Railroad Program Overview

The curriculum at Northwest Railroad Institute is developed with input by the railroad industry and seasoned railroad professionals. The Rail Operations Training Program instructs students on how to maintain and operate the equipment that is responsible for the assembly and movement of trains.

Our program is geared towards training freight conductors; these conductors are responsible for the safe movement of trains, all employees, brakemen, and switchmen in their care. Conductors are held responsible for themselves, other crew members, and their company since they organize all the work activities along a railroad route. They also:

  • Keep manifest paperwork up-to-date and in proper order

  • Manage employee hours as well as their own hours of service

  • Maintain compliance to both the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and company rules and regulations

  • Communicate with dispatchers and others

  • Manage train movement throughout their territory

  • Regulate the final arrival and disposition of the train.

The program places a strong emphasis on classroom lecture in combination with hands-on training. These components are intertwined throughout the program so you can implement your classroom knowledge with practical applications in railroad operations.

What You Will Learn

Introduction to the Railroad Industry

The first phase in the curriculum is an overview of the railroad industry. In this section, students will learn about:

  • Development and evolution of the railroad industry in North America
  • Economic impact of railroads in North America
  • Various career opportunities in railroading
  • Occupations in the industry, their functions, and requirements
  • Major characteristics of the North American rail industry’s operations, processes, and structure
  • First aid, AED, and CPR training
  • Hazardous materials practices and handling

Railroad Operations and Safety Rules

In this section, students learn about the importance of safety and following the rules of the industry such as the general orders and special instructions governing safe train practices and operations. Specifically, students learn:

  • Railroad operations and safety rules
  • The importance of safety, personal health, and environmental awareness
  • Important techniques for improving safety operations and conditions
  • Various safety measures and tools such as operating rules, signals and their indications, block signals, track warrants, track bulletins, and railroad radio rules

Introduction to the Railroad Industry

The first phase in the curriculum is an overview of the railroad industry. In this section, students will learn about:

  • Development and evolution of the railroad industry in North America
  • Economic impact of railroads in North America
  • Various career opportunities in railroading
  • Occupations in the industry, their functions, and requirements
  • Major characteristics of the North American rail industry’s operations, processes, and structure
  • First aid, AED, and CPR training
  • Hazardous materials practices and handling

Railroad Operations and Safety Rules

In this section, students learn about the importance of safety and following the rules of the industry such as the general orders and special instructions governing safe train practices and operations. Specifically, students learn:

  • Railroad operations and safety rules
  • The importance of safety, personal health, and environmental awareness
  • Important techniques for improving safety operations and conditions
  • Various safety measures and tools such as operating rules, signals and their indications, block signals, track warrants, track bulletins, and railroad radio rules

General Code of Operating Rules

One of the more intensive sections of the program is spent learning the General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR). Students must pass a rigorous GCOR test to advance in the program and must demonstrate proficiency in these areas:

  • Employee responsibilities
  • Protocol for dealing with accidents and the safe movement of trains
  • Railroad radio rules, timetables, train handling
  • Signals and their use
  • Movement of trains and engines
  • Territories including CTC, TWC, ATS, ACS, etc.

Yard Switching Operations

A lot of railroad operations are unseen because they take place in industrial facilities and railroad yards. These activities are essential to railroad operations since they are important to the railroads’ job of delivering freight on time to their proper destinations. After completing this course, students will understand:

  • Breaking up, spotting/making up trains, and releasing them to their proper destination
  • Rules governing safety in rail operations and what special precautions need to be taken when working with heavy equipment, engines, and freight cars
  • Field application of FRA rules

Air Brakes and Train Handling Rules

Students get hands-on experience in the field with the school’s locomotive
and freight cars while learning about:

  • Inspecting and testing brake equipment
  • Air brakes and their operations and inspection processes
  • Mechanics, major structural components, problem-solving of brake systems, and the FRA rules and regulations
  • Gain practical experience by coupling and uncoupling rail cars and loco- motives
  • Conducting daily inspections of freight cars and locomotives according to federal regulations

Railroad Field Operations – On the Job Training

This course is designed to give students the opportunity to apply railroad rules in a real-world setting using the school’s locomotive on live tracks and includes:

  • General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR), timetables, special instructions as well as general orders and track bulletins and track warrants on a railroad system
  • Students will apply their classroom training in a working railroad environment where they will make up trains, switch, and spot rail equipment
  • Additionally, students will receive practical experience by coupling and uncoupling rail cars and locomotives, troubleshooting air brake systems and lining track switches. Students will work in teams to inspect damaged tracks.

