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Freight Conductor: The Perfect Career for Train Lovers

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This article presents a general overview of a career as a freight conductor. It discusses the required training, general duties, average annual salary, and basic qualifications involved in working as a freight conductor. It also gives a brief overview of the typical career path and unique risks involved with such a career.

Being a freight conductor is an exciting career choice. There are many opportunities and affordable education choices. It is demanding work, though, and it is not for the weak or faint of heart. If you are willing to put in hard work at odd hours, being a freight conductor just might be your dream job. Here is some information about freight conductors.

What Is A Freight Conductor?

A freight conductor is a term used for many positions. They are all in the same realm, but have important variations. A freight conductor is responsible for the freight train. They must make sure that the train runs smoothly and safely.

There are several specialties within the title of freight conductor. A yard foreman has a yard job. There are two yard jobs: switcher and industry switcher. A yard foreman switcher directs a yard crew in sorting inbound trains. They take rail cars that are on one track and move them to their new assigned tracks. The new track placement is assigned by the yardmaster.

A yard foreman industry switcher works with several customer close to their assigned rail yard. They have to rearrange rail cars within several tracks. These new placements are assigned by the yardmaster. They are also responsible for taking cars that have been 'ordered out' back to the rail yard. There they are reclassified and placed on outbound trains as needed.

There is also the remote control yard foreman. They basically do the same thing as the yard foreman, but they do it by remote control. The road foreman is also called the conductor. The road foreman has to make sure that the trains arrive safely at their destination. This is usually in another city or state. They also must make sure that all applicable laws and safety protocol are met and everything runs smoothly.

What Kind Of Education Is Required?

Not anyone can just step in and be a freight conductor. There are specific guidelines that you must meet in order to get the job. Before you can be hired, you must complete a college course designed specifically around being a freight conductor. You must have an average grade of 85% or above, although 90% is generally desired.

The course costs anywhere from $4,500 to $10,000. This includes all classroom materials, textbooks, and other materials. In general, this course is not eligible for federal student aid, although there may be some exceptions. Not all schools offer it, so you may have to travel. Your room and board would be extra, and it lasts about five weeks.

Once you have completed the course, you will be given an exam on safety rules, signals, and speed. You must score very high, usually 100% to be offered a job with a railroad. Once you are hired, there is a period of on the job training. This training period usually lasts between 12 and 14 weeks. After this period of on-the-job training, the trainee will be tested by their mentor or instructor. If they pass the test, they will be declared 'qualified' to be a freight conductor.

How Much Do Freight Conductors Make?

Being a freight conductor is a rewarding job. On average, freight conductors can expect to make about $23 per hour in the United States. This varies depending on for whom you work and your tenure. Freight conductors' annual salary ranges from $40,000 to $50,000 a year. You may be started at a lower salary that will increase in increments according to your abilities and length of service. In addition to salary, most railroads offer a benefits package that can make this a more attractive occupation as well.

What Kind of Working Conditions Can I Expect?

Freight conductors lead very dangerous lives. You must be constantly aware of what is going on around you. One false step and you can be seriously injured or even killed. Trains cannot stop on a dime so you must stay out of the way. There are very strict safety regulations that are put in place for your safety and the safety of others around you.

You can also expect to work very odd hours. A freight conductor who is just starting out is usually placed on the night shift. You may have to work this shift for a few years before you are considered for other shifts. Seniority tends to rule in a train yard.

Usually a freight conductor works anywhere from 45-65 hours a week. You are only allowed to work 12 hour shifts. This is regulated and strictly enforced by the Federal Railroad Administration. This is for your safety and the safety of others. Fatigue can lead to very costly mistakes.

You are essentially your own boss. Usually, you do not have anyone looking over your shoulder. You must be aware that you will be making a lot of important decisions. You must be prepared to make the best decision that you can and then take responsibility for that decision. These decisions can be very costly, since faulty decisions could potentially cost the rail line millions of dollars.


Being a freight conductor is a demanding, potentially dangerous job with strange hours. That said, there are great perks as well. The education requirements are relatively low and much less costly than many other professions. You have the freedom to make decisions on your own and do not have a boss standing over you all the time. The pay is competitive and the work is interesting and varied. If you love a challenge, the job of a freight conductor could be right for you!
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