Train drivers, also known as locomotive engineers, ensure passengers or cargo arrive on time at train stations. They also monitor the safety of passengers and their trains by proficiently operating brakes, signals and switches used to change tracks. If you have communication and decision-making skills, as well as good vision and hearing, a career as a train driver may be just right for you.
Train drivers operate long-distance or commuter trains. These trains may be electric, diesel-electric, steam or combination gas-turbine electric. Drivers communicate with conductors and traffic-control operators via radio before departing stations, and while in transit, to obtain information about stops, delays or oncoming trains. In this role, you use various controls, including throttles and airbrakes, to operate the train and interpret all signals along the track. Monitoring speed, air pressure and battery use are prime responsibilities of the train driver. You must also adapt to all weather conditions and terrains by driving slower in snowstorms or when traveling through mountains.
Most train drivers write reports regarding any problems they encountered on their routes: accidents, unscheduled pickups, delays or signal problems. As a train driver, you also inspect your locomotive for damaged parts or equipment, and schedule repairs. If you are experienced in your field, you may train new drivers on operational procedures.
Trains run 24 hours per day, seven days per week, so drivers may work early-, mid- or late shifts. As a train driver, you must be prepared to work holidays and weekends, and spend long periods of time away from family. One-third of all locomotive engineers work at least 50 hours per week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Education and Training
Most train engineers start with high school diplomas. Training is on the job and takes two to three months under the supervision of an experienced locomotive engineer, according to the BLS. In this role, you must also become certified through the Federal Railroad Administration. The certification process is a three-part exam, including both a written knowledge and skills test. A trained locomotive engineer must also determine whether you understand all physical aspects of the route you will be operating. Train drivers must also obtain separate certifications when they get new routes.
Average Salary and Job Outlook
Locomotive engineers, or train drivers, earned average annual salaries of $52,940 as of May 2011, according to the BLS. If you're among the top 10 percent in earnings, you would make more than $79,340 per year. The top-paying states for these workers are Mississippi, West Virginia and Massachusetts -- $68,230, $67,910 and $64,970 per year, respectively. The BLS reports that jobs for locomotive engineers are only expected to increase 1 percent through the decade, which is much slower than the national average of 14 percent for all occupations.