Railway Equipment Operator: Job Description, Duties and Outlook

Sep 18, 2019

Railway equipment operators are required to have a high school diploma. Most learn how to perform tasks like laying or repairing track on the job, though apprenticeships are available to operators who want to acquire advanced job skills.

Essential Information

Railway equipment operators clean, repair, maintain, and run heavy duty machinery in rail yards, manufacturing plants, and locations along a rail line. They may work on regular commercial and/or industrial rails, and they primarily gain their training on the job. A high school diploma is typically necessary for entry-level positions, and additional education, training or certification in heavy vehicle repair may be beneficial.

Required Education High school diploma
Other Requirements On-the-job training; postsecondary programs, apprenticeships and certification options are available and may be beneficial
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 7% for rail-track laying and maintenance equipment operators
Median Salary (2018)* $56,930 annually for rail-track laying and maintenance equipment operators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Railway Equipment Operator Job Description

The field of railway equipment operation houses a range of different occupational titles, including track equipment operator, machine operator, track repairer, track walker, and track inspector. These professionals commonly work in many different occupational settings, such as passenger railways, quarries, gravel pits, mines, and rail service yards.

There is no specific educational requirement for these professionals. Many individuals acquire the training and experience necessary for this position on the job. They might begin their careers performing supervised work with light equipment, gradually moving up to heavier machinery and more responsibility. As tasks and duties increase, formal training, such as that obtained through apprenticeship programs, could be necessary.

Job Duties

Railway equipment operators are responsible for a diverse array of professional tasks, which can vary based on the type of equipment they're responsible for operating and the environment in which they work. These professionals could be required to bore tie plate holes with power drills; drive track-laying vehicles over partially constructed railway; operate spike machines; elevate rails with hydraulic jacks in order to replace ties; spray down joints, ties and fishplates with oil to prevent weatherization; and clean machines after use.

In addition to these technical skills, railway equipment operators might need to demonstrate less tangible capabilities, such as applying critical-thinking skills when evaluating problems and deciding among competing solutions. They also need to develop time management skills when working to meet deadlines and coordination skills when maneuvering heavy machinery in a hazardous work environment.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the mean annual salary earned by rail-track laying and maintenance equipment operators was $57,120 as of May 2018. Employment opportunities in the field are expected to grow faster than the national average from 2018-2028. In May 2018, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $79,900 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $33,970 or less per year.

Railway equipment operators are required to have a high school diploma. Most learn through on-the-job training. However, formal training options - such as apprenticeships - are available. Knowledge of heavy vehicle repair or the completion of shop classes may also be an asset.

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