Is a Train Conductor a Good Career?

Everyone has heard the stories about train conductors while they were kids. You might have seen cartoon movies like the Polar Express when you were a kid and thought about the job of the train conductor.

Being a train conductor is still a career despite the decline in the use of trains to transport goods and people. The North American freight rail market is booming, therefore, there’s a need for people who can operate trains. 

This is even more true in European countries that use trains as a way of transportation a lot more than in the U.S. If you have ever wondered if being a train conductor would be a good career for you, then you should keep reading the information below to find some answers to your questions.

locomotive conductor
Thomas Eckhardt

What is a Train Conductor?

Many of you might already know what a train conductor is and what they do. However, there are still many people out there that have no idea what exactly a train conductor does on the job. The answer is pretty simple.

A train conductor is a person in charge of the operation of the train. This person is in charge of making sure that all operational procedures and safety procedures are being followed. However, despite the popular belief that train conductors control the train, this is wrong.

Train conductors don’t actually operate the train or control it. Instead, train conductors are in charge of other tasks such as the making of the daily activities for the train and train crew. In the modern day, most trains practically operate themselves anyway, so there is no need for someone to be constantly at the controls.

What Does a Train Conductor Do?

Now that you know that train conductors don’t actually drive the train, you might be wondering what they actually do.  To put it simply, train conductors ensure that the train is on time and are responsible for the safety of the passengers. Some other tasks include providing training on tasks such as: connecting and uncoupling cars, operating switches, and making repairs.

Most freight trains that carry things like coal, gas, steel, etc., use two man crews. These crews are made up of an engineer who is actually responsible for driving the train and to make sure that the engines are running properly. The conductor is responsible for everything else.

In this type of crew, the conductor is mainly responsible for filling out the paperwork. Although this may sound boring at first, it is actually a lot more fun and complex than you would think. Part of the conductor’s job in a freight train is to talk to yardmasters to build the trains, speak with dispatchers to get the necessary permissions prior to the trip, and help the engineer with connecting cars to make sure they are all properly connected.

locomotive conductor jobs
Thomas Eckhardt

Train conductors must also carefully check the paperwork to make sure that dangerous cars carrying things like flammable liquids aren’t put next to any cars that could shift their loads and puncture a hole in the tank. Also, conductors ensure that any potentially explosive cars are located far away from the car where the engineer and the conductor will ride to prevent any accidents.

In addition to all of these responsibilities, the train conductor is also responsible for changing the switches in the yard and industry tracks to keep the engines turning. And if the train is due for maintenance, they ensure the train arrives to the correct place.

Train conductors also pay a vital role in letting the engineer know when they need to stop and cut the front of the train once they are in the yard. This is because most freight trains are too long to all fit in one track, so they must stop, cut some cars and then put the rest in a different track.

One way to think about what a train conductor does in a passenger train is to think of them as the leader of the crew. They are the ones responsible for training the crew and making sure that all procedures are being properly followed. Although it may not be as cool as driving a train, it is still a pretty cool career.

How Much Does a Train Conductor Get Paid?

For those of you who are still intrigued about a career as a train conductor even after finding out you won’t be driving any trains, your next question might be how much you can get paid as a train conductor.

The truth is that train conductor salaries in the U.S vary by a lot. You can get paid anywhere from $13,000 to $375,000 a year as a train conductor. The median salary for a train conductor in the U.S is around $66,000.

There is certainly a lot of upside in this career because you can become a six-figure earner with relative ease. It is not an easy career to have, but it is not uncommon for train conductors to earn well into the six figures. You probably shouldn’t choose this career for the money because there is no guarantee that you will be one of the top earners.

locomotive conductor job
Thomas Eckhardt

However, if you were passionate about this career before hearing about the salary, then this is great news for you. It is always great to find out that your dream career is also very well compensated.

Are There Benefits to Being a Train Conductor?

The benefits you will receive for being a train conductor will vary greatly depending on the railroad company you work for. However, here are some of the most common benefits given by railroad companies in the U.S

Most railroad companies will give you benefits like:

  • dental insurance
  • health insurance
  • vision insurance
  • life insurance
  • 401k contribution and matching

The quality of these insurances will greatly depend on your railroad company, but it is still a good benefit to have.

Additionally, most railroad companies offer paid time off as part of their benefits package. Other benefits offered by some companies include: tuition reimbursement, relocation assistance, disability insurance, life insurance, retirement plan, employee discount, and flexible spending account.

Benefits like tuition assistance and relocation assistance are amazing and can help you a lot. If your company offers this, they have a great benefit package. Unfortunately, not all railroad companies have benefit packages that include all of the benefits listed above.

railroad conductor
Jonathan Lee

As you may now realize, some railroad companies offer some great benefit packages. It is important to remember that not all companies will offer all of the benefits listed above. However, the fact that you now know what other companies can offer may help you when deciding whether to take a job with a railroad company or not. Now you have something to compare what they may be offering to you.

Also, it is important to note what is not on this list. Unlike flight attendants and pilots who fly for free, most train conductors do not get to ride the trains for free. The only exception to this is if you happen to be a train conductor in a European country that works for one of the passenger train companies.

