Locomotive Engineers

This is a sub-career of Railroad Worker

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Job Outlook:
Little or no change
Education: High school diploma or equivalent
High: $89,060.00
Average: $73,850.00
Average: $35.50

What they do:

Drive electric, diesel-electric, steam, or gas-turbine-electric locomotives to transport passengers or freight. Interpret train orders, electronic or manual signals, and railroad rules and regulations.

On the job, you would:

  • Interpret train orders, signals, or railroad rules and regulations that govern the operation of locomotives.
  • Confer with conductors or traffic control center personnel via radiophones to issue or receive information concerning stops, delays, or oncoming trains.
  • Receive starting signals from conductors and use controls such as throttles or air brakes to drive electric, diesel-electric, steam, or gas turbine-electric locomotives.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Railroad workers must be able to communicate with other crewmembers, dispatchers, and passengers to ensure safety and keep the trains on schedule.

Customer-service skills. Conductors on passenger trains ensure travelers’ comfort, make announcements, and answer questions. They must be courteous and patient, especially when dealing with unruly or upset passengers.

Hand-eye coordination. Locomotive engineers must operate controls based, in part, on their observations of the train’s surroundings.

Hearing ability. To ensure safety on the train and in the rail yard, railroad workers must be able to hear warning signals and communicate with other employees.

Leadership skills. On some trains, a conductor directs a crew. In rail yards, yardmasters oversee other workers.

Mechanical skills. Railroad workers should be able to adjust equipment when it does not work properly. Some rail yard engineers spend most of their time fixing broken equipment or conducting mechanical inspections.

Physical strength. Rail yard engineers may have to lift heavy equipment.

Visual ability. To drive a train, locomotive engineers need excellent eyesight, peripheral vision, and color vision.


A3 Your Strengths Importance

Characteristics of this Career

84% Attention to Detail  -  Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
82% Dependability  -  Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
80% Self-Control  -  Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
79% Integrity  -  Job requires being honest and ethical.
76% Cooperation  -  Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
74% Stress Tolerance  -  Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
72% Concern for Others  -  Job requires being sensitive to others' needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.
72% Initiative  -  Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.
70% Achievement/Effort  -  Job requires establishing and maintaining personally challenging achievement goals and exerting effort toward mastering tasks.
70% Adaptability/Flexibility  -  Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.
69% Analytical Thinking  -  Job requires analyzing information and using logic to address work-related issues and problems.
68% Independence  -  Job requires developing one's own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.
67% Persistence  -  Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.
67% Leadership  -  Job requires a willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.
A3 Your Strengths Importance


100% Realistic  -  Work involves designing, building, or repairing of equipment, materials, or structures, engaging in physical activity, or working outdoors. Realistic occupations are often associated with engineering, mechanics and electronics, construction, woodworking, transportation, machine operation, agriculture, animal services, physical or manual labor, athletics, or protective services.
61% Conventional  -  Work involves following procedures and regulations to organize information or data, typically in a business setting. Conventional occupations are often associated with office work, accounting, mathematics/statistics, information technology, finance, or human resources.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Values of the Work Environment

83% Support  -  Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees. Corresponding needs are Company Policies, Supervision: Human Relations and Supervision: Technical.


A3 Your Strengths Importance

Abilities | Cognitive, Physical, Personality

85% Far Vision  -  The ability to see details at a distance.
75% Response Orientation  -  The ability to choose quickly between two or more movements in response to two or more different signals (lights, sounds, pictures). It includes the speed with which the correct response is started with the hand, foot, or other body part.
75% Control Precision  -  The ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust the controls of a machine or a vehicle to exact positions.
75% Selective Attention  -  The ability to concentrate on a task over a period of time without being distracted.
72% Near Vision  -  The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
72% Problem Sensitivity  -  The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.
72% Depth Perception  -  The ability to judge which of several objects is closer or farther away from you, or to judge the distance between you and an object.
72% Reaction Time  -  The ability to quickly respond (with the hand, finger, or foot) to a signal (sound, light, picture) when it appears.
69% Oral Comprehension  -  The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
69% Oral Expression  -  The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
69% Perceptual Speed  -  The ability to quickly and accurately compare similarities and differences among sets of letters, numbers, objects, pictures, or patterns. The things to be compared may be presented at the same time or one after the other. This ability also includes comparing a presented object with a remembered object.
69% Multilimb Coordination  -  The ability to coordinate two or more limbs (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while sitting, standing, or lying down. It does not involve performing the activities while the whole body is in motion.
66% Rate Control  -  The ability to time your movements or the movement of a piece of equipment in anticipation of changes in the speed and/or direction of a moving object or scene.
66% Flexibility of Closure  -  The ability to identify or detect a known pattern (a figure, object, word, or sound) that is hidden in other distracting material.
66% Information Ordering  -  The ability to arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).
66% Auditory Attention  -  The ability to focus on a single source of sound in the presence of other distracting sounds.

