Become a Train Conductor

Train conductors are responsible for holding together the train, the freight, the passengers, and the crew. You will work with the driver or engineer to bring the train safely and quickly from station to station. Be prepared to travel for days at a time and work long hours--often through the night and over the weekend. Be prepared to check tickets, deal closely with passengers, and ensure that the journey is safe and comfortable for everyone on board. You can make as much as $80,000 a year working as a train conductor (although the average industry salary was $56,570 per year as of May 2011), and train companies tend to provide excellent benefits and retirement packages.


Understanding the Job

  1. Speak with current and former train conductors. Ask a lot of questions about the job, and try to decide whether it's right for you.
    • Ask about the pay, the hours, the co-workers, the passengers. Ask about the skills you'll need and the skills that you'll develop. Ask how conductors balance their job with their social lives. Ask what it's like to work for specific rail companies. Ask how conductors got to where they are today.
    • If you ride a train, try to take the opportunity to speak to the conductor. Say, "Do you have a minute? I'm interested in becoming a conductor myself, and I was wondering if you had any tips."
    • Read online forums about the train industry, and read the personal accounts of past and present conductors. Don't be afraid to reach out to conductors for more information--even if you're just asking questions through a forum. You may find that many veteran conductors are happy to share their expertise with you.
  2. Understand what the job entails. Train conductors are responsible for the train, the freight, the passengers, and the crew. If you're working on a passenger train, daily tasks will include:
    • Checking that the carriages are clean before the start of a journey;
    • Making sure equipment, doors, and controls are working properly;
    • Walking through carriages during the journey, checking tickets and travel documents;
    • Answering passengers' questions about routes, arrival times and connections;
    • Making announcements over the public address system;
    • Making sure passengers get on and off the train safely;
    • Dealing with unexpected delays or emergencies--for example, a passenger falling ill;
    • Writing reports detailing any delays or incidents that occur during each journey.[1]
  3. Understand the costs and the benefits. You'll get to travel extensively, as a conductor, and you'll make a solid living--but the train life can be lonely, and your family life may suffer if you need to spend days at a time away from home.
    • You can make more than $80,000 a year working as a train conductor--nearly $39/hour. In May 2011, the lowest-paid train conductors were making below $39,120, or $18.84/hour. The average industry salary was $56,570 per year, roughly $27.20/hour.
    • Rail companies tend to provide excellent benefits and retirement packages.
    • You'll get to travel the country and see a new place every day--and get paid to do it. You'll learn the ins and outs of the train industry. You'll get to spend a majority of your days riding trains around.
    • If you're working as a conductor on a passenger train, you'll interact with passengers on a daily basis, assuring their safety and meeting their needs. If you work on a freight train, you'll be primarily dealing with the driver, the yard workers, and the freight itself; if you're the type of person that needs to be around people all the time, you may grow lonely from freight life.
  4. Understand the track ahead. If you don't have any prior experience in the transport industry, you will likely need to start out working on the train crew as a switch-person or a brake person.[2]
    • Switch  people and brake people work for rail lines as on-the-ground traffic control. These are entry-level positions: you can get a job with Union Pacific, for instance, without any prior railway experience.
    • As a train crew member, you'll be assigned to a specific hub--a major city--and this will determine the geographic region in which you work. You may be required to travel, and you may be assigned work at any location within that geographic hub.
    • Switch person and brake-person positions directly lead to becoming a conductor or a locomotive engineer (train driver). If you're serious about the industry, consider taking a job in a rail yard and working your way up to a conductor position.
    • In the train industry, many assignments are given in accordance with seniority. Work hard, be patient, and make connections.
    • If you do apply directly to a conductor position, and you are qualified, most rail companies will pay to train you for the job. If you're at the top tier of applicants, depending on the rail company, you may be able to become a train conductor within as little as three months.

