Railroad conductors are the crew managers on freight and passenger trains. They coordinate staff activities to ensure efficiency and safety. They usually work 40 hours a week. However, because trains run 24 hours a day, their shifts include evenings, nights, weekends and holidays.
Conductors in the U.S. earned as much as $80,820 a year, or $38.86 an hour, in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, on the low end, they received less than $39,190, or $18.84 an hour. Average wages ran $56,230, or $27.03. To earn this pay, conductors must start with a high school diploma and complete one to three months of training by railroad companies. Training is also available through community colleges and some trade schools. Conductors may rise to their positions through previous work as signal or switch operators.
Pay by Employer:
The rail industry was the biggest employer of conductors, and it offered the best average pay: $56,570, or $27.20 an hour. Other major employers included local government, at $54,860, or $26.37 an hour, and support activities for rail transportation, averaging $54,860, or $26.37. Typical work at these employers involves checking passenger tickets, receiving payments from passengers who buy their tickets on-board and making announcements about station arrivals or train condition. They also answer passenger questions, discipline unruly riders and oversee cargo transfers.
Wages by Location:
In 2011, the states offering the most jobs for railroad conductors were New York, with average pay of $58,350 or $28.05 an hour, and Texas, at $59,180, or $28.45. The states with the best compensation were Mississippi, averaging $67,630, or $32.51 an hour, and Maryland, at an average of $66,490, or $31.97. The bureau mentioned two metropolitan areas for both employment and top wages. Topping both lists was New York City, averaging $54,490, or $26.20 an hour, followed by Gary, Indiana, at $46,190, or $22.21. A third city with good pay was Portland, Oregon, at a average of $53,520, or $25.73 an hour.
The Federal Railroad Administration requires certification for conductors on national, regional or commuter railroads. Among the qualifications for this credential are vision correctable to 20/40, horizontal field vision of at least 70 degrees and no average hearing loss of more than 40 decibels in the better ear. The conductor must submit his driving record to the railroad. Any cancellations, suspensions or criminal convictions on that record triggers a review. He must have no substance-abuse problems or will need to complete a treatment program. Qualified applicants must complete a test. These rules are effective as of late 2012, and existing railroad conductors were to receive automatic certification.
The bureau predicts jobs for conductors will grow by 5 percent between 2010 and 2020. This is less than the average 14 percent growth expected for all jobs nationwide. To meet expected increases in freight traffic, rail companies are building higher-capacity cars and running longer trains, which does not increase the number of conductors. Positions primarily become available when conductors retire, since employees tend to remain in their jobs longer than in other occupations.