Hazardous Materials, Practices, and Handling

Hazardous materials are defined as “a substance or material that the Secretary of Transportation has determined to be capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health and safety when transported in commerce”.
Topics covered in this course include:

  • Federal regulatory agencies
  • DOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations
  • Recognition and identification of hazardous materials in transportation
  • Use the 2000 Emergency Response Guidebook
  • Chemical properties
  • How to use online resources
  • NIOSH Pocket Guide
  • Hazardous Substances Fact Sheets and Material Safety Data Sheets
  • Introduction to toxicology and DOT-required security awareness training

Freight Car and Locomotive Daily Inspection

Each locomotive in active service is inspected by a qualified inspector at least once a day. In this course, students will learn how to:

  • Conduct the inspection of freight cars and locomotives according to federal regulations
  • Write an accurate and detailed inspection report

Preparing For The Job Application and Interview

The ultimate objective of this course is to help you achieve employment in the railroad industry. To prepare and practice for gaining entry in the railroad industry, students will:

  • Learn how to write an effective cover letter and resume, and complete an employment application
  • ​Practice interviewing protocol and techniques
  • Focus on career goals to advance and move beyond entry level positions
  • Use the internet to explore career opportunities and research potential employers in the railroad industry

General Code of Operating Rules

One of the more intensive sections of the program is spent learning the General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR). Students must pass a rigorous GCOR test to advance in the program and must demonstrate proficiency in these areas:

  • Employee responsibilities
  • Protocol for dealing with accidents and the safe movement of trains
  • Railroad radio rules, timetables, train handling
  • Signals and their use
  • Movement of trains and engines
  • Territories including CTC, TWC, ATS, ACS, etc.

Yard Switching Operations

A lot of railroad operations are unseen because they take place in industrial facilities and railroad yards. These activities are essential to railroad operations since they are important to the railroads’ job of delivering freight on time to their proper destinations. After completing this course, students will understand:

  • Breaking up, spotting/making up trains, and releasing them to their proper destination
  • Rules governing safety in rail operations and what special precautions need to be taken when working with heavy equipment, engines, and freight cars
  • Field application of FRA rules

Air Brakes and Train Handling Rules

Students get hands-on experience in the field with the school’s locomotive
and freight cars while learning about:

  • Inspecting and testing brake equipment
  • Air brakes and their operations and inspection processes
  • Mechanics, major structural components, problem-solving of brake systems, and the FRA rules and regulations
  • Gain practical experience by coupling and uncoupling rail cars and locomotives
  • Conducting daily inspections of freight cars and locomotives according to federal regulations

Railroad Field Operations – On the Job Training

This course is designed to give students the opportunity to apply railroad rules in a real-world setting using the school’s locomotive on live tracks and includes:

  • General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR), timetables, special instructions as well as general orders and track bulletins and track warrants on a railroad system
  • Students will apply their classroom training in a working railroad environment where they will make up trains, switch, and spot rail equipment
  • Additionally, students will receive practical experience by coupling and uncoupling rail cars and locomotives, troubleshooting air brake systems and lining track switches. Students will work in teams to inspect damaged tracks.

Hazardous Materials, Practices, and Handling

Hazardous materials are defined as “a substance or material that the Secretary of Transportation has determined to be capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health and safety when transported in commerce”.
Topics covered in this course include:

  • Federal regulatory agencies
  • DOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations
  • Recognition and identification of hazardous materials in transportation
  • Use the 2000 Emergency Response Guidebook
  • Chemical properties
  • How to use online resources
  • NIOSH Pocket Guide
  • Hazardous Substances Fact Sheets and Material Safety Data Sheets
  • Introduction to toxicology and DOT-required security awareness training

Freight Car and Locomotive Daily Inspection

Each locomotive in active service is inspected by a qualified inspector at least once a day. In this course, students will learn how to:

  • Conduct the inspection of freight cars and locomotives according to federal regulations
  • Write an accurate and detailed inspection report

Preparing For The Job Application and Interview

The ultimate objective of this course is to help you achieve employment in the railroad industry. To prepare and practice for gaining entry in the railroad industry, students will:

  • Learn how to write an effective cover letter and resume, and complete an employment application
  • ​Practice interviewing protocol and techniques
  • Focus on career goals to advance and move beyond entry-level positions
  • Use the internet to explore career opportunities and research potential employers in the railroad industry

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