How to Become a Locomotive Engineer


Does the idea of working on the railroad fascinate you? Do you dream of becoming a locomotive engineer who is in control of trains and other interesting railroad work?

The goal of the locomotive engineer is to ensure that trains are running safely and smoothly. Duties include maintaining proper speed and air pressure of trains.

Checking battery use and other electronic instruments to make sure that the train gets safely to its destination, effectively manipulating a variety of controls, including air brakes and throttles, and drive passenger or freight train between stations.

Locomotive engineers must be chief communicators.  He or she must connect with dispatchers via radio to obtain information regarding delays or schedule changes.  He must work closely with railroad conductors to learn of any adjustments in the condition of the train. He must also keep in contact with signal and switch operators to ensure that the train in headed in the right direction.


To become a locomotive engineer you must possess a high school diploma or GED. Although you don’t have to have a four-year college degree, you must have 2 to 3 months of rigorous on -the -job training. You must be trained and retrained on every new route which you are assigned.

After training, all railroad workers must become certified by the Federal Railroad Administration or FRA.  Usually, the certification exam is administered and includes a skills test, a written test, and verification of good physical condition by the supervisor.

Work Environment

Railroad work can be extremely dangerous if an individual is not watchful for hazards.  High levels of stress can cause you to become distracted, a mistake which can lead to an accident.  Most accidents involve individual getting hit by rail cars or falling equipment.

Other sources of hazards involve breathing dangerous fumes or toxic chemicals transported in train cars.

As a locomotive engineer, you may not have to work outdoors at the same rate as a Rail Yard engineer, conductor or year master. Because train schedules operate night and day, an individual who desires to become a railroad worker, in particularly, a locomotive engineer, might have to work on holidays and weekends on a continuous basis.  Extensive time away from family and friends may have to become a lifestyle.

Salary & Promotion

Usually, a railroad worker can start out as one of the following and work his or her way up the ladder:  yard master, conductor, rail yard engineer,  or switch and brake operator.

Locomotive engineers can make up to $113,000 a year.  As of May 2015, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for railroad workers was $55, 180 dollars a year.

The job outlook for most railroad workers looks very inspiring for the near future. As old railroad workers retire, the position will become opened.  However, some railroad responsibilities may be combined with the responsibilities of conductors and yardmasters, thereby eliminated so lower level jobs normally performed by yard workers.

Becoming a locomotive engineer can be a dream come true if you are committed to the nature and character of railroad work and all the adventures the position comes with.

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