Be a Railroad Inspector: Education Requirements and Career Info

Learn how to become a railroad inspector. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in railroad inspection.

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Do I Want to Be a Railroad Inspector?

Railroad inspectors have numerous job duties, including investigating railroad accidents, inspecting all railroad equipment according to government transportation regulations, and processing customer complaints regarding railroad safety. They also examine railroad equipment for damage.

The job of a railroad inspector can be physically demanding and much of their time is spent walking and on their feet during inspections. Some office hours are required for inspectors, so that they may write their reports. Travel is a common job requirement. Exposure to hazardous locations and/or toxic materials is possible in this career. Most inspectors work on a full-time basis.

Job Requirements

Inspectors typically have a high school diploma and several years of experience in the railroad industry. There are five different specialized positions, from track inspector to operating practices inspector. The following chart lays out some of the common requirements for railroad inspectors:

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma is standard, but an associate's degree may be preferred*
Licensure A driver's license is required, as is a government travel card***
Experience 1-5+ years of experience in the field*
Key Skills Team player, excellent verbal and written communication skills, eye for detail**
Computer Skills Knowledge of Aspen software (to verify commercial driver's licenses) and diagnostic scanner software*
Technical Skills Experience using industry-related tools like scales, speed sensors, screwdrivers, barcode scanners, exhaust analyzers, gauges and tape measures*
Additional Requirements Interest in travel, physical stamina/strength, knowledge of railroad rules and safety regulations; drug testing required for hired candidates**

Sources: *Occupational Information Network, **Job postings by employers (January 2013), ***Federal Railroad Administration.

Step 1: Gain Experience

The Occupational Information Network and job postings accessed in January 2013 noted that employers require experience to become a railroad inspector. An individual may be able to find that experience through an apprenticeship or trade school, but it's most commonly gained through on-the-job training. Prior to becoming an inspector, individuals usually have experience in areas such as railroad maintenance, equipment testing, track construction or signals. With experience, railroad workers can work up to the inspector role, which still may entail supervision until work can be conducted independently.

Step 2: Obtain Travel Card and License

Railroad inspectors are required to have a valid state driver's license and government travel card from the Federal Railroad Administration. Most employers allow candidates to complete their certification during a probationary period, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The GSA SmartPay program, which issues government travel cards, stated that one must contact their agency or organization program to find out if they're eligible for a travel card, then contact Federal Agency Travel Administrator for the application. The next step, once approved, is to complete the required half-hour training course.

Success Tip:

  • Ensure that your credit is good. To obtain a government travel card, or spending card, one may be subject to a credit check by his or her employer.

Step 3: Consider a Specialization

According to the FRA there are five career paths for railroad inspectors. Trainees can opt to specialize during the later phases of their career training. Each specialization has its own tasks. For example, hazardous materials inspectors are responsible for monitoring whether hazardous materials being shipped by rail are in compliance with federal and state regulations. They monitor the handling of hazardous materials and the train cars in which they're transported, as well as investigate crashes or incidents in which hazardous materials are accidentally released into the environment. Other inspector specializations include motive power and equipment, signals and train control, operating practices and track.

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