How To Become a Railroad Worker

The job of the Railroad Worker dates back to the early 1800s, and the folk song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” was first published in 1894. As you consider the history of the railways, think about the importance this form of transportation provided for passengers and cargo… then and now.  

If you are interested in locomotives, history, and earning a lucrative living, perhaps pursuing a career in this field is for you! It’s a significant job opportunity steeped rich in history, prestige, and intrigue. Check this out for more information on how you can get started! ALL ABOARD!

Related Article: The 40 Highest Paying Jobs With A Trade School Education

Table of Contents


What does a Railroad Worker do?

Railroad workers wear many hats; however, they generally ensure that all trains are mechanically sound and in good repair; they keep maintenance records and drive the locomotives from one station to the other. 

Whether you are interested in working on a passenger train or a cargo train, you’ll be responsible for making sure everything goes smoothly. And, depending on your job description, you will have specific duties that work in correlation to others.

What jobs in the field of Railroad work should I consider?

Speaking of wearing many hats, a career on the railroad may require you to know many skills; however, you may be chosen to focus on a particular job description. Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Conductor
  • Brake Operator
  • Track Laborer
  • Signal & Switch Operator
  • Rail Yard Engineer
  • Dispatcher
  • Diesel Electrician or Mechanic
  • Freight Car Repairer
  • Welder
  • Railcar Loader
  • And, many more!

How do I become a Railroad Worker?

To enter into an occupation working on the railroad, one typically needs a high school or equivalent diploma. And, without a doubt, three or more months of training is required, depending on your job description. Some positions may require up to 12 months of training. It will include classroom work, as well as hands-on training. 

Continued education is a must in this occupation, which the railroad will provide either through their own company or a centralized training facility. 

Where do Railroad Workers find jobs?

Several major railways are excellent to work for; however, according to an article by Train Conductor Headquarters, the top three are: 

  • BNSF
  • Canadian National Railway
  • AmTrak

What are the working conditions for Railroad Workers?

Railroad workers generally work more than 40 hours per week, given that trains operate 24/7; however, regulations state how many hours can be worked in succession and a minimum of rest hours between shifts. 

For some, many days or weeks away from home are normal. As you gain seniority, you can choose your schedule, depending on the job.

What kind of salary can I expect as a Railroad Worker?

As of May 2020, the BLS states that the average salary of the railroad worker was $64,210 per year. The highest 10% earned upwards of $91,390 annually, with the Locomotive Engineer earning the most in this field. 

Is there a demand for Railroad Workers?

According to the BLS, the employment of workers in the railroad industry is expected to grow by 5% between 2020 and 2030, which is slower than average for all occupations. However, workers will be needed to replace retirees. 

As you can imagine, the state of the economy can affect the growth or decline of cargo transportation; therefore, the number of workers needed will vary.

Do I need certifications to become a Railroad Worker?

You may need to be certified. It will depend primarily on your job title. Locomotive Conductors and Engineers are required to be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Also, railroad workers must pass a background check, be at least 21 years old, and pass a drug and alcohol test, which are also done randomly.

Are apprenticeships necessary for Railroad Workers?

Most definitely, on-the-job training is required. You will ride with an experienced engineer to gain valuable experience. 

Is working on the railroad dangerous?

According to an article, railroad workers are more prone to injuries than in other occupations. Besides horrific accidents resulting in death, many injuries, such as back strain, burns, cuts, electrical shocks, and loss of limbs, are common problems. 

The Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) protects railroad workers injured while on duty.