What Do Rail Transportation Workers Do?
Do you enjoy trains? Does the idea of working in the railroad industry intrigue you? Rail transportation workers handle every aspect of railroads, trains and rail yards. Keep reading to find out how to become a track worker, yardmaster, engineer, conductor or rail transit specialist. Schools offering Supply Chain Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
What Are the Different Types of Rail Transportation Workers?
The railroad transportation industry employs several types of skilled laborers. If you'd like to operate a train and be responsible for the transport of passengers and freight, you could choose to become an engineer. You'd need to manage the train as it travels through different weather conditions and stay alert for any problems that could occur during travel. You'd need to monitor the train's control panel, watching your speed, air pressure and other vital measurements.
If you're more interested in the coordination of rail travel, you could elect to become a conductor. As a conductor, you'd assign freight, set schedules and maintain records of all the trains under your watch. You'd be responsible for ensuring the train is not overloaded, routes are planned out and terminals are ready for the departure and arrival of trains. On passenger routes, you'd be in charge of ensuring passengers get on and off trains safely, luggage is properly loaded and unloaded and announcements are made to keep passengers informed.
If you'd like to work in the rail yard, you could become a brake operator, signal operator or yardmaster. As a brake operator, you'd connect and disconnect rail cars and operate switches, typically with the help of yard engineers. You'll perform electrical duties as a switch operator, installing, repairing and ensuring all switches are in working order. You could manage the entire rail yard as a yardmaster. You'd need to manage the yard crews while coordinating traffic, ensuring a smooth loading and unloading pattern, directing car movement and operating switches.
From a local perspective, you could operate a subway, light rail or streetcar within a city or urban region. As an operator, you need to know the meaning of rail and tunnel signals, make passenger announcements, provide calm emergency response to passenger and traffic situations and work with dispatch during breakdowns or operating issues.
What Education or Training Would I Need?
Almost all positions in rail transportation require some formal training. This may be through a college program or an employer training program. Training typically includes classroom and hands-on work. You'd likely start out as a brake or signal operator, working your way into a yardmaster or conductor position with additional training and yard experience. Some rail yard jobs that include driving large equipment or loading vehicles might require that you obtain a commercial driver's license or other state-issued operator's license.
Significant experience in the railroad is required to become an engineer. If this is your goal, you must meet Federal licensing regulations that include a formal training program and passing knowledge and skills tests, as well as a physical. If you want to operate a subway or streetcar, you might consider first working as a bus driver to become familiar with the operation of large vehicles. You can then complete classroom and on-the-job training programs to advance to a railway or lightrail train operator position.
What Can I Earn?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported locomotive engineers earned a mean annual wage of $53,590 and rail yard engineers that move engines in the yard earned an average salary of $36,090 in 2009 (www.bls.gov). The BLS further reported railroad conductors and yardmasters made approximately $54,900, while railroad brake, signal and switch operators took home an average of $49,600. Streetcar and subway operators earned a median income of $56,390 that year, according to BLS data.
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