Locomotive Engineer Career Facts

A locomotive engineer or a railroad engineer operates freight or passenger trains. The locomotive engineer must keep the train on schedule as well as performs pre-trip and post-trip inspections on the locomotive's technical condition. Following the pre-trip inspection, a locomotive engineer operates the train upon receiving the signal from respective authorities to start the trip. Engineers may work for three kinds of railroads: passenger, freight and urban transit. In general most engineers operate a diesel-electric engine. However, some engineers run locomotives entirely powered by an external supply of electricity or batteries.

Required Education

A minimum qualification of high school diploma or an equivalent is compulsory. Usually the employing company provides formal training to the engineer. Apart from such trainings, many institutions offer specific courses to help students learn certain skill sets.

A license is provided only to a candidate who has successfully undergone locomotive engineer training that would include classroom training, instructions on locomotive operations and simulator training. After the training session, candidates are expected to pass hearing and vision tests to ensure safety of others. The candidate also must pass other tests prior to obtaining the license.

Apart from the formal locomotive engineer training, a candidate for this job is expected to have a good vision, hearing ability, keen detail to colors, hand-eye coordination, mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity. Good communication skills and the ability to make a quick and wise judgment are necessary.

Basic Tasks and Schedule

A locomotive engineer may work odd hours, weekends and holidays. However, the working hours would depend greatly on the nature of the railroad and the shift of the engineer.

Everyday tasks of a locomotive engineer include the following:

  • Inspect the conditions of locomotives to verify if there is sufficient water, fuel, and other supplies before the trip begins
  • Communicate with the conductor or traffic control authorities to obtain details regarding stops and delays
  • Observe the track conditions for any signal of obstruction
  • Operate the freight, passenger or urban transit train to complete the trips successfully
  • Check the condition of the locomotives after every trip for presence of any technical difficulty
  • Respond to any emergency situations and send out signals to receive assistance.


Earnings of a locomotive engineer depend on the number of hours worked or number of miles the train runs. On average a locomotive engineer makes around $25 per hour. This figure varies depending on the railroad, experience of the engineer, job assignments and location.

Opportunities for Advancement

Most of the locomotive engineers start at the entry-level position of a brake operator. After successful completion of necessary training, a promotion is granted to the post of conductor or locomotive engineer. Once candidates prove efficient, they may receive promotions to the supervisory level, perhaps as station manager.