Applying for the Job

  1. Prepare a resume. You'll need a strong resume to apply to a railway company, and experience in the transportation industry will work in your favor.
    • Be honest about your qualifications. Make sure that your past employment information, criminal history, and driving history are as accurate as possible. Train conductors must pass a mandatory background check; count on the check to uncover any skeletons in your closet, provided that they're on your public record.
    • Your resume and cover letter should demonstrate that you are responsible, accountable, and able to work well under pressure.
    • The only requirements are a high school diploma (or GED equivalent) and 2-3 years of general work experience (or college). However, your resume will look much stronger if you have worked in the transportation or safety industries; experience as a bus driver, tram driver, or ferry pilot will especially qualify you.
    • Any experience with operations--in the transport industry, the food industry, retail, etc.-- will work in your favor.
  2. Apply for the job. Search for job openings--you can search through third-party job-placement websites, or you can inquire directly with specific railroads. Bear in mind that unless you have past experience, you may need to get in on the ground level as a yard worker or a train crew member.
    • Most of the major railroads in the United States are constantly hiring conductors. The job market for train conductors is expected to expand by 5% by 2020, driven largely by population growth and global trade along with a flux of aging, retiring conductors. In the U.S., however, a lack of new railway construction stunts the growth of the industry.
    • Apply for as many positions as you can. If you want to work in a particular region, apply to railroads that run through that region. Check a company's website for information about where the lines run.
    • Keep in mind that safety plays an enormous role in the duties of a train conductor. Again, prior experience as a bus driver or a tram driver will work strongly in your favor.
  3. Attend a hiring event and do well on the employment test. If you meet the qualifications for a specific railroad, the company will invite you to a hiring event, where you will take a pre-employment test.
    • The test typically includes reading comprehension and simple mechanical problems. Even if you're proficient in these skills, it never hurts to brush up before an important test.
    • Dress as you would for any professional job interview. Men, wear a button-down and a tie. Women, wear a work-appropriate dress or pantsuit.
  4. Ace the interview. If you do well on the hiring test, you'll be interviewed individually. If you ace your interview, you will receive a conditional job offer.
    • At the interview, be polite, composed, and professional. Display that you are good with people and that you can remain calm under pressure. If you have any prior transportation experience--such as working as a bus driver--this is the time to talk it up.
    • If you receive a conditional job offer, then congratulations: you're almost hired! You will need to pass a medical exam and a background check. The medical exam includes a drug test, so aspiring Casey Jones's should "watch their speed" during the application process. In the transportation industry, more-so than most industries, it's important that employees are clear-headed, responsible, and able to respond quickly to emergencies.
  5. Pass the medical exam, the drug screen, and the background check. If you do, you will receive a job offer.
    • Congratulations! You will now attend train conductor school at your railroad's training facility, and you will be starting your new career.

Completing Job Training and Becoming a Conductor

  1. Ask the hiring managers at your new railroad company about the job training procedure.
    • Some train companies require new conductors to complete a 5-6 week training program--often offered through a community college or technical school. These programs often lead to a certificate in railroad conductor technology. Courses in the program usually cover the rules of operation, safety, signals, rail equipment, and train conductor duties.[3]
    • For the most part, hands-on experience in the railroad industry is considered to be the strongest preparation for a conductor job.
  2. Patiently complete any on-the-job training.
    • Once you've been hired, trained, and assigned to a location or "hub", many rail companies will require that you undergo 8-22 weeks of additional on-the-job training at your assigned location.[4]
    • If you do well, the on-the-job "training" period may end much sooner than is possible--so listen, learn, and try to absorb as much information as you can about the industry.
  3. Take it seriously. If you wind up working full-time as a train conductor, you may be responsible for the safety and comfort of hundreds of passengers each day. You may responsible for thousands--or millions--of dollars worth of cargo.
    • Be responsible and be accountable. Show up for work when you're called, even though the hours may be haphazard; refrain from substance use, and make sure that you get plenty of sleep. Treat the job as an honor, not just a way to pay the bills.
    • Respect your passengers. Times may come when you must be stern; you may even need to throw someone off of a train if they don't have a ticket or they're causing a ruckus. However, if you're working on a passenger train, you'll work closely with these people day in and day out--so be upbeat, be polite, and be patient.
    • Respect your elders. Many railroad employees have been working the lines for decades. It will do you well to listen and learn from those who have been in the industry longer than you.


  • Prepare a resume with a strong emphasis on safety.
  • Make sure that you're honest on the application. The mandatory background check will uncover anything you try to hide.
  • Be patient; the hiring process may take a few months. No news is good news.
  • Be sure to practice your booming conductor voice: "ALL ABOARD!"

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