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Workin' on the Railroad: Salaries of Conductors and Yardmasters

Updated on December 22, 2011
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© 2011 by Aurelio Locsin

Railroad conductors and yardmasters have similar duties. Both coordinate train activities; manage staff, schedules, engines and cars; and use communications equipment and monitoring devices. However, conductors perform their duties on trains and the rails, while yardmasters work in railroad yards. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the 42,700 professionals in these positions make a mean $25.18 per hour or $52,370 per year. The lowest ten percent earn $16.11 per hour or $33,510 annually, while the highest 10 percent make $36.67 per hour or $76,270 per year.

Employers

Almost 90 percent of all conductors and yardmasters work for rail transportation companies such as Union Pacific, BNSF or Amtrak. They make the highest salaries with these employers at a mean $25.10 per hour or $52,200 per year. Support activities for rail transportation are next for wages with means at $19.13 per hour or $39,790 per year. Ranking third for pay is scenic and sightseeing land transportation with averages at $14.93 per hour or $31,060 per year.

States

The state with the highest employment for conductors and yardmasters is New York with 5,220 jobs. Unfortunately, the Labor Department does not list the wages for this location. Second for employment is Illinois, with 3,290 positions averaging $24.61 per hour or $51,190 per year. Third for jobs is Pennsylvania with 2,410 professionals making a mean $23.39 per hour or $48,650 per year.

In terms of pay, employers in Wisconsin top the list, with mean wages of $33.42 per hour or $69,520 per year. Mississippi ranks a close second with averages at $33.38 per hour or $69,440 per year. In third is Arizona, with mean salaries at $32.06 per hour or $66,680 per year.

Becoming a Conductor

Though the exact career progression varies by company, the job path offered by Union Pacific is typical. It requires train crew to begin as switch operators or brake persons. The minimum requirements for entry-level positions are being at least 18 years old, with the ability to speak and read English, and being either a U.S. citizen or having authorization to work in the country. Good vision and hearing is needed, and so is the ability to lift up to 83 pounds on occasion. Once a job is offered, the applicant must pass a background investigation, vision exam, physical ability test, drug test and medical screening.

Training consists of several weeks in the classroom and in the field. As the worker develops skill and undergoes more training, they may eventually progress to a conductor position. This path can eventually lead to a job as a locomotive engineer, and then a manager, with a college degree and the management training program.

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    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      5 years ago from USA

      What a fascinating job it must be to be a railroad conductor or yardmaster. I can understand why good vision and hearing are required to qualify for this profession. As always, you have done a great job of researching about this industry.

    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 

      6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      No problem. You've provoked me. I've been wanting to write on my experiences, but I'm not sure what I'd like to share. We'll see. Thanks for your blogs.

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Thanks for sharing all that. It's useful for readers of this hub to hear from a real conductor.

    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 

      6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      I've met conductors who make upwards of 90k. That one has been on the rail for over 30 years; but another, out there only eight years, made 80k one years because he kept working and took every job he could get. It's kind of up to you how much you earn. With that said, there are some who lay out a lot. The engineers can get over 100k pretty easily, plus they get whopping bonuses and all. But their pay is gonna be closer to the 100k generally, especially with years under their belts.

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I'm mostly interested in model railroading and am building a layout. I think most model railroaders are curious as to what real railroad employees make.

    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 

      6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      No. It would be great if new-hires are hired on as brakemen and allowed that kind of extended side-by-side training with an experienced conductor; but we're talking about ideal situations now that no longer exist :p I can work as a brakeman on local jobs if necessary; but crews these days are primarily engineer and conductor. In fact, the "space age" of railroading for some road trips projects engineer-only trains. But that's down the road some ways. What makes you interested in railroading?

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      That's fast and great. So you didn't have to start as a brakeman or switch operator?

    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 

      6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Ha!Ha! Certified conductor after--ready?--three months! 'Twas a bad deal for my group because the industry was/is in high gear (should anyone need work) and isn't slowing (a good thing). Truthfully, it should be about a year; I've met persons who've trained as little as three months to about 1.5 years. The job is a good one (not stressful but requires organization and awareness) and not seeming like work (every day is different); but it's potentially dangerous. The lifestyle, however, is tough, very demanding of time and not good for people with families. You're never home and when the phone rings you must stop everything and go. (You'll take trains to different yards in other cities unless you're on a local crew.) But it is lucrative as you've stated. Most conductors--those that stay working--will make the 50k in their first or second year. My uncle is a retired engineer and his line is: "You'll make all the money you want, but you'll never be able to spend it!"

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR

      alocsin 

      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Wow, that makes my day, hearing from a member of the profession. I'm curious about what thing -- I assume you started as an entry-level employee and worked your way up? How long did it take you from when you started at the railroad to become a conductor?

    • ithabise profile image

      Michael S. 

      6 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

      Good job, Aurelio. I'm a conductor with Norfolk Southern, and all that you've explained is true. The railroad is a different world, the lifestyle...crazy. But the work isn't difficult and the pay makes it worthwhile. Thanks for the well-researched read.

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