How To Get A Railroad Job With No Experience

For some, there is nothing more exciting and mystifying than watching trains roll by or the sound of the blowing whistle as the engineer announces its passing. If you can relate, you may be wondering if you can get a railroad job without having any experience. Even in today’s modern world, the railroad industry is responsible for transporting over 40% of the US freight which makes it a great industry in which to make a living.

If you wish to fulfill your dream of working for a railroad there are many jobs available with in-house training such as:

  • Conductor
  • Crew member
  • Dispatcher
  • Engineer
  • Switchman

These and many other positions and training are available to those with no experience in the railroad industry. 

 To learn more about jobs available on the railroad and how you can enjoy a lifelong career in the railroad industry with little to no prior experience continue reading for helpful information.

railroad careers
Jonathan Lee

Why People Make Working for the Railroad a Lifetime Career

Aside from the sheer awesomeness that comes along with working on or alongside locomotives, there are multiple reasons why people choose to make working for a railroad company a lifelong career.

The following list highlights some of the advantages that motivate people to dedicate their lives to the rails and the behemoth locomotives that travel along them.

  • A great opportunity to travel and see the country
  • A high school diploma is generally the minimum educational requirement
  • Competitive salaries that increase with education and experience
  • Freedom to work without a boss or supervisor micromanaging your tasks
  • Great benefits and retirement packages
  • Most positions can be obtained with on-the-job-training
  • Not being stuck in one place every day
  • On-the-job-training with opportunity for advancement
  • The chance to fulfill a childhood dream
  • The chance to meet new people and make lifelong connections
  • The chance to operate and/or work on one of the coolest modes of transportation
  • There is always something new and different to see or experience on every trip

Although there can be drawbacks to any occupation, those who work in the railroad industry generally agree that the pros greatly outweigh the cons.

They (railroad workers) say if you stick with the company and work hard you will have a great retirement to fall back on when it comes time to put your feet up.

There are different classes of railroads and they are all valuable players in the world of transportation. The next section will clarify the differences in the classes for a better understanding.

no experience railroad jobs
Jonathan Lee

Understanding Railroad Company Classification

When it comes to choosing a railroad to work for you have to understand that there are different classes of railroad companies. One class is not necessarily better than the other; they are just different and serve different purposes.

Knowing what defines each class and how they operate can help you decide which branch of the railroad you may like to work for. Railroads are classified by the amount of money they produce which is referred to as operating freight revenue.

The following list breaks down each class from the highest to lowest freight revenue produced.

Class I

Railroad companies in this class must produce an operating freight revenue of at least 447.6 million dollars or more. The seven railroad companies that fall into this category are as follows:

  • BNSF Railway™
  • Canadian National Railway™
  • Canadian Pacific Railway™
  • CSX Transportation™
  • Kansas City Southern Railway™
  • Norfolk Southern Railway™
  • Union Pacific Railroad Company™

It is not surprising that class I railroad companies are responsible for employing over 70% of US railroad workers due to the fact that class I trains travel along a staggering 70% of the tracks in the US. If you happen to get stopped at a train crossing and see a super long train pass it is likely that it will fall into the class I category.

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Todd and Jack Humphrey

Class II

A class II railroad is categorized as a regional railway and generates an operating freight revenue of 35.8 million dollars up to 447.5 million dollars. These railroad companies are specific to certain regions of the US as compared to class I railroad companies that travel everywhere in the country.

Class III

Last but certainly not least class III railroads also known as short-line railways will generate 35.8 million dollars or less in operating freight revenue. Although these lines are not as monetarily productive as the other classes short-line trains are still an important part of keeping this country moving and well supplied.

Without regional and short-line railroads many businesses and consumers would not be able to afford to ship their larger cargo or get cargo from one class I railroad to another. Essentially these smaller railroads are what connect everything together.

train crew
Jeff Hampton

Abundant Supply of Regional and Short-Line Railroads

As mentioned above there are seven major class I railroad companies that travel across the US and from Canada to Mexico however there are over 500 regional and short-line railroad companies which would be difficult to list in this article. Just know that there are no shortages of opportunities when it comes to working for a railroad.

Continue reading for helpful tips on how you can gain employment with a railroad company.

Tips for Landing a Railroad Job

If you are not sure what a railroad is looking for in an employee peruse the following list for things that can help you land the job you’ve been waiting for.

Don’t Have Tunnel Vision

When applying for a job with a railroad company it is important to consider all of your options. Don’t get stuck on applying only to class I railroads, be open-minded and consider all of your options.

As mentioned above, there are over 500 regional and short-line railways in the US which accounts for approximately 30% of the railways.

