Train Driver

How to Become a
Train Driver

Gabriela Bercenas
By Gabriela Bercenas - CPRW, Content Writer II
|
Last Updated: April 20, 2023
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Suppose you’re interested in how to become a train driver, also known as a train engineer or conductor. In that case, this guide provides helpful education and training steps, average regional salaries and advice for a veteran rail expert. Once you meet the job qualifications, you can access our Resume Builder and free resume samples to help you craft an application-ready resume.

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What Does a Train Driver Do?

Train drivers perform many tasks, from inspecting mechanical aspects to monitoring air pressure during transit. They are employed by railroad companies and can work on either passenger trains or freight trains.

In addition to having excellent technical knowledge, train drivers must also be able to familiarize themselves with any given train’s stops, schedule and route to properly adjust the train’s speed, make minor repairs between trips, and ensure that cargo is loaded and unloaded as needed.

Common train driver duties and responsibilities include:

  • Conducting inspections before and after each trip.

  • Driving freight and passenger trains between stations.

  • Driving long-distance freight or commuter trains.

  • Monitoring onboard train systems to measure operation, such as power, speed, air pressure or engine temperature.

  • Carefully analyzing upcoming track conditions and train congestion to determine appropriate train speed.

How Do You Become a Train Driver?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for railroad workers, which includes train drivers, is growing by 4%, with an estimated 7,500 job openings per year until 2031. Follow these “how to become a train driver” suggestions to qualify for these job opportunities.

1

Finish high school.

Employers want a minimum of a high school diploma or GED.

2

Find an entry-level train crew position.

No train driving degree or training program guarantees immediate qualification to an open train driver position. These are senior-level positions that require years of on-hand training and experience to acquire.

However, most rail corporations provide specialized training programs to current employees. Your best bet is to find an entry-level position on a train crew and start familiarizing yourself with routes, engines, operational procedures and safety procedures.

3

Apply for a train driving or engineer training position.

To gain experience, you can receive on-the-job training from a railroad company or study locomotive engineering at a technical school. Alternatively, you can complete pre-employment training programs provided by some of the nation’s largest railroad companies, including Amtrak and Union Pacific. Please note that these programs are only open to candidates 21 and over.

4

Study and pass the written knowledge test.

Before applying for a train route, you must study and pass a certification exam issued by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). This written test is the first step of the federal certification process and covers your knowledge of railroad operating practices, equipment inspection procedures, train route knowledge and national safety regulations.

You’ll need to pass the following certifications to qualify as a train driver:

  • Student engineer
  • Locomotive servicing engineer
  • Train service engineer
5

Pass a skills test.

Once you’re fully certified, you may need to pass a company’s mandatory skills test and route test before you’re assigned to a route. This is an internal requirement to protect a company’s equipment, cargo or passenger investments.

6

Brush up on your engineering knowledge and skills.

Unlike most certifications, the FRA requires you to renew your certification every few years or when you’re assigned a new route. It’s essential to refresh your route and operational knowledge to ensure recertification.

Before you begin your job search, you’ll need to have an excellent resume on hand. Feel free to review our professionally written train driver resume samples as study guides while you craft your resume. If you struggle to summarize your training, certifications and experience, use an online Resume Builder to build an AI-powered draft based on your experience quickly.

Train Driver Skills

Along with ensuring that trains stay on schedule, train drivers must also protect the safety of the passengers and cargo. Train drivers should also maintain a keen eye for detail to carefully examine a train’s internal mechanics involving delicate and complicated machinery.

Focus on developing the following skills to be a successful train operator:

Hard skills:

1Operate and troubleshoot train engines.
2Up-to-date on technological rail advances.
3Coordinate the speed and direction of the train based on control signals and upcoming rail conditions.
4Accurately monitor systems that measure a train’s operation, including speed and air pressure.
5Manage a combination of controls to operate trains successfully
6Couple and uncouple train cars when needed.

Soft skills:

1Ability to work meticulously and carefully.
2Great eyesight and physical fitness.
3Stamina to work long hours, often on weeknights and weekends.

How Much Do Train Drivers Get Paid?

Train Drivers are paid on either an hourly wage basis or an annual wage basis. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for Locomotive Engineers, which includes Train Drivers, is $27.04, with the lowest-paid earning $19.47 per hour and the highest-paid earning $39.57 per hour.

Top Ten States for Train Driver Salary

Train Drivers in the following ten states earn the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.

    Washington

    $39.57

    New Jersey

    $33.06

    New York

    $31.12

    Michigan

    $30.36

    Wisconsin

    $30.35

    Georgia

    $30.27

    Mississippi

    $30.10

    Maine

    $29.45

    Kentucky

    $29.34

    Iowa

    $29.16

    Train Driver Resources

    We compiled this list of resources to help you keep exploring your career as a Train Driver.

    Train Driver Websites

    Railroad.net
    This website provides its users with extensive discussion forums on all things train-related, including passenger rails, freight trains, locomotives and equipment.

    Train of Thought
    This frequently updated blog, written by the editors of Trains magazine, publishes posts on topics ranging from steam locomotive documentaries to breaking industry news.

    Train Drivers on Twitter

    @UnionPacific
    The official Union Pacific Twitter account features weekly trivia contests, interesting historical facts and technological updates.

    @Amtrak
    The official Amtrak Twitter account features updates on rail lines, photos of views from Amtrak train routes and seasonal events.

    Train Driver Books

    Railroads Across North America
    This book covers more than three dozen railroads accompanied by historical black and white photographs, modern color photographs, period advertisements and detailed maps.

    Modern Trains and Splendid Stations
    This book is a collection of beautiful photographs showcasing trains and stations in modern-day North America, Europe and Asia.

    The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.