How to Become a Locomotive Engineer

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Rail transportation is an important way of transporting a variety of passengers and freight. Trained professionals are required to operate large trains to many different locations. This is the job of locomotive engineers.


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What does a locomotive engineer do?

Locomotive engineers operate trains for a variety of purposes. They commonly maneuver trains that are diesel-electric and some that are battery-powered. They operate the controls and monitor the speed, battery voltage, and air pressure. They check the mechanical condition before each trip and make any minor repairs or adjustments. They are also responsible for documenting any issues the need more in depth inspection. Locomotive engineers must always ensure the safe operation of the train and follow the procedures and rules of the railway company. They have a solid understanding of the physical characteristics of the railroad, passenger stations, and the train itself. They are also responsible for handling train signals, orders, and obstructions on tracks. Locomotive engineers often collaborate with the conductor for the efficient operation of the train.

What kind of training does a locomotive engineer need?

Locomotive engineers must have a high school diploma, complete formal training programs that are approved by the Federal Railroad Administration, and receive intensive on the job training. Training programs combine classroom instruction, simulation, and hands-on experience in locomotive operation. Many locomotive engineers start their career as conductors and advance into engineer positions. All states require locomotive engineers to have a Federal license to operate passenger and freight trains. Requirements include completing a formal training program, passing a hearing and vision test, and passing a railroad operation knowledge examination. Locomotive engineers must pass periodic operational rules efficiency examinations to maintain their license.

What are the prospects for a career as a locomotive engineer?

Employment of locomotive engineers is expected to grow as fast as average for all professions, increasing 3% from 2006 to 2016 (1). The increased demand for railroad services and continuous need for train operators will drive job growth.

Job prospects should be favorable especially for locomotive engineers with extensive experience. Many job openings will arise from the need to replace locomotive engineers that retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do locomotive engineers make?

As of November 2009, the middle 50% of locomotive engineers earn annual salaries between $50,803 and $75,633. The top 10% earn annual salaries of more than $88,503 (2).

A career as a locomotive engineer is an excellent choice for individuals with a strong interest in operating large trains. Locomotive engineers must have a thorough knowledge of train operations and how function can be affected by a variety of factors. They must be in good general health and be to make quick and responsible decisions. Mechanical aptitude, manual dexterity, good concentration, and good eye-hand coordination are also desirable characteristics. Locomotive engineers must have flexible schedules and be able to work effectively without direct supervision.

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