You don't need any schooling to become a switchman or conductor or most any other rr job. There are schools such as the Modoc Rail Acedemy in California where you can go to learn how to become an engineer or conductor, ect... Most railroads do on-the-job training for those jobs, but if you want to work for a Class 1, going to a place like Modoc might be a good idea (it is still optional).
On most railroads, like BNSF, you have to become a conductor before you can become an engineer. Some railroads, such as Montana Rail Link don't have conductors, instead they have 2 engineers share the duties of engineer & conductor. With MRL you have to become a switchman ( basically a yard engineer) before you become an engineer.
From what I've heard from the MRL employees I've talked to, doing seasonal track work is a great way to "get you foot in the door" for future rail jobs. If you have done seasonal track work & you apply to be a switchman, you application will carry lots more weight than an application from a person that hasn't.
you need to be able to lift a 70-80lb. knuckle coupler. You should also be able not only to lift a knuckle, but carry it the length of the train, also. General point: BE IN SHAPE!
If you want a job on the train, such as engineer, be prepared for long & odd hours. Regular hours? They don't exist on the railroad. They will call you up whenever they need a train crew, whether it's 11:00 AM or 1:00 AM. You will have to work alot of the night-shifts & holiday shifts & stuff at first when you're low on the seniority list. As you gain seniority, you will have more control over your hours & be able to choose them more. Sometimes you can be away for several days at a time. If you don't want go to work at 3:00 AM, then the railroad isn't for you.
Railroad pay is good. Here's what MRL pays: $40,000 per year as a switchman, then $60,000-$90,000 per year as an engineer.
Even as an Engineer, you will still need to be able to repair minor mechanical difficulties like broken knuckles (couplers) and air hoses, loose or dragging banding, tarps, cables, ect…
The more knowledge the better! Even if you're going to become a conductor or engineer, it still pays to know a bit about the engine & stuff, nothing in depth, just some basic knowledge can come in handy sometimes.
You can get tired working the night shifts. A railroad rule does say that if both crew members are tired that they can notify dispatch & pull the train into a siding so they can get a little shut-eye.
Check the railroads' websites for job listings & details specific to that railroad.
In addition to great pay, you also get great benifits. Sound pretty good, huh? But don't forget: in turn for that high pay & good benifits, you have to be on call pretty much 24/7 any time of the day or, any day of the week, holiday or no holiday, weekend or weekday. They give you about a 1-2 hours to get ready & get down to the station.
Being in charge of a 1 1/2 mile train is a HUGE responsibility. It demands your full & complete attention. It also means that you MUST be 100?RUG FREE. Railroads can & are very strict when it comes to this. You also need to keep your eyes out for signals- green meens that the track is clear/ proceed at speed; yellow, or aproach means that you can keep going but the next signal is going to be red, or restricted, which means STOP & often time to pull into a siding. Other things to keep an eye out for: people or animals on or near the track, stalled vehicles on the tracks, & stupid people that try to beat the train across the tracks.
Here's a couple railroads' websites:
BNSF's website is www.BNSF.com
Montana Rail Link's website is www.montanarail.com
Answered By: Empire Builder - 6/1/2007