That’s nothing to sneeze at and if applying to a smaller railroad company in a more regionalized area you are likely to be spending more time at home than away because you won’t have to travel as far away every day.

conrail train
Todd and Jack Humphrey

Education is Key

Even though railroad companies provide on-the-job training the more education you have prior to applying for a job the better off you will be in the long run.

If you have a general idea of what sort of railroad job you would like it is a good idea to take some vocational classes to give yourself an edge on other people applying who may not be as experienced.

The more training you have under your belt the faster you can advance in your desired field and the more you will be paid.

Know Who is Asking the Questions

If you are fortunate enough to receive an invitation to interview with one or more of the railroad companies you have applied to be sure to research each company before attending the interview.

The more knowledgeable you are about the company and how they operate the more likely you are to be asked back for a second interview. Knowing about the company that is interviewing you also shows them that you are serious and ready to make a commitment.

Mechanical, Electrical, and General Maintenance Skills

Many railroad jobs require that you have mechanical, electrical, or general maintenance skills. This is another situation where the more you know before you apply for the job the better prepared you will be. It is easier to learn a new job if you already have a basic understanding of how things work and what needs to be done to fix them.

yellow train
Todd and Jack Humphrey

Patience is a Virtue – Don’t Be Too Quick to Give Up

When applying for a railroad position, it is necessary to be very patient. Oftentimes it will be five or six months before an applicant will hear back from the company.

Don’t give up because you haven’t heard from the company you wanted to hear from yet, just be prepared for when they do call.

Professionalism Matters – Service With a Smile

Having good customer service skills and being able to work with others peacefully is a big deal, especially when working for a railroad. You will encounter people from all walks of life and have to follow directions from your superiors during busy or stressful times.

Railroad companies look for people who are well composed and have a good demeanor, especially those who will be dealing directly with the public.

Good Work Ethics and Loyalty Go a Long Way

Working for a railroad company is a big responsibility. Essentially you are responsible for people’s lives if you have a job that involves operating the trains or maintaining the tracks. You can’t slack off one day because you didn’t sleep well and not fix a broken rail.

You have to be able to do the task at hand regardless of how you may be feeling. Someone that is hardworking and loyal is an important quality that railroad employers look for in new candidates.

Now that you have some tips on how to get a job with a railroad company continue reading to learn about the different types of jobs offered and which ones you can try with no experience.

coal train
Jeff Hampton

Working on the Railroad – Jobs That Can Last a Lifetime

It takes a lot of well-trained people working seamlessly together to keep the railroad operating smoothly. The railroad industry knows what an integral part it plays in the world of transportation.

The railroad is carrying excited passengers who are taking cross-country trips, busy commuters trying to get to their daily grind, and freight cars bringing much-needed supplies around the country.

The general population underestimates how much the US and its bordering countries rely on its railroad system and the hard-working people who keep it moving day and night. That is why they (railroad companies) take such good care of their employees.

For the sake of smooth operation and safety, railroad companies are diligent when it comes to ensuring that the people they select to be a part of their team:

  • Are well compensated for their time and efforts over the course of their career and receive a healthy retirement package
  • Received the proper training and continue to update their knowledge as technologies and procedures evolve in the railroad industry

If you have dreams of working for a railroad company but don’t know where to start this list will give you the information you need to move forward on the tracks of life.

freight railroad
Jeff Hampton

A Crew Member

This is a fairly broad term but it generally refers to anyone working on the train as it is going down the track or to those who are working in the station office. All of the jobs on this list can be obtained with no experience and will offer training.

Many of these jobs are a great way to get your foot in the door and work your way up the chain. Examples of crew member jobs are as follows:

  • Cook
  • Custodial staff
  • Customer service and support
  • Dining staff
  • General maintenance
  • Passsenger car attendants
  • Sleeping car attendants
  • Station services personell

Baggage Handler

A baggage handler is exactly what it sounds like, you will be the person responsible for loading and unloading passengers’ luggage as well as making sure it is transferred to the correct connecting train if applicable.


The brakeman is the person who assists the conductor. Before modern trains were invented, the brakeman was literally the person who pulled the brakes to stop the wheels.

Nowadays, the brakeman is in control of switchboards and button controls that operate the brakes and other features that control the train.

The next step up from being a brakeman is to be an engineer, most engineers work as brakemen until they gain the experience they need to move up.


A carman’s main responsibility is to ensure the safety and mechanical soundness of the freight cars. It is imperative that the carman keep everything up to code and in order according to government regulations.

Having some general mechanical knowledge is a plus, but not required for this job because as mentioned previously most railroad positions offer on-the-job training.

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Jonathan Lee


A train conductor is the overseer of everything that is related to getting the train to its destination on time on a daily basis. The conductor is responsible for educating and training crew members as well as managing their schedules and many other tasks. The conductor also must ensure the safety of the passengers aboard.

