If you’re like most people, you don’t ever really think about trains until you are stuck in backed up traffic because a train is passing.
We’ve all heard and seen the history of railroad conductors wearing their overalls and nifty hats while carrying rusty lanterns, but that is obviously a bit date. So, what does a train conductor do in these modern times?
What Does a Freight Conductor Do?
Let’s first go over what a freight conductor does. In the United States, the freight rail industry largely trumps passenger rail. There are many more freight conductors than passenger conductors, and they are highly compensated.
The general duties of a freight conductor can vary slightly based on their specific assignment, but to describe them in the most basic way, a freight conductor is responsible for:
- Coupling and uncoupling rail cars, applying and releasing handbrakes, lining track switches.
- Directing the train movement via radio and hand signals while switching in a yard or industry.
- Protecting and controlling the leading end of the movement when shoving (moving in reverse) via radio.
- Ensuring the train is built in the proper order.
- Ensures train documents and hazmat paperwork is in proper order.
- Communicates with dispatchers via phone and radio.
That may sound like a lot, and it is. Basically, a train conductor is responsible for everything other than actually operating the locomotive (driving the train).
Some Scenarios They May Enconter
To help you understand, here are a few scenarios a train conductor will encounter during the course of their job duties.
Building a train
If a conductor is working a yard assignment, they are tasked with switching cars to classify them in the correct order for outbound trains. This involves being on their feet all day, or night, and consists of the following:
- Reading a switch list and coming up with a plan to get the cars in the correct order, much like solving a puzzle.
- Lining track switches, directing locomotive engineer movements by radio and hand signals, coupling and uncoupling rail cars.
Working a through freight train
Here’s what a train conductor does when working a “through freight” train. These are the trains that travel longer distances between terminals.
The conductor sits on the left side of the locomotive at a desk, and is responsible for the paperwork to be in order, reviewing bulletins for track slow orders, work limits, or other restrictions. Ensuring the train is in compliance with all rules and regulations. They also communicate with dispatchers and other trains on the radio.
What Does a Passenger Railroad Conductor do?
In the United States, there aren’t many of these in the traditional sense. Most passenger conductors work for local municipalities that have subways or commuter trains.
They are responsible for collecting tickets, helping passengers board and exit the train, solving disputes, and other minor tasks.
In the case of Amtrak conductors, they are responsible for similar tasks, but are also more in charge of their train like freight conductors. They will communicate with their locomotive engineer on the radio to relay messages about signals, track conditions, slow orders, and they will communicate with dispatchers.
If you’re wondering what a train conductor does, this was a very basic overview of the job duties that freight and passenger conductors are responsible for.