Job Details

Monitor equipment gauges or displays to ensure proper operation.
Monitor surroundings to detect potential hazards.
Receive information or instructions for performing work assignments.
Operate locomotives or other rail vehicles.
Receive information or instructions for performing work assignments.
Communicate with others to coordinate vehicle movement.
Operate locomotives or other rail vehicles.
Respond to transportation emergencies.
Monitor operational quality or safety.
Signal others to coordinate vehicle movement.
Monitor availability of equipment or supplies.
Prepare accident or incident reports.
Monitor availability of equipment or supplies.
Inspect locomotives or other railroad equipment.
Operate locomotives or other rail vehicles.
Monitor loading processes to ensure they are performed properly.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Attributes & Percentage of Time Spent

97% Sounds, Noise Levels Are Distracting or Uncomfortable  -  How often does this job require working exposed to sounds and noise levels that are distracting or uncomfortable?
96% Wear Common Protective or Safety Equipment such as Safety Shoes, Glasses, Gloves, Hearing Protection, Hard Hats, or Life Jackets  -  How much does this job require wearing common protective or safety equipment such as safety shoes, glasses, gloves, hard hats or life jackets?
95% Face-to-Face Discussions  -  How often do you have to have face-to-face discussions with individuals or teams in this job?
95% Responsible for Others' Health and Safety  -  How much responsibility is there for the health and safety of others in this job?
94% Work With Work Group or Team  -  How important is it to work with others in a group or team in this job?
94% In an Enclosed Vehicle or Equipment  -  How often does this job require working in a closed vehicle or equipment (e.g., car)?
90% Spend Time Using Your Hands to Handle, Control, or Feel Objects, Tools, or Controls  -  How much does this job require using your hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools or controls?
90% Contact With Others  -  How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others (face-to-face, by telephone, or otherwise) in order to perform it?
87% Importance of Being Exact or Accurate  -  How important is being very exact or highly accurate in performing this job?
87% Telephone  -  How often do you have telephone conversations in this job?
86% Very Hot or Cold Temperatures  -  How often does this job require working in very hot (above 90 F degrees) or very cold (below 32 F degrees) temperatures?
86% Outdoors, Exposed to Weather  -  How often does this job require working outdoors, exposed to all weather conditions?
85% Time Pressure  -  How often does this job require the worker to meet strict deadlines?
84% Spend Time Sitting  -  How much does this job require sitting?
84% Freedom to Make Decisions  -  How much decision making freedom, without supervision, does the job offer?
84% Frequency of Decision Making  -  How frequently is the worker required to make decisions that affect other people, the financial resources, and/or the image and reputation of the organization?
84% Exposed to Contaminants  -  How often does this job require working exposed to contaminants (such as pollutants, gases, dust or odors)?
84% Coordinate or Lead Others  -  How important is it to coordinate or lead others in accomplishing work activities in this job?
77% Consequence of Error  -  How serious would the result usually be if the worker made a mistake that was not readily correctable?
75% Exposed to Hazardous Equipment  -  How often does this job require exposure to hazardous equipment?
74% Impact of Decisions on Co-workers or Company Results  -  What results do your decisions usually have on other people or the image or reputation or financial resources of your employer?
74% Exposed to Whole Body Vibration  -  How often does this job require exposure to whole body vibration (e.g., operate a jackhammer)?
73% Spend Time Making Repetitive Motions  -  How much does this job require making repetitive motions?
72% Structured versus Unstructured Work  -  To what extent is this job structured for the worker, rather than allowing the worker to determine tasks, priorities, and goals?
71% Responsibility for Outcomes and Results  -  How responsible is the worker for work outcomes and results of other workers?
68% Extremely Bright or Inadequate Lighting  -  How often does this job require working in extremely bright or inadequate lighting conditions?
65% Importance of Repeating Same Tasks  -  How important is repeating the same physical activities (e.g., key entry) or mental activities (e.g., checking entries in a ledger) over and over, without stopping, to performing this job?
81% Duration of Typical Work Week  -  Number of hours typically worked in one week.
A3 Your Strengths Importance