Although no special degrees are required to be a conductor this position requires that you have been employed by a railroad for at least three years so you have the experience and knowledge you need to keep the line running smoothly. This job is a great example of how you can work your way up the ranks when employed for a railroad.


The train dispatcher has one of the most important jobs as they are responsible for telling all of the trains what to do and where to go. It is their responsibility to ensure that everyone gets where they need to be safely and on time. If a dispatcher is not paying attention and gives wrong commands there can be catastrophic results.

Electronic Equipment Engineers

An electronic equipment engineer is responsible for ensuring that all electronic devices and equipment are working and communicating properly.


The engineer is responsible for driving and controlling the train. Most engineers begin as brakemen or other secondary positions to learn how everything works and gain experience.

Freight Conductor

This individual is responsible for the crew members and operations that keep a freight train running smoothly. This is similar to a passenger train conductor’s job sans passengers.

Lighting Engineers

If you have a background as an electrician you may enjoy this job. You will be responsible for wiring and keeping all lights functional on the trains as well as the lights along the tracks to notify engineers of what is ahead and warn automobile drivers when a train is about to pass through. If these lights are not working correctly lives can be put at risk.

Amtrak Superliner sleeper
Jonathan Lee Photo

Diesel Mechanic

If you like working with your hands and being around large machinery this job will be right up your alley. Of course, any prior diesel mechanic knowledge is a major advantage when working for a railroad, but if you have not yet acquired said experience the railroad will train you thoroughly so you can work on anything that rolls through the station.

There is never a dull moment with this job and you will always be learning new tricks to ensure the train departs and arrives on time and in one piece.


As opposed to the track inspector who is mainly responsible for reporting issues and providing minor maintenance the platelayer is the one who inspects the surface below the tracks to ensure there is no erosion or any risk of danger.

A platelayer will also repair any damaged tracks and maintain the surfaces that the tracks run along. It is their job to keep the tracks safe and prevent accidents.

Railway Lubricators

The job of a railway lubricator is exactly as it sounds. It is important to keep the tracks lubricated to prevent or at least minimize the friction between the wheels of the train and the rails. This is especially important on curves where side cutting frequently happens.

UP CP share locomotives
Jonathan Lee

Signal Operator

This person is responsible for giving the engineers signals to hook and unhook cars as well as other signals to let them know when to start or stop.

The signal operator is also in charge of watching controls and other switches to notify trains of what to do or if there are any issues.

A signal operator will also keep a close eye on the physical appearance of the exterior of the trains and notify the engineer or conductor of any mechanical issues they can see.

Structural/Civil Engineers

These engineers are responsible for designing the structures and railways that keep the railroad operating smoothly. They assess the paths the tracks travel along to ensure they are safe and come up with solutions to problems where tracks are no longer safe or need to be rerouted.

Track Inspectors

As the title suggests, a track inspector is responsible for inspecting the tracks and structures to be sure they are in a safe working condition and meet the government’s guidelines and regulations. This job comes with extensive on-the-job training to be sure the quality and safety of the tracks are maintained.

Utility Clerk

If you have an apt for keeping an office in order then a utility clerk may be the position you are looking for to get your foot in the door. By beginning in the office you can get a better understanding of how a railroad operates.

This can be beneficial if you decide you wish to move up to a different position in the company.

A utility clerk will help with ordering supplies and ensuring they reach the appropriate people or department. They post bulletins and fill out reports as well as other general office duties that are needed to keep a railroad company running smoothly.


Although most railroads will offer on-the-job training having prior welding experience will mean that you are more likely to be hired than if you have no welding experience.

Once hired you will be responsible for welding tracks, installing parts, and making repairs to trains and other equipment in the yard.

freight trains
Jeff Hampton

Yard Manager

This is another job that does not necessarily require any special schooling but will be obtained after you have been working for the railroad long enough to gain the experience necessary to keep the train yard in order and running smoothly.

Working from the Bottom to the Top

It is important for any railroad employee who wishes to have a position of authority to have a solid understanding of how the entire railway system operates and what it takes to keep it running smoothly.

If one does not understand all of the parts then they will not be able to keep the whole operation running as it should without delays or disasters.

That is why it is so beneficial to start at the bottom and try working as many positions as possible. The more education you have the better you can operate and manage a large-scale transportation company.

Let the Railroad Take You From Entry Level to Retirement

Whichever classification of railroad you opt to work for you can be confident that you will gain employment working for an industry that prides itself on reliably transporting passengers and freight all around our country. You can have a railroad job you love while continuing your education and advancing further in the company if you desire.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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