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How Do I Become a Train Conductor?

It is the train engineer, not the conductor, who is actually in charge of operating the locomotive.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 March 2014
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While the historic image of a train conductor may be somewhat out of date, there are still a handful of job openings for conductors throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Many people find being a train conductor to be an incredibly fulfilling job, especially if they have a natural love of trains. Being a train conductor means being in charge of the smooth operation of a train, as well as handling the entire crew and make sure passengers or cargo gets to its destination intact.

A train conductor should not be confused with an engineer, who is the person actually in charge of operating the locomotive. Both the engineer and the train conductor have joint responsibility over the smooth functioning of the mechanical train itself, but the train conductor has the additional responsibility of making sure passengers are looked after, and that the rest of the crew is doing their job. In some cases a conductor may be kept on in a contract that requires they over time work on becoming an engineer as well.

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In past times, the conductor sat in the caboose of a train, helping to oversee the functioning of the train. He or she would be responsible for the support crew of the train, including the flagmen, and the head and rear brakemen, as well as any lesser conductors who might be there to assist. In recent years, the caboose of most trains has been eliminated completely, as technology has made it redundant. As a result, the train conductor has been moved to the locomotive with the engineer. Over time, most of the positions beneath the conductor have also been removed, with no need for brakemen or flagmen in most modern trains.

Without the need for these extra crew, the vast majority of trains on the rails have only two crew members: a train conductor and an engineer. In recent years, in an attempt to further cut costs, many trains have started moving to having only an engineer, having them take on the role of the conductor as well. Since traditionally all engineers had to first be conductors, this makes sense, as they are necessarily familiar with the job and its responsibilities.

Larger passenger trains, especially in Europe and places like India, do still utilize conductors, of course, and it is their job to collect tickets and oversee staff such as porters, maids, cooks, and other support crew. On trains where they still exist, a train conductor serves as the link between the railway company and the public it serves. As a result, it can be an exciting and fun job, if work can be found.

There are educational and vocational programs available to give you the skills and certificates needed to more easily get a job as a train conductor, and most programs take anywhere from one to two years. Getting work in the railroad industry can also help, as it will familiarize you with the ins and outs of the business, even if you are only working as a yard worker. Traditionally, the progression in the railroad world is from bottom to top, so that the surest way to become a train conductor is simply to get the easiest job available, and to move from rung to rung until you finally achieve that end.

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