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Railroads might be old-school, but they are still a significant industry in the U.S., with many employees earning six-figure salaries. But not every railroad job is lucrative. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects salary data for about 800 occupations, and the following 15 railroad jobs are among the best-paying ones based on that data. These annual salaries are calculated from hourly wage data from the BLS’ Occupational Employment Statistics program.
The best-paying jobs in railroads in 2023 will require workers to have experience or specialized skills. They’ll also likely involve working with hazardous materials or heavy equipment.
There are plenty of reasons to work on a train. You can see the country, make good money, and become a real-life hero.
Railroads hire locomotive engineers and conductors working with freight or passenger trains. The number of jobs available for these train operators is expected to grow by 10% from 2023 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Given the many jobs available in the railroad industry, finding a position that fits your skills and interests is easy. But are the jobs worth doing? You’ll find that some positions earn more than $100,000 per year.
To help you explore your options, below is a list of 15 of the best-paying railroad jobs. We’ve listed each job’s median salary (half earn more and half earn less), but salaries vary greatly depending on experience and location. If you’re interested in learning about other careers within railroads, check out our guide to railroad companies and industries.
In the past few years, many railroads have increased their efforts to recruit and keep employees. Some of these new programs are designed to benefit employees while working for the railroad, while others are designed to assist them after they retire.
Some of the benefits that railroad workers receive include paid leave and retirement plans. Many railroads also offer a job guarantee program, which helps workers stay with the same employer for long. Railroad workers may also be able to enroll in health insurance or retirement plans unavailable in other industries.
Railroad jobs often pay more than other jobs, making them ideal for people who want to earn more. A railroad worker is generally paid a higher rate per hour than other employees, making it easier for them to afford necessities and save for retirement.
Many people who work as railroad workers enjoy their job because it allows them to travel throughout the country on their own terms. This can make it easier for these individuals to visit friends and family and escape their day-to-day lives. Railroad workers often have flexible schedules, making it easier to spend time with family members when they need rest or relaxation.
Below are the 15 best-paying railroad jobs ranked from lowest to highest annual salary:
The BLS notes that diesel mechanics who work for railroads are responsible for repairing trains and taking steps to prevent damage. Mechanics often work in teams and have a supervisor who assigns tasks. According to the BLS, the job requires a high school diploma or equivalent and completion of an apprenticeship program. Some workers learn their skills through on-the-job training, but employers prefer candidates who have completed formal training programs at community colleges or technical schools.
They are essential to the success of railroads and oftentimes work on-site at railroad facilities. The average salary for diesel mechanics is $48,000 per year; however, many mechanics earn significantly higher salaries.
Their job is to ensure that trains run smoothly and safely. They maintain a variety of equipment, including signal systems and crossing gates. If a train will have to slow down or stop due to a malfunction of this equipment, the signal maintainer will be notified. They can then repair the problem and notify the train engineer when it is safe to continue.
They may also be called signalmen or signal maintainers. It is a medium-sized occupation, with an estimated 23,500 signal maintainers working in the United States. The average signal maintainer makes roughly $24 per hour.
These workers are responsible for inspecting, cleaning, and repairing the freight cars used by railroads and other carriers. They also maintain freight car components such as brakes, couplers, doors, and wheels. That work can be dangerous, especially when climbing on top of moving cars or walking along tracks during inclement weather or at night.
In addition to certifying that a car is safe for travel, railroad carmen must also document their findings in writing. Some employers may require them to have a high school diploma or equivalent. However, most training occurs on the job under the supervision of experienced workers. The BLS notes that automation will limit these jobs over the next decade as more freight cars become self-cleaning and self-repairing.
The average annual salary for this position is $55,000. These managers supervise workers who switch and check cars at train yards. They may also inspect trains and equipment for safety purposes and issue orders for repairs or modifications to railcars or tracks. Trainyard managers usually need a high school diploma plus several years of experience working in a train yard setting. Railroads prefer related experience in the industry.
Ultimately a train yard manager is responsible for the day-to-day operation of a train yard. This includes coordinating maintenance, supervising the movement of trains, and managing workers.
Locomotive engineers work in all weather conditions, including rain and snow. They also work for long periods, sometimes more than 12 hours per day. A locomotive engineer operates the locomotive of a train, while a conductor supervises the train and crew operation.
As the U.S. railroad system grows and transportation processes become more complicated, experts say demand for these workers will increase in the coming years. Employment opportunities for locomotive engineers have grown by 6 percent from 2023 to 2025.
