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Railroad Maintenance Worker Job Description, Career as a Railroad Maintenance Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training High school

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

To keep locomotives and other equipment in good working order, railroad companies hire maintenance workers: machinists, car repairers, boilermakers, blacksmiths, electrical workers, and sheet metal workers. In railroad language, these workers are called non-ops because they are not involved in the actual operation of trains.

Machinists make up one of the largest groups of non-ops. Although they work on many types of equipment, their specialty is engine and locomotive repair. They often disassemble, repair, and reassemble diesel engines. Car repairers make up the largest group of maintenance workers. They build and repair freight and passenger cars. Some work on moving parts, such as wheels, while others specialize in upholstery, painting, or carpentry.

Boilermakers repair and maintain the steam-heat units on diesel locomotives and in railroad stations. Workers sometimes disassemble boilers to determine whether defective sections need to be replaced or if adjustments can be made. Blacksmiths soften metal parts by heating them in a special furnace, called a forge, and repair them with chisels, hammers, and, if necessary, power tools. Many of their tasks have been automated, however. Electrical workers install and repair electrical systems in locomotives, passenger cars, and railroad buildings, while sheet metal workers install and fix pipes on all kinds of railway equipment.

Education and Training Requirements

Employers prefer to hire applicants with high school diplomas. They may test applicants on mathematical and mechanical skills.

Maintenance workers generally start as apprentices to specialists, such as blacksmiths. Apprenticeships usually last for three or four years. Some workers begin as observers and helpers and then advance to apprenticeship positions.

Getting the Job

Jobseekers should apply directly to railroad companies for apprentice positions. Railroad company Web sites can provide information on job opportunities and application procedures.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Advancement in this field is slow but steady. Apprentices become fully skilled workers after several years. Full-time workers sometimes advance to supervisory positions.

Employment of maintenance workers is expected to decline through 2014 because of improvements in equipment and procedures. Openings do occur when experienced workers retire or leave the field.

Working Conditions

Working conditions vary with each job. However, almost all maintenance jobs require outdoor work in all kinds of weather. Occasionally, electrical workers and others have to travel to make repairs. Railroad maintenance work is often dangerous, despite the strict safety regulations that have been enacted. Blacksmiths are often in danger from heated metals, and boilermakers can be hurt in explosions. Most of the jobs require physical strength and stamina. Maintenance employees have forty-hour workweeks, although they may be called on at any time to make emergency repairs. Higher wages are paid for overtime.

Where to Go for More Information

Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees
20300 Civic Center Dr., Ste. 320
Southfield, MI 48076-4169
(248) 948-1010

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers
753 State Ave.
Kansas City, KS 66101
(913) 371-2640

Earnings and Benefits

Wages vary according to the type of work, experience, and location. In 2004 the median wage for car repairers was $19.48 per hour. Machinists earned $16.33 per hour; boilermakers and blacksmiths, $21.68 per hour; electrical workers, $19.25 per hour; and sheet metal workers, $17.09 per hour. Apprentices usually earned lower wages, often a percentage of the skilled-worker wage. Benefits include health and dental insurance and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesTransportation & Logistics