Locomotive Engineers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

A high school diploma is usually necessary to be hired. Take any shop classes available, as well as courses in mechanics, electronics and computer science.

Postsecondary Training

Vacancies for positions as locomotive engineers are usually filled from within by workers who have experience in other aspects of railroad operation, such as brake operators or conductors. Most railroads require that their engineers be at least 21 years old. Federal law requires that beginning engineers undergo a six-month training program, which includes classroom, on-the-job, and simulator work. Major railroads generally have their own training schools and smaller railroads usually send their engineers to these schools as well. After completing the training, prospective engineers must pass a hearing and visual acuity test, a skills performance test, a safety conduct background check, and a railroad operation knowledge test before receiving a license to work as an engineer.


A few colleges and organizations offer certificates in railroad operations. For example, the National Academy of Railroad Sciences and Johnson County Community College offer certificates in locomotive-electrical, locomotive-mechanical, railroad operations, and other railroad-related areas.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires that locomotive engineers must participate in a FRA-approved training program that is implemented through the engineer's employer. Engineers who successfully complete this program are licensed by the federal government.

Other Requirements

Locomotive engineers must be at least 21 years of age. Some companies also require health examinations, vision and hearing tests, and drug screenings for candidates and employees.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Previous experience as a conductor or in another railroad occupation is required to enter the field.

Mechanical aptitude, good hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity, a detail-oriented personality, leadership ability, strong decision-making and communication skills, and accurate judgment of the speed and distance of moving objects are important. Finally, good hearing, eyesight, and color vision are necessary. Most employers require that engineers pass a physical examination and drug screening tests before being hired. Also, if at any time they fail to meet the necessary health requirements, they may be restricted to working in only certain types of service.