Tasks & Values

91% Controlling Machines and Processes  -  Using either control mechanisms or direct physical activity to operate machines or processes (not including computers or vehicles).
88% Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events  -  Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
87% Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Materials  -  Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.
86% Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment  -  Running, maneuvering, navigating, or driving vehicles or mechanized equipment, such as forklifts, passenger vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft.
83% Getting Information  -  Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
81% Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards  -  Using relevant information and individual judgment to determine whether events or processes comply with laws, regulations, or standards.
79% Monitoring Processes, Materials, or Surroundings  -  Monitoring and reviewing information from materials, events, or the environment, to detect or assess problems.
78% Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates  -  Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
73% Processing Information  -  Compiling, coding, categorizing, calculating, tabulating, auditing, or verifying information or data.
72% Making Decisions and Solving Problems  -  Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
69% Analyzing Data or Information  -  Identifying the underlying principles, reasons, or facts of information by breaking down information or data into separate parts.
69% Estimating the Quantifiable Characteristics of Products, Events, or Information  -  Estimating sizes, distances, and quantities; or determining time, costs, resources, or materials needed to perform a work activity.
66% Handling and Moving Objects  -  Using hands and arms in handling, installing, positioning, and moving materials, and manipulating things.

What Railroad Workers Do

Train engineers and operators
Locomotive engineers use a variety of controls to operate a train.

Railroad workers ensure that passenger and freight trains run on time and travel safely. Some workers drive trains, some coordinate the activities of the trains, and others operate signals and switches in the rail yard.


Railroad workers typically do the following:

  • Check the mechanical condition of locomotives and make adjustments when necessary
  • Document issues with a train that require further inspection
  • Operate locomotive engines within or between stations

Freight trains move billions of tons of goods around the country to ports, where the goods are shipped around the world. Passenger trains transport millions of travelers to destinations around the country. Railroad workers are essential to keeping freight and passenger trains running properly.

Workers in railroad occupations frequently collaborate. Locomotive engineers travel with conductors and, sometimes, with brake operators. Locomotive engineers and conductors are in constant contact and keep each other informed of any changes in the train’s condition. Signal and switch operators communicate with both locomotive and rail yard engineers to make sure that trains arrive at the correct destination. Workers in all of these occupations are in contact with dispatchers, who direct them on where to go and what to do.

The following are examples of types of railroad workers:

Conductors travel on both freight and passenger trains and coordinate activities of the train crew. On passenger trains, they ensure travelers’ safety and comfort. They also check passengers’ tickets and make announcements to keep passengers informed. On freight trains, they oversee the secure loading and unloading of cargo.

Locomotive engineers drive freight or passenger trains between stations. They drive long-distance trains and commuter trains, but not subway trains. They monitor systems that measure the train’s operation, such as speed and air pressure. Locomotive engineers use a variety of controls, such as throttles and airbrakes, to operate the train and ensure that the locomotive runs smoothly. They observe the track for obstructions to ensure safety.

When driving freight trains, engineers must be aware of the goods their train is carrying.

Railroad brake, signal, and switch operators and locomotive firers maintain and monitor equipment to ensure that the trains run safely.

Brake operators help couple and uncouple train cars. Some travel with the train as part of the crew.

Signal operators install and maintain the signals along tracks and in rail yard. Signals are important in preventing accidents because they allow increased communication between trains and dispatchers.

Switch operators monitor the track switches in rail yards. These switches allow trains to move between tracks and ensure trains are heading in the right direction.

Locomotive firers are sometimes part of a train crew and typically monitor tracks and train instruments. They look for equipment that is dragging, obstacles on the tracks, and other potential safety problems. Few trains still use firers, because their work has been automated or is now done by a locomotive engineer or conductor.

Rail yard engineers operate train engines within the rail yard. They move locomotives between tracks to keep the trains organized and on schedule. Sometimes, rail yard engineers are called hostlers and drive locomotives to and from maintenance shops or prepare them for the locomotive engineer. Some use remote locomotive technology to move freight cars within the rail yards.

Yardmasters manage schedules and coordinate the activities of workers in the rail yard. They review shipping records of freight trains and ensure that trains are carrying the correct material before leaving the yard. Yardmasters also switch train traffic to a certain section of the line to allow other inbound and outbound trains to get around. They tell yard engineers where to move cars to fit the planned configuration or to load freight.

Not all rail yards use yardmasters. In rail yards that do not have yardmasters, a conductor typically performs yardmaster duties.