But, while you probably won’t be able to take a train for free wherever you want, you should note that your company will pay for your hotels and meals while you are away. Therefore you could get to experience a large portion of the United States (or Europe) on your company’s dime.

Does a Train Conductor Have to Work Holidays?

When thinking about a future career, many people wonder how it could potentially impact their homelife. Certain jobs require you to be on call 24/7 and work long nights and possibly during holidays.

Unfortunately, being a train conductor is one of those jobs that will often require you to work during the holidays. Most railroad companies won’t give you any holiday pay unless you work in the train yard that day.

If you decide to become a great conductor because of the salary and the benefits, it is also important to consider the toll this job will take on your home life. You will be required to be on call and ready to work 24/7, especially right when you are first hired. Additionally, you will oftentimes have to work night shifts, work on the weekends, and on holidays as well.

railroad conductor jobs
Jonathan Lee

If you are a person with a family and younger kids, then you might want to take some extra time to consider the impact that this career would have on your family life. On the other hand, if you are a person that is single and doesn’t care about working holidays and weekends, then this career might be great for you, namely because you will get to have an exciting career that includes travel.

The toll that this career can take on a person’s family life is a deal breaker for a lot of people. Many people who have worked as train conductors say that the nature of the job isn’t hard, but the need to be on call 24/7 and working holidays and weekends ended up destroying their marriage or relationship as well as damaging their connection with their kids.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether having to work on holidays is a dealbreaker for you or not. You should definitely take some time to truly consider what impact this career may have on your current and future relationships—and don’t be afraid to talk this over with your significant other, so they too can be aware of the time you will need to spend away from home.

Are Train Conductors Unionized?

Many people wonder if train conductors and railroad workers are unionized. Since railroad workers are jobs which require a lot of time spent away from home, people are often concerned about the company taking care of their workers—something which it sometimes takes a union to accomplish.

The answer is that there are multiple unions that represent railroad workers in North America. However, it is important to understand that railroad workers in North America are not required to join any of the unions that exist to represent them, but many choose to in order to protect their quality of life.


rr conductor job
Bill Hooper

Whether you like unions or not, you will not be required to join one if you decide to become a train conductor. However, you will certainly have the chance to join one if you choose to do so, but it may come in handy to join a union in order to protect your job.

Because the railroad industry has such a long history, there are several railroad unions that have been around for centuries. There are many unions that specialize in representing and protecting locomotive engineers and conductors. Meanwhile, other unions represent different jobs within the railroad industry such as freight car repairers.

One of the most popular railroad unions is the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen. This union was created in 2004 when one of the oldest unions in North America, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, merged with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The purpose of this union is to protect the rights, safety, and interests of its members.

At the end of the day it will be up to you to decide whether you will want to join a union as a train conductor or not. Even though you won’t be required to join a union, it doesn’t mean that you should brush it off as there are many benefits to being in a union, especially in the transportation industry.

Amtrak sleeping cars
Jeff Hampton Photo

Is a Train Conductor a Good Job Overall?

After hearing all of this information about the career, you might still be wondering if being a train conductor is a good job overall. This is a very subjective question since different people will value some things higher than others.

There are several factors that you need to take into consideration when trying to decide if being a train conductor is a good job overall. You need to consider the salary for this career which is pretty good alongside the benefits and the quality of life you will have while working the job.

While the benefits offered are decent and this is a job you could potentially work for a long time, you also need to consider the demands of this job. The responsibilities of this job can lead to lots of stress. You are responsible for properly carrying out lots of safety procedures which can cause high amounts of stress in most people.

Jonathan Lee

Aside from the responsibilities, you also need to consider how demanding this job is on your schedule. You will need to be on call 24/7. This means that you need to be prepared to work whenever they need you. It doesn’t matter if it is the weekend or a holiday, you will need to be ready to work at a moment’s notice.

Many people will consider that the pay and benefits far outweigh the demands and responsibilities of this job. Other people will think that the demands and responsibilities are too much even after considering the salary and benefits of the job. It is ultimately up to you to weigh all of these factors and make a decision.

In order to answer this question you will need to decide whether you value your personal and family time more than you value a high salary or vice versa. This job requires you to make a decision of what you value more. You can’t expect to go into this career to earn a high salary and still have plenty of time to spend with your family and friends.

More than likely this job will take time away from your family and friends, so you need to decide if money is more important to you than spending time with your family.

On paper, the benefits of this job make it an overall good job. However, there are surely some railroad companies that have negative work environments that make this job a lot harder and less enjoyable.

rr conductor
Jonathan Lee


Hopefully after reading this article you have a little more information about a career as a train conductor. You may have realized that this job has different responsibilities than you initially expected. You also might have realized that the compensation and benefits for this career are a lot more than expected.

However, before making a decision to pursue this career it is important to consider all of the factors such as the demands of the job. This is a great career, but not everyone is made for it. This career can be a lot of fun, but don’t expect it to be easy and fun all of the time. At the end of the day, you will need to make certain sacrifices if you choose to pursue this career.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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