What Does a Railway Apprentice Do?

B. Turner

Many public and private railway institutions around the world offer apprenticeship programs designed to train new employees for careers in the railroad industry. Some of these programs train the railway apprentice to work on passenger trains, while others focus on freight trains. Most railway apprentice programs consist of several years of paid training and instruction, during which time the apprentice performs increasingly complex tasks. At the start of an apprenticeship, candidates may spend most of their time involved in classroom training and workshops, while some receive more hands-on technical training. Later in the program, a railway apprentice can expect to perform many of the same duties as his supervisors, including tasks related to maintenance, operations, and customer service.

Some railroad apprentices specialize in learning about freight trains.
Some railroad apprentices specialize in learning about freight trains.

A standard railway apprenticeship begins with at least some classroom training. These courses cover basic railroad terminology and technology, as well as the structure and operation of the company itself. Students are typically paid to attend these classes and complete assignments and special projects. Those pursuing a service or maintenance apprenticeship may also spend a great deal of time in hands-on learning environments. For example, students may attend demonstrations and workshops or train or equipment maintenance and repairs.

A railway maintenance apprencite may learn to repair and maintain railroad signals, among other things.
A railway maintenance apprencite may learn to repair and maintain railroad signals, among other things.

Upon the completion of classroom training, a railway apprentice is often transferred into the workplace to begin his practical training. He often acts as an assistant or shadow to a more experienced worker. The apprentice can help the worker with various tasks, or simply follow and observe as he goes about his daily work routine. Over time, the railway apprentice will be asked to perform tasks under the direct supervision of more experienced employees. These tasks should grow in complexity as the apprentice gains competence and skill in his chosen field.

The exact job description of a railway apprentice an vary based on his chosen field. Many of these apprenticeship programs allow candidates to choose positions geared towards railway maintenance and assembly, or safety and inspection, or even customer service and operations. Those involved in maintenance and assembly programs will learn to repair and maintain rail cars, signals, tracks, and all related equipment. They may handle simple tasks, like welding, or more complex ones, such as diagnosing a problem with a railway engine.

Inspection apprentices learn tasks related to employee and passenger safety. They walk the rails looking for problems with signals, equipment, or the rail ties themselves. These employees also oversee hazardous waste transport on the railway, and help develop effective operating procedures to minimize the risk of accidents. Inspection-related apprenticeships also focus on monitoring rail cars and equipment to make sure it is operating safely and efficiently.

Finally, a railway apprentice may be groomed for a career in operations. Here he will learn how to provide effective customer service for rail passengers. These apprentices also complete tasks related to budgeting, accounting, and marketing.

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