How do I Become a Locomotive Engineer?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Locomotive engineers control the train during operations on the track and in the yard.
Locomotive engineers control the train during operations on the track and in the yard.

To become a locomotive engineer, it is necessary to have a high school diploma and receive training on locomotives while maintaining a good safety record. This work also requires physical fitness and no recent history of drug or alcohol problems. People usually work their way up to positions as locomotive engineers with a given rail company, starting as workers like brakemen to get familiar with the operation of the train and acquire skills to learn how to drive the train.

Work experience at a railroad yard might lead to a job as a locomotive engineer.
Work experience at a railroad yard might lead to a job as a locomotive engineer.

Locomotive engineers control the train during operations on open track as well as in the yard. They are responsible for making decisions about speed and other characteristics of travel. Good communication skills are necessary to talk with controllers and other engineers, and a locomotive engineer must also have good vision, as it is necessary to be able to identify physical hazards on the track.

Locomotive engineers must understand the breaking and signalling systems that are used to prevent rail accidents.
Locomotive engineers must understand the breaking and signalling systems that are used to prevent rail accidents.

A high school diploma or equivalency certificate is the only formal educational requirement for this position. Someone who wants to become a locomotive engineer can apply directly to a railroad to get work experience, and may want to mention that she has an interest in eventually qualifying as an engineer. The new employee will move through a series of job positions in the yard and on the train to learn how trains work and develop useful experience and skills.

Locomotive engineers need to be physically fit and have no substance-abuse problems.
Locomotive engineers need to be physically fit and have no substance-abuse problems.

When an employee has a good safety record, with no outstanding concerns about drug and alcohol use, he can apply to become a locomotive engineer in training. Depending on regional laws, the worker may have what is essentially a learner's permit for trains. On-the-job training in the yard and then out on the tracks is available to allow the trainee to learn how to handle trains safely and in a variety of conditions. A person who wants to become a locomotive engineer may also choose to pursue simulator experience. Large railroads may have a central operations center for training, where people start on simulators and then operate actual trains.

Urban railways employ a large percentage of the nation's locomotive engineers.
Urban railways employ a large percentage of the nation's locomotive engineers.

Some nations have an age requirement and people may need to be 21 years of age to become a locomotive engineer. Railroads can also have their own requirements, not set by the government. People with an interest in railroad careers may want to read about the requirements and benefits of jobs with different companies to get an idea of the available options and learn more about what will be expected of them on the job. It is necessary to periodically recertify after qualifying as a locomotive engineer, usually every two to three years.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • Locomotive engineers control the train during operations on the track and in the yard.
      Locomotive engineers control the train during operations on the track and in the yard.
    • Work experience at a railroad yard might lead to a job as a locomotive engineer.
      Work experience at a railroad yard might lead to a job as a locomotive engineer.
    • Locomotive engineers must understand the breaking and signalling systems that are used to prevent rail accidents.
      Locomotive engineers must understand the breaking and signalling systems that are used to prevent rail accidents.
    • Locomotive engineers need to be physically fit and have no substance-abuse problems.
      Locomotive engineers need to be physically fit and have no substance-abuse problems.
    • Urban railways employ a large percentage of the nation's locomotive engineers.
      Urban railways employ a large percentage of the nation's locomotive engineers.