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Train Driver

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Trains need to be operated just like any other vehicle, and the person responsible for operating the train safely is the train driver.

The job is much more complicated than many people realize and requires extensive knowledge of the locomotives to be operated safely and smoothly.

What is a Train Driver?

The train driver is a railroad professional who is tasked with operating the train safely and efficiently over the rail network.

They may work with passenger trains, or freight trains, or may operate both depending on the needs of the railroad.

What is a Train Driver Called?

Someone working as a train driver is also known as a train engineer, engine driver, train operator, or locomotive engineer.

What Does a Train Driver Do?

Train drivers work on either passenger trains or freight trains, and ensure that they run smoothly and safely.

In addition to operating the train, they may also collect tickets or payments and assign the conductors to various duties.

They are also responsible for the inspection of the vehicle and the track ahead.

Work Opportunities in the Train Driver Industry

image showing a train driver controlling a train speed

Train Driver Job Description

The train driver is responsible for driving and physically operating the train, as well as getting information from the necessary switches and dispatch personnel.

They are different from the train conductor, since the train driver manages the operation of the train, while the conductor manages the cars, passengers, and additional crew.

Top Train Driver Jobs and Careers

  • Train Engineer
  • Sr. Train Engineer
  • Railroad Crew

Where Can a Train Driver Work?

A train driver can work for any one of the major national railroad companies.

There aren’t many, and sometimes they have a waitlist for employees that are trying to get into the industry.

Current Career Job Openings

For updated train driver jobs and other jobs in the railroad industry, take a look at some of these openings.

What It’s Like to Be a Train Driver

Is Being a Train Driver Hard?

Being a train driver does take considerable perseverance, as well as special education that is not well-known.

It also takes a significant amount of time to complete the necessary training to become capable of running the train, and there aren’t many job openings each year; finding a job opening can be challenging.

Is a Train Driver Job Stressful?

The job of a train driver can be stressful since there is a lot that the train driver is responsible for.

During times of tight deadlines and heavy delays, the stress level is likely to increase.

During slower seasons or periods of less work, the stress level will drop accordingly.

Common Train Driver Work Day

There is rarely a common train driver work day, and depending on who the train driver works for, there could be erratic breaks in the shift.

For passenger trains, it is common to run two or three distinct shifts during a workday.

For a freight train, there may be two or more train drivers that alternate based on who has reached their limit for driving during that day, and who have completed their mandatory rest period.

Train Driver Tasks & Duties

The train driver is responsible for monitoring the speed, battery, air pressure, and more while the engine runs to ensure no malfunctions.

They also need to watch the track ahead for obstructions or damage, such as branches from storm damage.

They use complex controls to operate the train itself.

They will also communicate to other rail personnel, such as dispatchers and fellow personnel to obtain and relay information about schedule changes or potential delays.

Train Driver Work Hours & Schedule

A train driver can only work for 12 hours before being mandated to take 8 hours of rest.

The schedule will often involve a 4-day week, during which the off-days may or may not be spent at home depending on where the train is currently operating.

The federal railroad authority is very strict about shifts permitted.

Train Driver Dress Code

There is no formal dress code for train drivers.

Many will simply wear a hat with their rail company on it, and sensible pants, boots, and shirt.

In most cases, the boots will be reinforced or steel-toed.

Does This Career Field Embrace Work/Life Balance?

The work/life balance for a train driver is skewed significantly toward work.

In many cases, they will work long hours with many days spent away from home.

This also means that when they do get time off, however, it’s generally more than the conventional weekend.

Train Driver Salary & Income

Train drivers make very good money for the job they do.

There is very little manual work, and aside from the inspection of the vehicle, there is little that needs to be done outside of the cockpit.

How Much Do Train Drivers Make?

Train drivers make considerably more than the national average for all occupations.

The average for other occupations is $45,760, but train drivers have an annual median wage of $64,170, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Overview of the Train Driver Industry

image showing a train driver navigating down train tracks

Many people enter the rail industry at a position like a switch operator or signal operator, then advance to the job of yardmaster or conductor.

Some of those in conductor or yardmaster positions may advance later to become train drivers.

Is a Train Driver a Good Career?

Becoming a train driver is regarded as a good career.

While there is often little room for advancement beyond the driver, the job frequently comes with significant pay and benefits, as well as higher job security than many other jobs.

Train Driver Job Outlook

The job outlook for train drivers is not as good as other industries but is still positive through 2030.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics places the job growth rate at 5%, which is 3% lower than the average growth rate for all other industries.

