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Railroad Operations Degree Program Information

Read about the curriculum of two common rail railroad operations associate degree programs. Get an idea of prerequisites, median income and career outlook.

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Essential Information

An associate degree program in railroad operations prepares graduates for entry-level railroad careers with education in safety issues, environmental concerns, track information, procedural regulations and technical expertise in switching tracks, using airbrakes and attaching cars. Some railroad operations programs emphasize training and skills to become a railroad conductor. These 2-year programs typically require applicants to hold a high school diploma and complete a background check and physical exam.


Associate Degree in Railroad Operations

The day-to-day systems designed for efficiency in railroad operations are extensive. Associate degree training covers administrative responsibilities, equipment and technical components, environmental affairs, safety regulations and industry issues. A railroad operations degree program requires students to purchase specific clothing, footwear and safety gear to be worn during hands-on coursework. Often, program curriculum includes the General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR), the rules used across the U.S. to enhance railroad safety. Students may be kept from moving forward in the program if they fail an exam on the GCOR.

Prerequisites

A high school diploma is required for entrance to an associate degree program in railroad operations. Students cannot have a criminal history, including convictions having to do with drugs. Students must also have a clean motor vehicle record without any moving violations within the past 2-3 years. Railroad positions can be physically demanding, so some programs require candidates to be able to lift at least 90 pounds.

Program Coursework

Courses involve the use of railroads presently and historically, the importance of safety and practical skills, such as getting on and off moving platforms. Other coursework may entail:

  • Safety and working hazards
  • Operational regulations
  • Administrative duties
  • Use and rules of airbrakes
  • Communication
  • Business ethics
  • Computer business programs

Popular Careers

An associate degree in railroad operations qualifies a person for entry-level positions with one of the 650 railroads in the United States. Positions may include:

  • Switch operator
  • Yard master
  • Manager of train operations

Associate Degree in Railroad Operations: Railroad Conductor

An associate degree in railroad operations with a railroad conductor emphasis combines business administrative functions with the technical expertise of operating and managing a train. The education that prepares a student to become a railroad conductor involves computer skills, technical math, business communications and safety measures. Hands-on training and classroom lecture are intertwined throughout the program so students may use their combined skill set for practical application in railroad operations. A high school diploma is usually the only prerequisite for entrance to an associate degree program.

Program Coursework

Most associate degree programs comprise 60-70 credit-hours. The conductor emphasis associate degree program first covers the computer skills, math and business aspects of conductor training. Later in the program, students get real-world education in the day-today technical responsibilities of being a conductor. Classes may include:

  • Railroad economics
  • Technical writing skills
  • Logic and problem solving
  • Business communications
  • Safety regulations
  • Conductor technical operations
  • Conductor responsibilities
  • GCOR

Employment Outlook

The conductor is an entry-level position according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and is projected to show below-average growth at a rate of five percent over 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov). Conductors made a median wage of $26.30 an hour in May 2012.

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