Job Description for a Train Driver

Train drivers, also known as locomotive engineers, are responsible for the operation of trains that carry passengers or cargo. They work for passenger, commuter, urban transit and freight trains and may drive diesel-electric or battery-operated locomotives. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, there were 51,100 train drivers employed in the United States in 2008. Average growth is expected in the field, as many engineers are likely to retire or leave the occupation in the coming years.


Before a trip, train drivers inspect the condition of locomotives. They fix any minor issues and record problems that require further work. If there is a serious issue, they send the locomotive for repairs. Engineers may also add cars to the train before departure to accommodate larger cargo or passenger loads. Once the train is moving, drivers are responsible for controls like air brakes and throttles. They must also keep an eye on the train's speed, air pressure, battery charge and amperage. Train drivers must be aware of the train's route as well and monitor the train's condition and composition because it may be affected by the number of cars, the rail's condition and the weight of its load. A train driver's job has been changed by advances in technology, as much of the information that is required to operate locomotives is now communicated to him by telephone or computer. They may even be made aware of locomotive malfunctions by a computerised alert system.


All train drivers must be licensed by the federal government. This requires the completion of a formal engineer training course, which provides students with classroom instruction and practical experience in locomotive operation. After completing a training program, a potential train driver must pass a hearing and vision test, as well as a background check. He/she must also pass a written exam that tests railroad operation knowledge and a practical exam that requires demonstration of his skills. To maintain their licenses, train drivers must pass periodic tests on operational rules and efficiency. They are not alerted as to when the test will occur and must act or respond to certain scenarios as they would on the job.


Trains run at all hours, so drivers often work nights, early mornings, weekends and holidays. Their work weeks are often longer than 40 hours, but there are federal laws regarding necessary rest times for train crews. Experienced drivers are usually given better schedules than junior staff.


According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, median hourly wages for train drivers were £14.60 as of May 2008. Like most railroad transportation workers, train drivers are often paid by miles travelled or hours worked, whichever means higher wages. Train driver salaries are often affected by location and seniority. Many drivers also belong to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Union, which impact wages as well.

Employment Outlook

The Bureau of Labour Statistics estimates that employment for train drivers will increase by 10 per cent between 2008 and 2018, which is about as fast a rate as the average for all occupations. Job growth will mainly be due to rising fuel costs, which will make rail transportation a more attractive option for both freight and passenger transport. In addition, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 may generate more opportunities for train drivers because the law has increased the number of hours that train workers must rest between shifts. As a result, larger staffs may be needed, so qualified candidates should find engineering openings.

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About the Author

Based in New York City, Jennifer Blair has been covering all things home and garden since 2001. Her writing has appeared on, World Lifestyle, and House Logic. Blair holds a Bachelor of Arts in Writing Seminars from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

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