Rail Yard Engineer: Career Information for Becoming a Rail Yard Engineer

Mar 12, 2019

Learn the job duties of rail yard engineers. Find out what education and training are required to work in this field, as well as salary and employment outlook information.

Career Definition for a Rail Yard Engineer

The main duty of rail yard engineers is to drive engines within a rail yard. Specific tasks include coupling and switching train cars, operating track switches and moving engines for repair using a small locomotive called a dinkey. They also perform general maintenance and minor repairs on locomotives and train cars, assist in the repair of railroad tracks and maintain reports on the availability of train cars and the status of train car repairs. Rail yard engineers may also be referred to as dinkey operators.

Education Training program; associate's degree or bachelor's degree may improve employability
Job Skills Reading comprehension, detail-oriented thinking, mechanical aptitude, diesel engine proficiency, mathematics skill
Median Salary (2017)* $50,150 (for Rail Yard Engineers, Dinkey Operators, and Hostlers)
Career Outlook (2016-2026)* 4% (for Rail Yard Engineers, Dinkey Operators, and Hostlers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Rail yard engineers complete training programs provided by their employers. Training programs combine hands-on experience and classroom instruction. An associate or bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering may be helpful in pursuing a career as a rail yard engineer, but is not essential.

Skills Required

Rail yard engineers should be mechanically inclined, detail-oriented and possess strong coordination and basic math skills. An understanding of diesel engines and knowledge of tools and railroad equipment are essential. Reading comprehension is also important for rail yard engineers.

Career and Economic Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities for train engineers and operators, such as rail yard engineers, are expected to increase at a slower than average rate from 2016 to 2026. The BLS projects that the employment growth for these workers will be 4% for that period. The median annual salary for rail yard engineers, dinkey operators and hostlers was published as $50,150 in May 2017 by the BLS.

Alternative Career Options

Individuals interested in related careers can explore the following options:

Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers

For those who are more interested in driving on wheels instead of rails, the job of a tractor-trailer or heavy truck driver may be a better fit. These drivers operate large trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more, and may drive long distances. Although there are typically no education requirements for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers, a commercial driver's license and experience is required. Some drivers may complete professional driver training programs. The BLS reported in May 2017 that the median annual salary for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $42,480. The BLS projects that jobs in this field will grow by 6% from 2016 to 2026, which is about as fast as average.

Material Moving Machine Operators

Those who like operating dinkeys may also be interested in operating equipment that moves freight or other cargo around in a career in material moving machine operation. Material moving machine operators, such as those who operate excavating machines, tower cranes and dredges, typically do not need postsecondary education, but may be required to complete an apprenticeship or on-the-job training. Depending on the type of equipment operated, machine operators may need a license. In May 2017, the BLS reported that the median salary for all material moving machine operators was $34,830. The outlook for material moving machine operators varies by machine type. For example, jobs for crane tower operators are projected to increase by 9% from 2016 to 2026, while jobs for industrial truck and tractor operators are expected to increase by only 7% during the same period, according to the BLS.

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