Yardmasters coordinate operations at railyards to make sure that they run smoothly and safely. This work can require long, odd hours at times, especially at a busy railyard that might operate outside normal business hours. It might also be necessary for yardmasters to travel for work and potentially to relocate for job opportunities. Rail work tends to come with excellent benefits and pay, although this is not the case in all regions.
The trainmaster is responsible for coordinating the movement of trains in and out of the yard as well as setting up schedules and making adjustments as necessary for accidents, late trains and other events. Operations in the yard are overseen by yardmasters. These personnel can turn trains around, supervise loading and unloading activities, check signal and switching systems and more. They supervise crews that can vary in size, depending on how many trains a yard services in a given day.
One critical aspect of this job is communication. Yardmasters and trainmasters need to remain in constant communication to stay coordinated throughout the shift. The trainmaster needs to know that tracks are clear and ready for use, and yardmasters need to be aware of when trains are coming in. Failure to communicate can result in situations such as blocked tracks or injuries. Even with careful coordination, injuries are a serious risk in railyards, because personnel work with large, heavy equipment and in crowded, sometimes hectic conditions.
Yardmasters need to be present at all hours that trains are active. At a freight or passenger hub, this could be around the clock, because trains from a variety of locations move through the yard, stop, load and unload or switch tracks. Shifts can occur at odd hours, and the undesirable shifts at night tend to go to newer, less-experienced personnel.
With sufficient training, a person who has yardmaster experience can apply to work in other yards. This can be advisable for people who want to move up in the ranks and access better jobs, higher-paying positions and more challenging work environments. It usually is necessary to have excellent references, and union membership might be required to work at some yards.
To become a yardmaster, it usually is necessary to have a high school diploma. Additional education typically is not required. Instead, the yardmaster learns on the job under the supervision of experienced personnel. As he or she develops professional skills and experience, he or she can start to become more independent and might transition to a supervisor position, eventually working on his or her own. It can take several years to become fully qualified, particularly at a busy hub.