Locomotive Firer: Career Info & Requirements

Learn about a career as a locomotive firer. See what job responsibilities typically are and how to become a locomotive firer. Get information about career prospects and earning potential for this occupation.

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Career Definition for Locomotive Firers

A locomotive firer, also known as an assistant engineer, assists in the operation of a passenger or freight train. The main responsibility of a locomotive firer is to monitor gauges for engine oil, pressure, and temperature. They also watch for and respond to traffic signals, observe tracks for possible obstructions, act as communicators between the train's engineer and other locomotive workers, maintain on-board supplies, watch for any dragging equipment, and operate the train if called upon. A locomotive firer might also work as a switch operator, rail yard engineer, brake operator, or signal operator.

Education On-site training; bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering is beneficial for finding jobs
Job Skills Good night vision, problem solving, mechanical aptitude
Median Salary $60,360 (2017) for locomotive firers
Career Outlook -79% decline (2016-2026) for locomotive firers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

There is no formal degree required to become a locomotive firer. A bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering can be helpful but is not a prerequisite. A period of on-the-job training with an experienced locomotive firer is required for most positions and by most employers, and may last for up to two years.

Skills Required

A locomotive firer should have excellent mechanical and problem-solving skills, as any possible changes to engine pressures or fluid levels or track obstructions must be dealt with in a quick and efficient manner. Good vision, including night vision, is also important for a locomotive engineer due to the position's often challenging working conditions.

Career and Economic Outlook

The rate of employment growth for locomotive firers is expected to decline by 79% between 2016 and 2026. With the introduction of computerized systems and an industry-wide change from five-man train to three-man crews, many railroad companies no longer employ locomotive firers. For those interested in the position, opportunities might be found in cities that are considered railway hubs, such as Chicago or Kansas City. The median annual salary of a locomotive firer was $60,360 as of May 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Alternative Career Options

Careers similarly involving trains and railways include:

Railroad Conductor

Railroad conductors oversee passenger and freight rail transportation. They may take or sell tickets on-board, assist passengers, arrange for cargo or keep track of crew work. Like locomotive firers, railroad conductors don't need a college degree, but they do get on-the-job training. They may be subject to professional certification. The BLS reports that jobs for railroad conductors are expected to decrease 2% from 2016-2026; railroad conductors earned a median salary of $60,300 in 2017.

Subway Operator

The job duties of a subway operator are similar to a locomotive firer's. They are prepared to drive the train, although some tasks are frequently computer-controlled. They also watch for conditions that may affect travel, train or passenger safety. They communicate with dispatchers, travelers, and other transportation workers. Jobs in this career field are expected to increase about 4% from 2016-2026, according to the BLS. The agency also reports that subway operators earned a median salary of $66,420 in 2017.


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