Train conductors play a pivotal role in the safety of the cargo, both freight and passengers, and are among the highest paid railroad transportation workers today. The responsibility they have is tremendous, and they must be in peak physical condition to do their job properly.
Train conductors hold one of the most important positions among the railroad transportation system. They are responsible for the safety of their train’s passengers, as well as for the freight cargo they may be toting. Their training is extensive, their hours are long and they are required to work nights, weekends and holidays. In short, they dedicate their lives to their job.
A train conductor holds many responsibilities. He communicates frequently with the engineer, discussing any concerns he may have about the train’s cargo, the time frame they are working with and about the train’s route. He also communicates with the personnel of other trains to receive important information about any delays, track malfunctions or stops they need to make. In addition, he uses electronic monitoring equipment to communicate with traffic control, and he arranges for the removal of any defective cars from his train. All of this is done to ensure that all cargo arrives at its destination safely.
There are three types of train conductors: freight train conductors, passenger train conductors and rail-yard conductors. The freight train conductor reviews the switching orders, waybills and shipping records to obtain the necessary loading and unloading information of the freight the train is carrying. Freight conductors are also responsible for the weight of the freight train and the operation of the freight cars within the rail yards and terminals.
Passenger train conductors are responsible for the safety and comfort of their passengers. They collect their tickets, make necessary announcements for the passengers and coordinate all of the crew’s activities. The yard conductor supervises and oversees all activities in the rail yard and gives the engineers instructions about everything from when they can leave the yard to moving or disassembling defective cars.
To become a train conductor, a high school diploma or GED is required. Training is provided by the company, and only after successful completion of the training will the conductor be assigned work. Conductors often work in excess of 40 hours a week, spend more time away from home than at home and have the ability to make responsible decisions quickly. They need good communication skills, not only when working on a passenger train but also to ensure the safety of the train by communicating with their crew. It is a physically demanding job as well, so they must be in good health, have good mechanical aptitude and excellent manual dexterity.
While train conductors have many responsibilities, they also have many benefits. Aside from paid sick days, vacation days and pension plans, their earnings are based on the miles traveled or hours worked, whichever is higher. The average hourly rate is $26 an hour. Their families are allowed to travel for free or at reduced rates, and their job is a union job, providing them with job security. As of 2006, there were 40,000 train conductors employed in the United States alone, and the outlook for future positions is good due to the number of railway workers who are expected to retire within the next 10 years.