Locomotive engineers: Salary, career path, job outlook, education and more

Locomotive engineers drive freight or passenger trains between stations. They drive long-distance trains and commuter trains, but not subway trains. Most locomotive engineers drive diesel-electric engines, although some drive locomotives powered by battery or electricity.

Engineers must be aware of the goods their train is carrying because different types of freight require different types of driving, based on the conditions of the rails. For example, a train carrying hazardous material through a snowstorm is driven differently than a train carrying coal through a mountain region.

Locomotive engineers typically do the following:

  • Monitor speed, air pressure, battery use, and other instruments to ensure that the locomotive runs smoothly
  • Observe track for obstructions, such as fallen tree branches
  • Use a variety of controls, such as throttles and airbrakes, to operate the train
  • Communicate with dispatchers over radios to get information about delays or changes in the schedule
Education Required
Rail companies typically require a high school diploma or equivalent, especially for locomotive engineers and conductors.
Training Required
Locomotive engineers generally receive 2 to 3 months of on-the-job training before they can operate a train on their own. Typically, this training involves riding with an experienced engineer who teaches them the characteristics of that particular train route.
Job Outlook
The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026: -3% (Decline)
(The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.)
Rail yard engineers, switch operators, and signal operators can advance to become conductors or yardmasters. Some conductors or yardmasters advance to become locomotive engineers.
Locomotive engineers must be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The certification, conducted by the railroad that employs them, involves a written knowledge test, a skills test, and a supervisor determining that the engineer understands all physical aspects of the particular route on which he or she will be operating.
Median pay: How much do Railroad Workers make?
$57,160 Annual Salary
$27.48 per hour

Careers for Railroad Workers

  • Coal tram drivers
  • Conductors
  • Diesel locomotive firers
  • Dinkey drivers
  • Dinkey engine firers
  • Dinkey operators
  • Engine hostlers
  • Freight brake operators
  • Freight conductors
  • Freight engineers
  • Locomotive firers
  • Locomotive switch operators
  • Passenger car conductors
  • Rail yard engineers
  • Railcar switchers
  • Railroad brake operators
  • Railroad brake, signal, or switch operators
  • Railroad engineers
  • Railroad firers
  • Railway engineers
  • Railway switch operators
  • Switch couplers
  • Train brake operators
  • Train conductors
  • Train engineers
  • Yard conductors
  • Yard hostlers
  • Yardmasters

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