Railroad Conductors


Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in becoming a conductor, you will benefit from taking as many shop classes as possible. Any course that teaches electrical principles is particularly helpful. Because on-board computers are increasingly used in this profession, computer training would be a plus. Finally, academic subjects such as English and speech are also important because conductors are required to write some reports and speak to fellow workers and passengers.

Postsecondary Training

Many conductors acquire much of the knowledge to assume their positions through years of practical experience in other positions on the railroad. Railroads prefer that applicants for these jobs have high school diplomas, but further education, outside of the railroad's training school, is not typically required. To be eligible for a conductor's position, you must pass examinations testing your knowledge of signals, timetables, air brakes, operating rules, and related subjects. Once hired, conductors complete one to three months of training on railroad operating procedures, how to interact with passengers, ticketing procedures, and other topics.  


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

New conductors are required to pass a certification exam that has been designed and administered by their employer (and approved by the Federal Railroad Administration). Yard conductors may be required to hold a commercial driver's license in order to operate trucks and other heavy vehicles.

Other Requirements

You must pass an entrance-to-service medical examination and must pass further physicals at regular intervals. You are also required to take tests that screen for drug use. Some conductor jobs require applicants to be at least 21 years old. You must be able to lift 80 pounds, as is required when replacing knuckles that connect rail cars.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Many conductors enter the field after obtaining several years of experience in entry-level positions (such as messenger or braker) in the railroad industry. 

Since conductors are responsible for overseeing the activities of the other crew members and for dealing with the public, you must be capable of assuming responsibility, directing the work activities of others, and acting as the railroad's representative to passengers. A conductor must have a good working knowledge of the operation of the train and of its mechanical details. In addition, you must be self-sufficient and capable of occupying free hours because much of the time is spent away from home. Finally, it is important that you have good judgment skills, be dependable, and be able to make quick, responsible decisions.