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Workin’ on the Railroad: Locomotive Engineer Salaries

Updated on December 22, 2011

© 2011 by Aurelio Locsin

Locomotive engineers guide the engines and cars that transport freight and passengers on the railroad lines that crisscross the country. These transportation professionals must not only be familiar with their vehicles, but also the routes that they travel. The U.S. Labor Department states that the 40,750 engineers employed in the U.S. make a mean $24.46 per hour or $50,870 per year. This is almost 15 percent more than the average $21.35 per hour or $44,410 per year made by all 127 million workers in the country.

Becoming an Engineer

Most train engineers start as entry-level workers for the railroad, which requires a minimum high-school diploma or equivalent. They must then undergo company training programs to progress through different job levels such as repair, yard switching or signal maintenance. (Smaller railroads may contract their training programs with outside agencies.) Depending on the actual job, worker training may last from a few weeks to a few months and include classroom sessions and practical, hands-on instruction. Most railroads require employees to become conductors before they can apply as engineers.


Once applicants complete engineer training, they must pass hearing and visual tests, a safety conduct background check, an operations knowledge test and skills performance test before receiving their mandated federal license. Annual, unannounced testing is necessary for engineers to maintain their licensing.


Locomotive engineers have the highest employment in the following industries.

  1. Over 96 percent work for rail transportation companies such as freight and passenger railroads. Mean wages here run $24.48 per hour or $50,930 per year.
  2. About one percent work for local government to make a mean $23.65 per hour or $49,190 per year.
  3. The third largest employers, with only 190 positions, are support activities for rail transportation, with pay at a mean $18.50 per hour or $38,480 per year.

As for the highest paying employers for locomotive engineers, the federal government boasts the biggest salaries at a mean $24.95 per hour or $51,900 per year. Rail transportation companies rank second and local government is third.

About 90 engineers work for scenic and sightseeing transportation companies, where they receive a mean $16.44 per hour or $34,190 per year.


The following states offer the most jobs for locomotive engineers.

  1. Illinois has 2,700 positions earning a mean $24.26 per hour or $50,460 per year.
  2. California, the most populous state, has 2,560 jobs at a mean $25.03 hour or $52,060 per year.
  3. Pennsylvania is third with 2,120 engineers averaging $23.10 per hour or $48,040 per year.

The top paying states for the profession are as follows.

  1. New Mexico has mean wages of $44.14 per hour or $91,820 per year.
  2. Arizona’s averages are at $32.96 per hour or $68,560 per year.
  3. Mississippi has salaries at a mean $32.78 per hour or $68,180 per year.


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    • sandy1973mypetdog profile image


      9 years ago from the south

      Very informative, great hub!


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