Common Railroad Careers

The following railroad job descriptions are typical of most North American Class I railroads. While the description or job title might vary by railroad, this will give you an overview of the various jobs with the typical railroad, from train crews, dispatching center employees, and yard and field operations.

Train Crew


Locomotive Engineer
The crew member responsible for operating the locomotive. 

A train crew member who performs railcar and track management. Job is sometimes interchangable with switchman (see description below).

Crew member aboard a freight train that's responsible for the proper operation of the entire train and the overall safety of the cargo and the train's crew. (See Road Foreman under Railroad Conductor Specialties below.)

Railroad Conductor Specialties

1) Road Foreman: When the term “conductor” is used, it is commonly referring to the role of the road foreman. The road foreman is responsible for the safe and efficient movement of a train while in transit from one terminal to another. 

2) Yard Foreman: A freight conductor that has been assigned to a yard job. Yard jobs are divided into 2 categories: Switcher and Industry Switcher.

Yard Foreman Switcher: A yard foreman assigned to a yard switcher crew is responsible for sorting inbound trains, as directed by the Yardmaster.

Yard Foreman Industry Switcher: Responsible for servicing local industry customers in proximity to the particular rail yard. Rail cars are gathered from the yard and transported to the assigned industries by the industry switcher. The delivered freight cars are “spotted” at designated spots according to the customer. The industry switcher is also responsible for pulling cars that the customer has “ordered out” and returning them to the yard for classification.

Dispatching Center

Personally responsible for movement of trains over a portion of a railroad's division (territory). Train dispatchers usually communicate directly with train crews via radio and authorize track occupancy. This person is responsible for traffic control and for communicating changes in typical operations that may affect the flow of traffic (for example, track maintenance a train may encounter).

Division Superintendent
Individual with authority over a portion of a railroad (division). Oversees scheduling and other factors that contribute to the smooth flow of trains. Also responsible for track maintenance within his/her division. 

Tower Operator
Controls switching of trains in and out of yards.

Oversees train operations and supervises train crews.

Oversees switching and yard operations where trains are assembled and prepared for their next service.

Yard & Field Operations

Responsible for welding and operating tools and machinery to repair locomotive components.

A mechanic responsible for rail car (freight car, rolling stock) inspection, maintenance, and repair. 

Person responsible for railroad track maintenance.

Signal Maintainer
One who maintains signals over a given portion of a railroad. In addition to signals, this railroad employee also maintains other critical pieces of equipment along the line, like hot box detectors, dragging equipment detectors, railroading crossings, and all Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) equipment. (CTC is a system in which signals and switches for a given area of track are controlled (often computerized) from a centralized dispatching center.

A railroad worker responsible for assembling trains and switching railroad cars in a yard; now often used interchangeably with brakeman as a single job description.

Section Foreman
Individual in authority over group of workers. 

Section Crew
Group of workers responsible for assisting in yard operations.

Special Agent
Police officer employed by the railroad to protect railroad assets, both on railroad property and along the railroad's line.