How to Become a
Train Driver

Man in a suit operating a train console

If you’ve been considering a career as a Train Driver, also known as a Train Engineer, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide is full of essential information such as educational requirements, average salaries and more.

What Does a Train Driver Do?

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

In addition to having great technical knowledge, Train Drivers must also be able to familiarize themselves with any given train’s stops, schedule and route in order 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

  • Analyzing and responding to information provided by the train’s computer system

  • Requesting the services of professional inspectors as needed

Train Driver Skills

Along with ensuring that trains stay on schedule, Train Drivers must also be able to operate each type of train that their railroad company uses, stay up to date on technological advances and protect the safety of the train’s passengers. And, since every aspect of a train’s internal mechanics involves delicate and complicated machinery, Train Drivers must also have a keen eye for detail.

Other Key Train Driver skills include:

  • Ability to work meticulously and carefully

  • Great eyesight and physical fitness

  • Ability to work long hours, often on nights and weekends

How Do You Become a Train Driver?

Education and Training

After analyzing online job postings, we found that employers are looking for Train Drivers with a high school diploma, GED or equivalent. In addition to having a high school level education, the vast majority of employers also required potential candidates to have several years of experience operating trains.

In order to gain experience, you have the option of receiving on-the-job training from a railroad company or studying locomotive engineering at a technical school. To find a railroad training program near you, click here. Alternatively, you can complete pre-employment training programs provided by some of the nation’s largest railroad companies, including Amtrak and Union Pacific.

Additionally, all Train Drivers must be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in order to legally operate a train. The FRA sets the standards for certification, and in turn each individual railroad company administers the certification tests to its employees as needed. For more information about FRA certification, click here.

Finding a Job

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for Railroad Workers, which includes Train Drivers, is decreasing by 3 percent, which will result in the loss of 3,300 jobs between 2014 and 2024. This dip in demand can be attributed to higher levels of productivity in the railroad industry. However, this doesn’t mean that getting a job as a Train Driver is impossible, it just means that you’ll have to work especially hard to prove your value as an employee.

Before you begin your job search, you’ll need to have an excellent resume on hand. Check out JobHero’s library of Train Driver resume samples for guidance and fresh ideas.

Next, conduct an online job search to find open positions near you. Before you send out any applications, though, make sure you’ve prepared an eye-catching cover letter. A good cover letter can convey your work ethic, reasons for applying and special areas of expertise to potential employers. Take a look at our collection of sample cover letters for inspiration.

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.