What is a Locomotive Engineer?

Locomotive engineers ensure that freight trains and passenger trains stay on time and travel safely. They work the brakes, signals, or switches. Some drive trains between stations, while others move trains around in a rail yard. Nearly all work in the rail transportation industry.

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What does a Locomotive Engineer do?

Locomotive engineers typically do the following:

  • Monitor speed, air pressure, battery use, and other instruments to ensure that the locomotive runs smoothly
  • Use a variety of controls, such as throttles and airbrakes, to operate the train
  • Communicate with dispatchers over radios to get information about delays or changes in the schedule
  • Check the mechanical condition of locomotives and make adjustments when necessary
  • Document issues with a train that require further inspection
  • Operate locomotive engines within or between stations.

Locomotive engineers drive freight or passenger trains between stations. They drive long-distance trains and commuter trains, but not subway trains. Most drive diesel-electric engines, although some drive locomotives powered by battery or electricity. Engineers must be aware of the goods their train is carrying because different types of freight require different types of driving, based on the conditions of the rails. For example, a train carrying hazardous material though a snowstorm is driven differently than a train carrying coal though a mountain region.

What does it take to be a Locomotive Engineer?

Most rail companies require a high school diploma or equivalent for locomotive engineers. Locomotive engineers generally receive two-to-three months of on-the-job training before they can operate a train on their own. Typically, this training involves riding with an experienced engineer who teaches them the nuances of that particular train route.

During training, an engineer learns the track length, where the switches are, or any unusual features of the track. An experienced engineer who switches to a new route also has to spend a few months in training to learn the route with an engineer who is familiar with it. In addition, railroad companies provide continuing education so that engineers can maintain their skills.

What is the workplace of a Locomotive Engineer like?

A locomotive engineer spends most of his or her time aboard a train.

How much does a Locomotive Engineer earn?

The median annual wage of train engineers and operators was $46,100 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $31,000, and the top 10% earned more than $71,350.

Learn more about being a Locomotive Engineer