How to Become a Train Driver

A train driver operates, or drives, a train. They’re also called locomotive engineers, railroad engineers or foot plate men. It’s a great job for someone who likes to travel and see the country and who doesn’t mind being away from home for days or weeks at a time. It pays well and affords you the benefits of belonging to a union, such as job security and a pension.

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  • Meet the general qualifications.
    • You must be at least 18 years of age.
    • You must pass a background check and a drug screen.
    • You must be able to work alone for long periods of time, handle emergency situations and think for yourself.
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      Attend formal training, which will consist of classroom study and hands-on experience. Training may take several weeks or several months. You must attend a program approved by the Federal Railroad Administration.

      • Most train drivers attend schools operated by the railroad company, but some may choose to attend a community college and earn an associate’s degree in railroad operations.
      • Get an entry-level job with a railroad company, such as a laborer, rail yard worker, brakeman or conductor. Gain additional skills and experience. If you want to drive commuter trains, you may have to begin by driving buses.

      Pass the qualifying exams for different positions and work your way up to driver. Before you can drive a train, you must pass a federal licensing exam.
      You will have to attend additional training in the classroom, in simulators and on the job before you can take the licensing exam.
      You will also be required to periodically pass additional tests to maintain your license.

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      Community Q&A

      • Is it possible for someone in their thirties to become a train driver or a conductor?
        wikiHow Contributor
        Yes. As long as you can make it through the training and understand the requirements of the job, you should be fine.
      • I’m in my mid-fifties. Is it too late for me to become a train driver?
        wikiHow Contributor
        It’s never to late to become one. Just meet the requirements and you should be fine.
      • Can I become a train driver if I have a mechanical diploma?
        wikiHow Contributor
        Yes. Eligible diploma departments include the following: Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics and Automobile Engineering.
      • What are the educational requirements for becoming a train operator?
        wikiHow Contributor
        Most railroad companies have the minimum requirement as High School diploma or GED, but I have heard that railroads won’t hire you unless you have college experience (unsure how much truth there is to this, however).
      • Can I become a train driver even if I don’t learn physical sciences?
        wikiHow Contributor
        The easiest way is build your experience. Start off applying for a job driving light rail, or something similar. You don’t need prior training.
      • Can I become a train driver if I have an artificial foot?
        wikiHow Contributor
        Sure, all trains have hand breaks and dead-man switches. There’s no such thing as foot pedals except in specialty trains.
      • How old do I have to be in order to be a train driver?
        wikiHow Contributor
        You must be 18 years of age or older. If you are you are under the age you could try volunteering at your local railroad museum to learn the ropes.
      • How do I find out if my degree meets the requirements of this job?
        wikiHow Contributor
        You could always research this online, or phone and ask the branch you’re looking to apply for.
      • Can I become a train conductor if I have glasses?
        wikiHow Contributor
        Yes. I wear glasses/contacts and recently became a locomotive engineer. Rules require you to have a backup pair on you while on duty.

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      • Railroad jobs are currently declining because of computerization. However, a large number of railroad workers are expected to retire between 2010 and 2020, creating job openings.
      • To find railroad jobs, visit the websites of railroad companies such as Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific or CSX Transportation. You can also find jobs by checking the list published by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board. If you want to drive commuter trains or subway trains, check for jobs with area public transit authorities.


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