Hot Jobs How To: Train Engineer and Operator

A black and yellow train and a red train.

Based on your feedback, we're launching weekly articles to provide more detailed information on securing some of best jobs out there for veterans, along with a list of four things you need to secure these jobs. This week's hot job: Train Engineer and Operator.


If you're considering a job as a train engineer or operator, you'll be working outdoors most of the time with some very large and very dangerous equipment. This is a position best suited to people who enjoy the outdoors, don't mind getting dirty, and are competent around dangerous equipment. These professionals have higher rates of injury than many other professions in the U.S., so if you're impaired or just clumsy, it might be safer to consider different options. Train operators also work very long hours at odd times of the year – you have to be okay with working late and missing a holiday or two.



The bare bones educational requirement is to have a high school degree. Some companies don't even require that, but make sure you know what the standards are before applying to a specific company.

Locomotive engineers generally receive 2 to 3 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. Rail yard engineers and signal and switch operators also receive on the job training, generally through a company training program. This program may last a few weeks to a few months, depending on the company and the complexity of the job.

Marketable Skills

Some rail yard engineers drive large vehicles around the yard and must have a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). The qualifications for obtaining a CDL vary by state but generally include passing both a knowledge and a driving test. For more information about getting a CDL, contact the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association.

Locomotive engineers must be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The certification, conducted by the railroad that employs them, involves a written knowledge test, a skills test, and a supervisor determining that the engineer understands all physical aspects of the particular route on which he or she will be operating.

An experienced engineer who changes routes must be recertified for the new route. Even engineers who do not switch routes must be recertified every few years. At the end of the certification process, the engineer must pass a vision and hearing test.

Helpful Resources

If you feel prepared and are ready to plunge into the job search, search for Train Engineer and Operator jobs on

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association

Federal Railroad Administration

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