What Do Locomotive Engineers Do?
At the head of every train is the locomotive engineer, in charge of driving trains along their routes to transport both cargo and passengers. Depending on the job, you may operate anything from modern electric to old-fashioned steam engines, interpreting signals and following the appropriate rules and regulations of the tracks to safely convey the train to its destination.Though the railroad industry is growing in America, the number of engineers is slowly declining due to changes in operation and schedules. However, despite a predicted 4% drop in the total number of jobs, over 1,100 engineer positions are expected to open annually nationwide.
Locomotive Engineers Skills and Abilities
In order to safely operate a train, locomotive engineers must be well-versed in public safety and rail transportation laws and codes. You have to be skilled in operating equipment and monitoring it to ensure it’s working properly. Good eyesight including depth perception is necessary for you to observe possible obstructions on the track, and you must be able to react swiftly and assertively when problems arise, with quick physical reflexes and effective responses to sudden stimulus.
Locomotive Engineers Duties
As a locomotive engineer, you’ll be driving different types of train engines on tracks in many locations, pulling freight or passenger trains. When running the locomotive, you’ll be constantly monitoring the gauges and meters tracking the engine’s operation while simultaneously observing the track to be sure there are no obstructions ahead that the train might collide with. You’ll receive and interpret orders and instructions along with electronic and manual railroad signals, and will confer via radio with conductors and traffic control over matters such as stops, delays and oncoming trains. When necessary you’ll respond to breakdowns and other emergency conditions, following the appropriate procedures and safety regulations.Before and after runs, you’ll inspect your locomotives for mechanical problems and verify that fuel and other supplies are stocked, as well as logbooks and any documentation that must be available to the crew. You may assist in moving engines in railyards, conduct brake tests at shunting stations and report problems encountered on trips such as broken signals or accidents. When driving a freight train you may be responsible for monitoring the loading and unloading of cargo to ensure nothing is damaged. Locomotive engineers are also hired to drive special rail-detector cars which are used to locate potential flaws and damage to the rails.
Locomotive Engineers Tools and Technology
Engineers can operate a variety of different types of train engines, both passenger and freight, including:
- Electric locomotives
- Diesel locomotives
- Steam locomotives
You also will use various tools to operate and maintain the locomotives, such as claw hammers, pliers, wrenches and screwdrivers. In railyards you’ll use car couplers, and while driving a train you may use both manual and automatic rail switches. To communicate with stations and train personnel you’ll employ two-way radios, and use onboard computer systems to monitor engines and rail traffic.
Education and Training for Locomotive Engineers
Generally you need a high school degree or equivalent for most engineer jobs. Less than five years of previous experience in an engine cab is also usually required. Beginner positions will provide several months of on-the-job training, but instruction or certification in railway transportation can be helpful.
Locomotive Engineers Salary
As a moderately skilled profession, the average locomotive engineer makes around $54,000 a year. Beginner and low-level jobs offer around $40,000, while depending on the position and location, the top engineers make more than $77,000.
Locomotive Engineers Jobs by Geography
Railroads stretch across the country, and there are potentially jobs wherever train centers are located, with the most positions in transportation hubs. Many jobs are found in the Northeast, Midwest, and California and Texas, while higher-paying locomotive engineer positions are in areas with greater demand like Washington, Mississippi and Kentucky.