Railroad Conductors


Employment Prospects


Railroad conductors may be employed by passenger lines or freight lines. They may work for one of the major railroads, such as BNSF Railway Company, Norfolk Southern, or CSX, or they may work for one of the more than 500 smaller short-line railroads across the country. Many of the passenger lines today are commuter lines located near large metropolitan areas. Railroad conductors who work for freight lines may work in a rural or an urban area and will travel more extensively than the shorter, daily commuter routes passenger railroad conductors make. There are 45,710 railroad conductors and yardmasters working in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Starting Out

The method of becoming a conductor varies and is usually determined by a particular railroad company. Most often, you must start at an entry-level job—such as messenger or janitor—and work your way up to foreman or conductor positions. After acquiring experience, you may be considered for the position of conductor. Some companies promote experienced personnel to conductor positions. At other companies, there is a specific sequence of jobs and training required before you become a conductor.

For example, one of the major railroads, Norfolk Southern, requires class and field training for freight service trainees to become conductor trainees. Field experience includes training with yard, local, and through freight crews. Completion of written exams is also required. Conductor trainees for Norfolk Southern undergo locomotive engineer training, including 12 to 14 months of field training. The railroad lists the following duties for its conductor trainees: operate track switches, couple cars, and work on freight trains in yard operations and on the road. To learn more about Norfolk Southern, visit http://www.nscorp.com/content/nscorp/en.html.

Thus, you must first seek employment at a lower-level job with a railroad company. Direct contact with unions and railroad companies is recommended if you want more information about an entry-level job. Such jobs serve as training for future conductors, as you will be required to know all aspects of train operation.

Advancement Prospects

When conductors first begin their careers, they are seldom assigned regular full-time positions. Instead, they are put on a list called an "extra board" (meaning their names are on a board of people who are available 24/7) and are called in only when the railroad needs a substitute for a regular employee. On most railroads, conductors who are assigned to the extra board may work as brakers if there are not enough conductor runs available that month. The first form of promotion, then, is receiving a regular assignment as a conductor. Conductors who show promise and ability may eventually be promoted to managerial positions or crew management center dispatcher, who schedule locomotive engineers and conductors by using a computerized calling system. 

Tips for Entry

Contact railroads directly to learn about job openings. The American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association provides a list of its members at https://www.aslrra.org/web/Members/Directory/web/Dir/RR_Member_Search_NM.aspx?hkey=9450250f-beac-4459-ae9c-9ed5a13a9101.

Visit https://www.aar.org/issue/railroad-jobs to learn more about railroad careers.

Read Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen News (https://www.ble-t.org/pr/journal) to learn more about the field.

Visit the following Web site for job listings: https://rrb.gov/Resources/Jobs.