains by inspecting it before use as well as safely driving the train during operation. Minimum age and education requirements are necessary to become a locomotive engineer. Due to the expense of railroad tracks, workers in this career are expected to see a decline in job opportunities through 2028.

Essential Information

Locomotive engineers operate freight or passenger trains. They must thoroughly inspect the locomotive before and during operation, as well as check the speed, air pressure, battery and other various mechanics of the train while en route. Prospective engineers must be a minimum of 21 years old and have a high school diploma or its equivalent in order to begin on-the-job training. Federal certification is also required.

Required Education High school diploma at minimum
Other Requirements On-the-job training
Certification Certification by the Federal Railroad Administration is required
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* -2% (for all locomotive engineers)
Median Salary (2018)* $62,100 (for locomotive engineers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Locomotive Engineer

Locomotive engineers operate large trains that carry cargo or passengers to different stations on a planned route. The must be familiar with the cargo, schedule and route for each trip in order to make sure the train operates smoothly and on time. This job often requires working on weekends and nights; many locomotive engineers also work more than 40 hours a week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( Engineers working on passenger trains often operate on a continuous, set schedule, while the schedule of freight trains often depends on the cargo and destination which results in irregular hours for its engineers.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS reports there were 32,200 locomotive engineers employed in the nation in 2018, but this field is expected to see a 2% decline in job openings from 2018-2028. The need for travel and transport by rail is expected to increase over this decade, but the difficulty of adding new tracks is likely to hold back employment growth. The median salary for locomotive engineers was $62,100 in 2018, based on data from the BLS.

Duties of a Locomotive Engineering

While the train is in operation, the locomotive engineer monitors the speed, brakes and other gauges to make sure the ride is smooth and is operating correctly. Before the train is in operation, the engineer also checks the mechanical aspects of the locomotive to make sure the train is ready for operation; the engineer may require that the train undergo a more thorough inspection if everything does not check out correctly.

Requirements for a Locomotive Engineer

The minimum educational requirement for a locomotive engineer is at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Prospective engineers should also be at least 21 years of age, in good physical condition and not have alcohol or drug addiction problems. Most of the training for this career takes place on-the-job, through a combination of classroom lessons, simulator experience and hands-on instruction. Students must typically pass a conductor training class before being allowed to start the locomotive engineering program.


A locomotive engineer must earn federal certification to operate freight and passenger trains. After completing the engineering training program, prospective candidates pass a skills performance test and a written exam that tests their knowledge of train operations. Certification candidates must also pass a hearing and vision test, background check and a surprise operational test that measures the engineer's response to unexpected and dangerous situations. A locomotive engineer must re-qualify for the certification every three years.

Locomotive engineers require only a high school diploma, but they do receive on-the-job training. The training program involves various written and practical tests. These positions also require federal certification which is comprised of an operational test, vision and hearing exam and a background check.

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