Train Conductor Job Description
Train conductors work on passenger and freight trains. On passenger trains, they take tickets, make schedule announcements, and attend to passenger needs, questions, and safety. On freight trains, they perform operations related to train movement and oversee the loading and unloading of cargo.
Most train conductors work full time, but some work on a temporary basis for railroads that need extra or substitute workers. It is common for train conductors to work days, nights, weekends, and holidays since most trains run 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Long train routes sometimes require workers to be away from home for extended periods of time.
Train Conductor Duties and Responsibilities
While a train conductor’s day-to-day duties and responsibilities are determined by where they work, there are many core tasks associated with the role. Based on our analysis of job listings, these include:
Interact with Customers
Passenger train conductors interact with customers in various ways before, during, and after a train ride. They take tickets, answer travel questions, make announcements about train schedules, open and close doors, and attend to other passenger needs.
Train conductors work with other crew members, such as engineers, yardmasters, and on-board service personnel, to coordinate activities. This typically involves task delegation, project management, employee training and development, and verification of the train’s moving authority.
Load and Unload Cargo
Train conductors, particularly those who work on freight trains, oversee the loading and unloading of cargo. In some cases, they push, pull, and lift the cargo themselves.
Perform Train Movement Operations
Although train conductors do not actually operate the train, some of them perform train movement operations. They couple and separate train cars, operate track switches to direct the train’s movement, and signal the engineer to start, stop, and reverse the train.
Train conductors work with engineers and other crew members to ensure compliance with safety rules and procedures established by both the federal government and the rail company that owns and operates the train.
Train Conductor Skills and Qualifications
Train conductors communicate regularly with customers and crew members. They must understand regulations, demonstrate common sense, and be aware of their surroundings to keep passengers, crew members, and cargo safe. Employers look for applicants with the following skill set:
- Knowledge of railway procedures – it’s the conductor’s job to know ticket-taking procedures and follow Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rules and regulations related to train safety and operation
- Customer service – train conductors assist customers by answering questions, making announcements, and performing other tasks to ensure their comfort and safety
- Leadership skills – many train conductors work in a supervisory capacity; they oversee other crew members, delegate tasks, and set project goals and expectations
- Hearing ability – train conductors must listen for buzzers, alarms, and other warning signals and then respond accordingly
- Hand-eye coordination – train conductors must observe, interpret, and relay signals; this requires keen observation skills and manual dexterity
Tools of the Trade
Train conductors often use the following tools in the course of their work:
- Remote control devices (to operate locomotive equipment)
- Radios and intercoms (to transmit information)
- Inspection checklists (to inspect locomotive equipment)
- Ticket scanners (to scan passenger tickets)
Train Conductor Education and Training
Train conductors need a high school diploma or the equivalent. They typically receive on-the-job training. This often consists of a combination of classroom instruction and field training. During the training period, which lasts approximately six weeks, train conductors study FRA rules and regulations and acquire critical safety skills. They also learn about the duties associated with their day-to-day responsibilities.
The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires train conductors to meet minimum federal safety standards. This requirement is designed to improve rail safety through the reduction of accidents and other potentially dangerous incidents. The FRA enforces this law by requiring certification for conductors who work for regional, national, and commuter railroads. Railroads provide certification programs, and train conductors receive certification by passing an FRA designed and administered test.
Train Conductor Salary and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), train conductors earn a median annual wage of just over $60,000. The highest-paid workers (in the top 10 percent) earn more than $92,000, while the lowest-paid workers (in the bottom 10 percent) earn less than $42,000. Some train conductors receive benefits, such as vacation time, health and life insurance, and retirement options.
The BLS predicts a 2 percent decline in employment for train conductors through 2026. Most job openings will be the result of employers looking to replace retiring workers.
If you’re interested in learning more about train conductors, check out the resources we’ve compiled below:
National Academy of Railroad Sciences – this organization offers training courses and career information for train conductors and other railroad workers. Training courses are delivered by current and former railroad employees
My Life with Trains: Memoir of a Railroader (Railroads Past and Present) – written by Jim McClellan, a railroad official and strategist who helped to create Amtrak and Conrail, this memoir offers a historical overview of the railroad industry and stories from the author’s 60-year career. The text is supplemented with more than 250 color photos
The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service – this guide to customer service was written by Lee Cockerell, the former executive vice president of Walt Disney World. During his years in the hospitality industry, Cockerell learned what it takes to please even the most discerning customers. His effective tips can help train conductors learn how to provide consistent and efficient customer service to guests on passenger trains
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