The salaries of railroad workers are impacted by several factors, including the state in which they work and the company for which they work. A trainmaster is responsible for directing the movement of trains and other railcars, overseeing the work of train crews, inspecting tracks for safety, and handling problems such as delays or mechanical breakdowns.
A trainmaster takes on some of the superintendent or general manager’s responsibilities. The average annual salary for a trainmaster is $63,000 per year.
Railroad track supervisors share many responsibilities with their counterparts in highway transportation, including inspecting and maintaining equipment, ensuring safety procedures are followed, and supervising track workers.
Track supervisors also have unique job duties, such as inspecting the tracks for irregularities that could cause accidents, submitting reports on the condition of the tracks, and coordinating the use of tracks by different railroads. According to CareerBuilder and SimplyHired, railroad track supervisors earn an average salary of $63,000.
A railroad dispatcher runs the trains and keeps them on schedule. Dispatchers handle dozens of trains daily and keep them from colliding on the same track.
The position may not be glamorous, but it pays well for a reason: Railroad dispatchers earned an average salary of $65,000 last year, according to USA Today. A dispatcher is probably the highest-paying job requiring only a high school diploma. There’s little glamour, but you get paid well to work with computers and talk on radios.
You see freight conductors working in rail yards and sometimes on moving trains. They’re pretty much what they sound like. This is an entry-level job, so you don’t need any experience to start. Still, the better you do, the more money you can make. You can also get promoted and move up in the company.
A freight conductor is responsible for the safe delivery of cargo on trains. They work with train crews to ensure that each train has the proper equipment, including crew members and supplies.
They also keep track of cargo as it is loaded, unloaded, and moved between different railcars. The most common employer of freight conductors is the Union Pacific Railroad.
Transportation inspectors make nearly $68,000 a year on average, and there are nearly 75,000 of them employed nationwide. They work for government agencies or private companies, checking equipment and conducting tests to ensure compliance with regulations. The position requires four years of experience or on-the-job training (or both).
These inspectors check for hazardous materials and mechanical problems. They also enforce safety standards and ensure that railroad equipment is up to federal specifications.
Railroad yardmasters direct the movement of rail cars within yards, terminals, sidings, or industrial tracks to facilitate loading and unloading operations. They also maintain records of incoming and outgoing cars and their contents; inspect cars for loading defects; plan to switch orders to maximize efficiency; communicate with dispatchers to coordinate arrivals and departures of trains; monitor the activity of yard workers; or authorize overtime work as necessary.
Railroad conductors coordinate the activities of railroad workers, monitor railroad operations, and oversee the loading and unloading of cargo, passengers, and baggage. They are responsible for ensuring that trains run on schedule, that equipment is properly maintained and that safety regulations are followed. Freight, passenger, or commuter railroads may employ them.
A typical railroad conductor has a high school diploma or its equivalent and some on-the-job training. Union membership is often required for employment. Railroad conductors usually work full time. Some conductors work nights, weekends, and holidays.
Also read: Merchandiser Job Description Template 2023
This description of the job is so simple that it’s easy to forget that it’s also an explanation of why it is one. The foreperson’s job is to tell his boss what his workers are doing and to keep them doing it.
Forepeople are paid more than their workers because they’re not just managing things but also reporting on them. And this reporting function, in turn, is what makes management possible.
Communications maintainers often work in areas where railway lines are located; however, some maintainers work in offices or warehouses where they can conduct repair work in a more controlled environment. Since these technicians may have a variety of duties, many companies prefer someone with experience in the field or who has previously worked as an electrician or telecommunications technician.
The median salary for communications maintainers is $75,000 per year, and hourly wages average $36 per hour. The job outlook is favorable through 2023, with a projected increase of 4 percent more jobs added to the industry during this time period.
The engineer operates the train’s locomotive. He or she ensures that all the trains’ controls and equipment are properly aligned before departure. During the trip, he or she monitors the train’s speed and observes signals along the way to ensure the safe operation of the engine and its cargo. Locomotive engineers must have a license from the Federal Railroad Administration.
While this list is meant to be a guide, it’s also worth remembering that many other factors determine pay rates for certain jobs, including location, industry, experience, and education level.
These lists are no doubt intended to be helpful for students looking for their first job out of college with a degree in railroad-related fields and those interested in pursuing similar careers.
The railroads are a wonderful field to work in. The wage is good for several years; the industry is stable, and many career pathways are available.