Job description

Locomotive engineers are responsible for the driving of freight or passenger trains. They drive long-distance trains and commuter trains between stations.

Through freight engineers transport goods from one destination to another. They must be aware of the freight they are carrying, as it determines their method of driving.

These professionals will check the condition of the train they are driving, find out about any track obstructions and communicate with dispatchers over radio.


    • Drive freight or passenger trains between stations
    • Consider the goods being transported to clarify driving method
    • Observe metrics such as the speed, air pressure and battery use of train
    • Check for track obstructions to prevent derailing
    • Operate train using controls like throttles and airbrakes
    • Correspond with dispatchers over radios to check for delays or schedule changes
    • Check train has adequate fuel, water or sand before each run
    • Inspect train for any mechanical faults

Skills and qualities

Hand-eye coordination
Attention to detail

Job outlook

Projected growth
The projected growth rate of employment in the US from 2018 to 2028, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme. The national average growth rate for all professions is 5%.


New jobs
The number of jobs projected to become available in the US between 2018 and 2028, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme.


Automation risk
The probability of computerisation, based on data published in ‘The Future of Employment’, a 2013 working paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.


Career progression

Some locomotive engineers gain enough experience and enhance their training to become a train driver trainer, teaching other trainees. There is also the opportunity to advance to a management role such as senior manager or to move into operations.

Working conditions

Average hours

40h/ week

Typical schedule


Irregular schedule, depending on route

Locomotive engineers work for government-run railroad agencies or private railroad companies. They spend most of their working day driving a train. These individuals wear a uniform, must be able to handle noisy working environments and accept spending several hours sitting in a vehicle. Locomotive engineers whose trains must travel long distances usually spend long periods of time away from home.


Bottom 10%




Top 10%


Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.

Qualifications and training

Education level

High school

On-the-job training

Study time

3 months

Locomotive engineers typically require a high school diploma, or equivalent, to secure the job. Those who prove several years of work experience as a conductor are favoured by hiring managers.

Approximately two to three months of training is provided on the job, which involves riding with an experienced engineer and learning a train route. Even those who change train routes must spend a few months in training.

Locomotive engineers must be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the particular route they will be taking. A change of routes will also require a new certification. Those who do not change train routes must be recertified every few years. After passing the certification process, individuals must also go through a vision and hearing test.

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

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