Railroad Engineer: Training Requirements, Salary and Outlook

Railroad engineers are responsible for the safety of commuters and cargo on passenger, urban transit and freight trains. Duties may include conducting routine checks before and after each run, and handling and monitoring trains during travel. Engineers must hold a federal license to operate a train, which entails completing a training program and passing several tests.

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Training Requirements for Railroad Engineers

Railroad engineers typically begin as brakemen or conductors and earn promotion through experience and training. Candidates for advancement into an engineer position must be 21 or older, have a high school diploma and complete an engineer training program. Most railroads offer federally-approved training programs that combine on-the-job and classroom instruction. Candidates may also seek formal education through a professional organization or community college which offers an associate's degree or certificate in railroad operations.

Training programs might cover topics such as hydraulic brakes, welding and engine repair. A certificate program might be completed in a few months, while an associate's degree program might take two years to finish.

After completing training, aspiring locomotive engineers must pass drug and alcohol tests, vision and hearing tests, railroad safety background checks and exams on skills and operating knowledge. Candidates then receive a federal license, which is mandatory for train engineers in the United States. To maintain licensure, engineers must pass periodic on-the-spot tests and physical exams, as well as random drug and alcohol screenings.

Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), locomotive engineers earned a mean annual wage of $55,660 in May 2013 (www.bls.gov). These engineers are typically paid hourly or per-mile wages for each assignment, depending on length of travel, destination and experience.

Pay also varies by the state in which engineers are employed. In May 2013, Maryland offered the highest average salary at $74,330, while West Virginia came in second with a mean annual wage of $71,690.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicted a four percent employment decline for locomotive engineers between 2012 and 2022. The lack of new tracks being made will likely limit growth, according to the BLS.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which requires that an engineer cannot work more than 276 hours per month or more than 12 hours per shift, may have led to an increased demand for engineers to fill those unmanned hours. Job growth was expected to be counterbalanced by advances in automated train technologies, which increase efficiency and require fewer employees, per the BLS.

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