This means that while jobs will be available for those entering the train driver career, they will be relatively scarce.

Demand for Train Driver

Trains are in continual use in the freight industry, and the nation’s infrastructure depends on them to a large degree.

The demand for train driver jobs is expected to grow slowly but steadily over the next decade.

Each year there are projected to be about 7,000 jobs that become available, due to existing workers leaving the workforce or changing professions.

Train Driver Facts

  • Most freight trains only have a crew of two people, the engineer, and the conductor
  • Passenger trains often have a limit on the number of personnel hours that they can sustain
  • The train driver keeps a log of each journey the train takes
  • The train’s speed is referred to as its “movement authority”
  • Train tracks are considered private property
  • A train traveling at 55mph can take a full mile to stop.

Jobs Related to Train Driver

There are many jobs that overlap with the role of train driver.

Freight Engineer

A freight engineer is responsible for being the train driver on either short-range or long-range freight trains.

They will be responsible for train inspection and cargo management.

Switch Operator

A switch operator will monitor train positions and adjust track switches as needed, to keep the trains headed to the proper destination, and to keep trains from colliding.

Rail Yard Engineer

A rail yard engineer is responsible for managing the operations of a railyard.

They make sure that each train has the cars it needs, and that each train is configured properly to get where it needs to be.

Other jobs include:

Requirements, Skills, and Education Required for Train Drivers

image showing a train driver controlling a train speed

Who Should Consider a Train Driver Career Path?

Individuals with a love for trains and driving should consider a train driver career path.

Who Should NOT Consider a Train Driver Career Path?

Anyone that needs a conventional shift structure, or to be home each day, should not consider being a train driver.

Is it Hard to Become a Train Driver?

It can be relatively difficult to become a train driver. Not only does it take specialized training, but job openings are limited.

What Do I Need to Become a Train Driver?

To start, you will need to graduate high school or get an equivalency degree.

You will also need to complete the train driver on-the-job training, or specialized online education to get certified by the proper federal authority.

Requirements for Becoming a Train Driver

A train driver will need training, dedication, technical knowledge, and proper education to become a train driver.

What Skills Does a Train Driver Need?

Some of the skills a train driver needs include:

  • Visual acuity
  • Concentration
  • Coordination
  • Solid decision-making skills

What Education Does a Train Driver Need?

A train driver needs to have a high school diploma, as well as a certification from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Can You Become a Train Driver Without a Degree?

You can become a train driver without a degree, but you cannot become a train driver without getting the necessary certification from the Federal Railroad Administration

What Experience Does a Train Driver Need?

A train driver will need extensive on-the-job experience, though that is often provided once they have secured a position with the railroad.

Train Driver Education & Schooling

vector graphic showing train tracks that a train driver conducts a train on

There are a few options for formal locomotive training.

There are options for on-the-job training, online certification, and an associate’s degree that is available from most colleges.

What is Taught in a Train Driver Course?

The train driver education will allow the driver to learn the operations and procedures they will need to know to effectively operate the train.

It will generally be a combination of hands-on training with simulators, eventually working up to driving real, functional trains.

How Long Does a Train Driver Course Take?

The minimum educational requirement for a train driver is a high school diploma or equivalent.

Depending on the course that’s taken you may be able to finish in as little as a few months.

On-the-job training will generally take about 2-3 months, while an online certification program will take several months on average.

If you decide to pursue an associate’s degree it will generally take about 2 years.

Schools for Train Drivers

One of the most well-known schools for aspiring train drivers is the National Academy of Railroad Sciences.

Steps to Become a Train Driver

First, you will need to get a high school diploma, then you’ll need to apply for a job at the railroad.

Once you’ve got a job at the railroad, you’ll need to work your way up to applying for the train driver position.

Once in that position you’ll need to complete your formal training, then get federally certified.

Frequently Asked Questions

image showing a train going down tracks

At what age do train drivers retire?

Railroad retirement benefits can first be claimed at age 62, and depending on the year of birth, the full retirement age may be anywhere from age 65 to 67.

Why are train drivers called Loco Pilots?

They are often called loco pilots because they are a form of a pilot, and the loco is short for “locomotive”.

It is essentially a slang term for being a train driver.

Wrapping Up

Many kids have the dream of being an engineer or train driver, but few realize it.

If you have a love of trains and the dedication to complete the needed training you could be a great candidate for a career as a train driver.

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