Work Environment

Railroad workers held about 78,600 jobs in 2022. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up railroad workers was distributed as follows:

Railroad conductors and yardmasters 34,200
Locomotive engineers 29,700
Railroad brake, signal, and switch operators and locomotive firers 12,200
Rail yard engineers, dinkey operators, and hostlers 2,600

The largest employers of railroad workers were as follows:

Rail transportation 83%

Conductors on passenger trains generally work in cleaner, more comfortable conditions than conductors on freight trains. However, conductors on passenger trains sometimes must respond to upset or unruly passengers.

Locomotive engineers work in climate-controlled train cabs that are generally large enough to move around in comfortably. However, engineers may need to adjust to the loud noise or frequent vibrations when the train is in motion.

Railroad operators, rail yard engineers, and related workers spend most of their time outside, regardless of the weather.

Injuries and Illnesses

Railroad conductors and yardmasters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Common injuries include sprains, strains, and bruises.

Work Schedules

Because trains operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, railroad workers’ schedules may vary to include nights, weekends, and holidays. Most work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week. Federal regulations require a minimum number of rest hours for train operators.

Locomotive engineers and conductors whose trains travel long routes may be away from home for long periods. Those who work on passenger trains with short routes generally have more predictable schedules. Workers on some freight trains have irregular schedules.

For engineers and conductors, seniority (the number of years on the job) usually dictates who works the most desired shifts. Some engineers and conductors, called extra-board, are hired for temporary work only when a railroad needs extra or substitute staff on a certain route.

Getting Started

High School Diploma - or the equivalent (for example, GED)
Post-Secondary Certificate - awarded for training completed after high school (for example, in agriculture or natural resources, computer services, personal or culinary services, engineering technologies, healthcare, construction trades, mechanic and repair technologies, or precision production)

How to Become a Railroad Worker

Train engineers and operators
All train employees need mechanical ability.

Workers in railroad occupations typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and several months of on-the-job training.


Rail companies typically require workers to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. However, employers may prefer to hire workers who have postsecondary education, such as coursework, a certificate, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.


Locomotive engineers typically receive 3 or more months of on-the-job training before they can operate a train on their own. Typically, this training involves riding with an experienced engineer. In addition, railroad companies provide continuing education so that engineers can maintain their skills.

Most railroad companies have up to 12 months of on-the-job training for conductors and yardmasters. Amtrak (the passenger train company) and some of the larger freight railroad companies operate their own training programs. Small and regional railroads may send conductors to a central training facility or a community college. Yardmasters may be sent to training programs or may be trained by an experienced yardmaster.

Rail yard engineers and signal and switch operators also receive on-the-job training, typically through a company training program. This program may last a few weeks to a few months, depending on the company and the complexity of the job. The program may include both classroom instruction and hands-on training under the direction of an experienced employee.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Most locomotive engineers first work as conductors or yardmasters for several years.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Locomotive engineers and conductors must be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The certifications, conducted by the railroad that employs them, involve a written knowledge test, a skills test, and a supervisor determination that the engineer or conductor understands all physical aspects of the particular route on which he or she will be operating.

Engineers who change routes must be recertified for the new route. Even engineers and conductors who do not switch routes must be recertified every few years.

At the end of the certification process, the engineer must pass a vision and hearing test.

Conductors who operate on national, regional, or commuter railroads are also required to become certified. To receive certification, new conductors must pass a test that has been designed and administered by the railroad and approved by the FRA.

In addition, railroad workers must be at least 21 years of age and pass a background test. They must also pass random drug and alcohol screenings over the course of their employment.


Rail yard engineers, switch operators, and signal operators may advance to become conductors or yardmasters.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of railroad workers is projected to show little or no change from 2022 to 2032.

Despite limited employment growth, about 6,500 openings for railroad workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


The expected increase in intermodal freight activity—the shipment of goods through multiple transportation modes—may support demand for railroad workers. However, railroads’ efforts to operate more efficiently, such as by deploying automated systems, are likely to limit employment.

Furthermore, a decline in the use of coal, which historically has been the largest commodity moved by rail, may decrease the demand for its transportation by rail.

Contacts for More Information

For more information about training programs, certifications, and job opportunities in rail transportation, visit

National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)

Association of American Railroads (AAR)

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)


For career videos on railroad workers, visit

Locomotive Firers

Locomotive Engineers

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Information provided by CareerFitter, LLC and other sources.

Sections of this page includes information from the O*NET 27.3 Database by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license.

CareerFitter, LLC has modified all or some of this information. USDOL/ETA has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.