How does one become a train conductor?

They’re sometimes called engineers, but do you really need an engineering degree just to operate one? Do you go to train school like if you wanted to become a pilot? I think it would be a pretty cool job.

Well, first off, a conductor isn’t the same thing as an engineer. An engineer is the guy who drives the train, and the conductor is the person who is in charge of everything else on the train. In the old days, when trains would have crews of at least four (engineer, fireman, conductor and at least one brakeman) he was sort of the boss of the train who told everyone what to do. Nowadays, though, everything is automated and there’s usually just the engineer and sometimes what you might call a co-engineer, though some railroads might call one of them the conductor. Also on passenger trains, the guy who comes around and takes your ticket is also called a conductor, but these days he’s more of a customer service position.

Engineer as in guy who drives an engine, is entirely different from and engineer in the professional sense (British English solves this problem by calling them engine drivers). In the old days, you had to get hired by the railroad as a brakeman or some other grunt task and then work your way up. There were of course all sorts of esoteric union rules as to who got promoted when. One odd quirk of these was that after they switched to diesels, they were still required by the union rules to have a fireman in the cab and so often an engineer in training would occupy that position for a while. One thing to keep in mind is that back in the 19th century when a lot of these rules were drawn up, being an engineer was a very desirable job, maybe equivalent to a jumbo jet pilot today, and so there was generally a lot of working your way up the ladder to get there.

I don’t really know how much of this applies today, but I’m pretty sure you have to get hired by the railroad first and work your way up, which is not always easy because as an industry their manpower requirements have been contracting since, well, just about forever and it is still usually a pretty cush union job pay and benefits wise.

Alaska railroad has a unique way of staffing their trains. Each day a train leaves Anchorage and Fairbanks headed to the other city. Midway the trains meet and switch crews. That way both crews end up at home each night. (unless it has changed since 1990)

The New York City area passenger railroads call the guy driving a Train Operator. The conductor(s) are the guys who make announcements, operate the doors, and collect your tickets.

In order to become a TO you have to do several years of grunt work as a conductor or other kind of employee and then pass an exam to begin training. The positions are limited and very competitive.

Hmm… I guess it’s not as hard as I thought.

My uncle was a conductor and it killed him. He was a conductor of electricity.

Ohm my God, watt a shocking story. Thanks for keeping us current. :wink:

Don’t railroad workers get a special US tax break?

Sort of. Railroad workers don’t pay into Social Security. They also have their own Medicare program, administered by the Railroad Retirement Board

No, they pay into the Railroad Retirement Board Fund instead. And they pay in more than Social Security payees do (but then the benefits paid by the RRB upon retirement are higher, also).

The RRB Fund is very sound financially – they have nearly 2-years-worth of payments in the fund, and have all that invested & earning money.

This system has been used and is used extensively in railroads, bus lines etc. I suppose the crews might be instructed to keep going forward if the other crew does not show up or you end up with two delayed trains instead of one.

In old times the job of train driver had more to it than you might think at first sight. Besides being knowledgeable about all the mechanics and maintenance and operation of the boiler and steam engine, brakes, lubrication, etc. they had to know the route well. A boiler has a very slow response so you would have to fill water and stoke the fire well in advance of any major climbs because every time you add water to the boiler and fuel to the fire you get a marked decrease in power. So the good engineer would know when to add water and fuel and when not to (or you end up with excess power).