Railroads and Essential Jobs in the United States


What Are Essential Jobs?

No matter your age or standing in life, the future can always be daunting. The global pandemic over the last year has brought significant complications to students and jobseekers. As such, a lot of buzz has been focused on “essential jobs.” These occupations have proven to be a lot more secure under these widescale disasters. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), “essential workers are those who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continue critical infrastructure operations.”

As the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency notes, there are 16 sectors of essential work within the United States. Of these, transportation is arguably one of the most important sectors. While leisurely travel is not thriving, there will always be a necessity to transport goods and products through national railways. Notably, the NCSL states that the transportation sector has played a vital role during the pandemic response and recovery/relief efforts within the United States.

So where does that leave us amidst a global pandemic? There are still options which have the potential to lead to a strong, reliable career in a nationally recognized essential field. Railroad workers serve tens of millions of people daily through the combined means of personnel transportation and the transit goods/products nationwide.

What Options Do I Have On the Railroad?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 7 distinct occupations on railways to investigate.

Locomotive engineers are the operators who drive trains between stations. (Note: most locomotive engineers first work as conductors for several years before their employers offer training and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) certification.)

Train conductors travel on the trains and coordinate the activities of the train and its crew.

Yardmasters coordinate and oversee activities within the rail yards, but do not travel on the trains.

Rail yard engineers (sometimes called hostlers) operate train engines within the rail yard to move locomotives between tracks. They keep the trains organized to maintain their schedules.

Railroad brakemen help couple and uncouple train cars and sometimes travel with the train as part of the crew.

Railroad signal operators install and maintain the signals along the tracks and within the rail yard. This helps to ensure that communication between trains and dispatchers is enhanced to prevent accidents.

Railroad switchmen attend the switch in a railroad yard, switching trains from one track to another.

Where Do I Get Railroad Job Training?

Industry-specific training is a necessity for all these positions. Some employers offer on-the-job training to completely green individuals. These types of opportunities are extremely competitive and arguably deceptive. New-hires often lack the full perspective of the field they are getting into. Many railroad workers start their careers by formally training at a recognized and reliable educational institution. These institutions offer classroom instruction and hands-on training.

What Does Northwest Railroad Institute Offer?

NWRI offers an extensive 6-month training program. Our program features specialized classroom instruction, intense hands-on training, and focused career preparation. This can be broken down into the following:

  • Introduction to the Railroad Industry
  • Railroad Operations and Safety Rules
  • General Code of Operating Rules
  • Yard Switching Operations
  • Air Brakes and Train Handling Rules
  • Railroad Field Operations—On the Job Training
  • Hazardous Materials, Practices, and Handling
  • Freight Car and Locomotive Daily Inspection
  • Preparing for the Job Application and Interview

Additionally, NWRI offers students and graduates career placement assistance. While we are unable to guarantee employment, our Career Services department works directly with recruiters from more than 20 companies in the railroad industry. Many of these recruiters reach out to us regularly for our well-prepared graduates.

How Do I Get Started?

To learn more about enrolling in our 6-month railroad training program, please fill out the form to the right of this article, or call us at (800) 868-1816.