How to Become a Train Driver
Explore this ArticleGetting the Education and Training You NeedWorking in Entry-Level PositionsGetting and Staying CertifiedArticle SummaryQuestions & AnswersRelated Articles
A train driver operates, or drives, a train. They're also called locomotive engineers, railroad engineers or foot plate men. It's a job that offers a variety of options, whether you want to stay close to home and work for a local railroad or you prefer to travel further afield with a regional railroad. It pays well and affords you the benefits of belonging to a union, such as job security and a pension.
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Getting the Education and Training You Need
- Get your high school diploma or GED. For most entry-level railroad jobs, you must be at least 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or equivalent. Completing high school will provide you with the basic educational background and life experience necessary for working in the railroad.
- A GED, or a General Education Diploma, requires passing a challenging exam. You must be at least 16 years of age to take the GED test.
- Attend a locomotive engineer training program. All entry-level railroad positions require training to learn the basics of railroad work. Many community and state colleges offer courses and even associates degrees in railroad operations and locomotive engineering. You can also find directories online that can help you locate a training center or program near you..
- Look for training programs that are often run in partnership with small regional or local railroads. In addition to providing you with the training you need, these can be helpful for connecting you to job opportunities in your area.
- Apply for beginner-level positions with a railroad. Many locomotive engineers start out as conductors, rail yard engineers, switch operators or yardmasters, where they learn about the policies, operations and routes of the railroad before moving into training to become a driver. Getting your foot in the door in a starter position will give you a chance to build familiarity with railroad work while earning a living.
- Applications are online through railroad websites by following links for job and career opportunities.
- Check out a variety of railroad jobs online on forums like the one hosted by RailServe.com.
- If you want to drive commuter trains or subway trains, check for jobs with area public transit authorities.
- Job fairs at community colleges and local universities with railroad training programs also host railroad companies.
Working in Entry-Level Positions
- Work your way up to a train driver position. Beyond age, education and physical ability, railroads look for drivers who possess strong leadership, decision making, and organizational skills, among other things, including:
- Familiarity and experience with machinery is a plus.
- Show basic literacy in reading, math, and simple computing.
- Work well independently and with others.
- Ability to learn and adhere to procedures and guidelines.
- Apply for a training position if you are 21 years or older. You must meet the minimum age requirements to apply for a locomotive engineering position (21 years) and have the right educational background (high school diploma or equivalent). Look for job postings online on railroad websites and job forums. The same sites that post entry-level positions post locomotive engineering positions, too.
- Train drivers must pass hearing and vision tests, demonstrate physical ability, and go through periodic drug screenings.
- Complete the required training. During the training period you will learn all the procedures, operations and route details you will need to operate the train. Training will involve a combination of classroom and hands-on exercises, including working with train simulators and, eventually, real trains.
- Some railroads may have onsite training or they may partner with a college or University in the area. Others will require you to go offsite to a centralized training facility for up to 2 months or more.
- Amtrak, for example, requires it’s trainee locomotive engineers to spend 8-10 weeks at their training center in Wilmington, DE before they begin their on-the-job training.
- Training will include preparing you for certification, which includes memorizing all the physical aspects of the train routes on which you will drive.
Getting and Staying Certified
- Take a written knowledge test. The Federal Railroad Administration requires each railroad company to oversee its own certification process. The written test is the first part of the certification process and is based on studying each railroad’s operating practices, equipment inspection procedures, train route knowledge and Federal safety regulations. There are three levels of certification that you can test for based on your experience and job specifications: student engineer, locomotive servicing engineer and train service engineer.
- Train service engineers are the most skilled and experienced. They may drive locomotives with cars attached.
- Locomotive servicing engineers may operate trains but cannot drive them with cars attached.
- Student engineers may only operate trains while under the direct supervision of an instructor.
- Take a skills test. Like the written test, the skills test evaluates your knowledge of operating practices, equipment inspection procedures, train route knowledge and Federal safety regulations.
- You must demonstrate your ability to put your knowledge into practice while you are behind the controls of a train or a train simulator.
- If you fail the skills test, the Federal Railroad Administration does allow a retest.
- Demonstrate a mastery of your assigned route. In addition to the standard written and skills test that all locomotive engineers must take, the Federal Railroad Administration requires that candidates for certification are fluent in the physical aspects of their specific assigned route.
- It is up to each railroad company to determine the details of how they assess this knowledge, but the use of train simulators are common.
- Complete continuing education and training. Once you work for a railroad company the Federal Railroad Administration requires them to periodically retest you.
- Additional training periods are also required whenever you are assigned to a new train route to ensure that you know the route inside and out.
- How old do I have to be in order to be a train driver?You must be 18 years of age or older. If you are you are under the age you could try volunteering at your local railroad museum to learn the ropes.
- Can females be train drivers?
- Is it possible for someone in their thirties to become a train driver or a conductor?Yes. As long as you can make it through the training and understand the requirements of the job, you should be fine.
- I'm in my mid-fifties. Is it too late for me to become a train driver?
- Can I work for a railroad being red-green colorblind if I have federal railroad certified Colormax glasses to compensate?No. When applying for a railroad position, whether as a conductor or as an engineer, all applicants must not be colorblind because railroad operations rely on signals. Signals are extremely important, and there are three primary colors: red, yellow, green (and rarely, blue). By law, signals must have red, yellow, and green. If you are deficient in the red and green aspects, you are a threat to railroad operations. If a colorblind railroad employee convey's a signal that he or she thinks is "clear" but is actually "stop" and vice versa, potential disaster may be a result.
- Can I become a train conductor if I have glasses?Yes. I wear glasses/contacts and recently became a locomotive engineer. Rules require you to have a backup pair on you while on duty.
- What are the educational requirements for becoming a train operator?Most railroad companies have the minimum requirement as High School diploma or GED, but I have heard that railroads won't hire you unless you have college experience (unsure how much truth there is to this, however).
- Can I become a train driver if I have a mechanical diploma?Yes. Eligible diploma departments include the following: Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics and Automobile Engineering.
- Can I become a train driver if I have an artificial foot?Sure, all trains have hand breaks and dead-man switches. There's no such thing as foot pedals except in specialty trains.
- Can I become a train driver even if I don't learn physical sciences?The easiest way is build your experience. Start off applying for a job driving light rail, or something similar. You don't need prior training.
- Railroad jobs in general are declining due to computerization and diminished use. However, train drivers continue to be needed as current employees retire.
- Train drivers are required to work long, irregular hours, including nights, weekends and holidays. They are often required to put their names on a list and wait to be assigned work, which means being ready to work on short notice. They may have to work in severe weather conditions, which means not only working outside in the cold and heat, but sitting in cold or hot train cars.
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