Education and Training: High school required
Average Salary: $22-25 per hour
Job Outlook: Fair
The job of a train driver depends largely on the type of train that is being driven and the type of company being worked for. Locomotive engineers are responsible for operating bigger trains that carry either cargo or passengers. Usually these engineers work with diesel-powered engines, but some more modern trains are run by battery or electricity. These train drivers are responsible for monitoring instruments, braking on time, and knowing the route that the train needs to take to get to where it’s going. They must also have intimate knowledge of how many cars are loaded on the train and other details that make driving and braking the train different.
Streetcar operators are the most common train drivers in areas where street cars are used for public transportation. These train drivers will be responsible for operating electric trolleys or streetcars that run around a city. Because these streetcars are often smaller, the train driver on these trains is usually also responsible for interacting with customers and answering their questions about fares and other things.
Education and Training Requirements
Most railroads require that a train driver have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent, though drivers for more complex trains may be required to have further education. For the most part, these drivers are educated in-house by the rail company for whom they work, and training programs usually combine classroom teaching and hands-on experience. Also, many train drivers start out as bus drivers for the same railway system, which require they get the proper licensing to drive a bus first.
In order to operate a passenger or freight train, a train driver must have a federal license after completing a formal engineer program. The unique test for the license can be sprung on engineers-in-training at any time, and it requires them to respond to particular situations. Train drivers must also pass tests assessing their knowledge of the railroads, their skills, and even their hearing and vision.
Getting the Job
Most of the time, new train drivers can be hired straight from high school, although some training programs will require further education at a local college before they will accept a new hire.
Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that this job will grow about as fast as average in the next few years, and employment opportunities may be good because many workers are preparing to leave this field or retire in the near future.
Most train drivers begin by working with a specific part of the train, such as the brakes, and they will then move up to taking charge of the entire train. Eventually, many employees are promoted from within to become conductors or higher-level engineers with more responsibility. In the case of a train driver for a streetcar or subway system, advancement may include supervisory opportunities such as station manager positions.
Working Conditions and Environment
Most train drivers need to have great physical stamina and dexterity, and they will constantly be on their feet. They must also be able to make fast judgments in stressful or dangerous situations, which can make this job a little stressful. Other than this, though, a train driver is likely to work on a relatively set schedule and not to work more than forty or so hours a week.
Salary and Benefits
Typically, a train driver will be paid on an hourly basis. In the subway and streetcar systems, drivers are likely to make over $25 an hour, while railroad drivers are likely to make around $22 per hour. These wages vary depending on seniority and location, of course. Typically, these full-time jobs come with benefits, including paid vacation.
Where to Go for More Information
If you want more information on becoming a train driver, check out the following organizations:
Association of American Railroads
425 Third St. SW, Ste. 1000
Washington, DC 20024
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Train Men
1370 Ontario St., Mezzanine
Cleveland, OH 44113
United Transportation Union
24950 Country Club Blvd., Ste. 340
North Olmsted, OH 44070