How to Prepare for a Class 1 Railroad Physical Abilities Test


If a class 1 railroad offers you a job, you don't want to jeopardize it by being out of shape and failing the pre-employment physical. These days railroads are working hard to cut health care costs by screening out potential employees who have health risks. They also want to be sure that you have the physical abilities to complete your assigned tasks. Even if you are in top physical condition you'll want to be sure you are ready for the test- being nervous can send your heart rate and blood pressure soaring, which can cause you to fail the test.

Things You'll Need

  • Blood pressure monitor
  • Pulse Monitor
  • Notebook
  • Exercise Clothes
  • Information about Smoking Cessation
  • You should start preparing for the pre-employment physical before you even apply, if possible. If you smoke, QUIT. In some states, railroads are allowed to discriminate against smokers. Even if they can't discriminate against smokers in your state, you should quit anyway. Smoking drives your heart rate and blood pressure up and can interfere with lung capacity. Blood pressure, heart rate, and lung capacity are both checked during the pre-employment physical. Blood pressure and heart rate are checked during the physical abilities test, with heart rate being measured by sensors throughout each physical abilities test task.

  • After you have quit smoking, make sure that you do not have high blood pressure (hypertension). Remember that hypertension is a completely symptomless disease. People do not experience pain or discomfort as they develop high blood pressure. Remember also that even very fit, thin people can develop high blood pressure. Even Mark Spitz, an Olympic athlete, now deals with high blood pressure, in spite of being in excellent physical condition.

    The railroad will check your blood pressure at the pre-employment physical, and if you are nervous about passing, your blood pressure will go up. So you need wiggle room. Your blood pressure should not be higher than 140/90. If it is, then immediately speak with your doctor. Also, check out the DASH Diet website. The DASH Diet is very effective at reducing blood pressure, and is endorsed by the National Institutes of Health. See this link:

  • Check your cardiovascular fitness. Your resting heart rate should be within normal limits. Although most railroads do not have hard and fast rules about this, you do not want any red flags to show up during a physical. If your resting heart rate is high, then it is time to work on getting into shape. See your doctor for advice, and read everything you can on cardiovascular fitness to implement a workout routine to improve your cardio fitness.

  • Know how to handle anxiety. More than one applicant has sailed through the reading tests, interviews, and background checks, only to fail the physical abilities test due to anxiety-induced high heart rate or blood pressure. If working for the railroad is just another job opportunity for you, you may not experience high enough anxiety to send your normally healthy heart rate soaring, but life-long rail fans who are looking to work for the railroad are sometimes so anxious that their hearts race and blood pressures soar. So study up on techniques for handling pressure. Practice meditation and breathing techniques or self-hypnosis. Read up on a variety of stress management techniques and practice several until you are able to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure at will. Wear your pulse monitor throughout the day, and check your heart rate during calm times and during very anxious moments. If you notice that your heart rate soars, then experiment with breathing and mental imaging techniques until you know what works for you. You may even want to consult with a health psychologist or have a few biofeedback sessions to get some practice. Relaxation recordings are also available to help people practice learning to relax on command. These are inexpensive and have been shown to lower blood pressure. Listening to calming music with a soft, steady beat has also been shown to help. You may want to listen to this music on the way to the test, and possibly even bring an MP3 player in with you to listen while you wait to be seen.

  • You will be required to lift heavy objects as a railroad employee. Conductors working for major railroads are required to lift an approximately 85 pound weight and to place it at the height of a freight car platform. They also have to wear a vest weighing 50 pounds while hanging on a step by their arms to simulate riding the side of a freight car while wearing a remote control unit. This requires strength. Many railroad employment experts recommend circuit training, especially emphasizing military presses alternating with an aerobic activity in order to develop the strength necessary for a conductor position.

  • You need to also develop flexibility. Can you touch your toes? You need to be able to demonstrate reasonable flexibility as a part of the physical. Be sure to incorporate forward, backward and side to side stretches as a part of your workout routine. Your flexibility will be measured as a part of the test.

  • Grip Strength. If you have a weak grip, work on it. Once again, seek the advice of a trainer for exercises.

  • Be sure that you are not addicted to drugs or alcohol. Railroads do random drug testing. This is necessary for everyone's safety. If you do drugs or drink alcohol regularly and cannot quit, then look for another line of work. Don't think that you can fool the test once and pursue a railroad job. If you can't stay sober, do everyone a favor and stay out of the railroad business.

  • If you fail the physical abilities test, but believe you are in good enough shape to handle the job, then immediately inquire into the appeals process. Some people who have initially failed the test have successfully appealed and obtained a second chance, and some of those have passed on the second try. If you DO appeal, be sure to make your letter brief, factual, polite, and respectful. If there were any problems with equipment malfunction during the test, be sure to mention these up front. If you already work in a physically demanding job that equals or exceeds the demands of the railroad position, mention this as well. Meanwhile, keep training, eating right, and working on stress management. If you still don't pass, then keep training and working to compensate for whatever caused you to fail in the first place. Then, when you are confident that you can pass the physical abilities test, go ahead and apply again. More than one trainman has been hired after several unsuccessful attempts.

Tips & Warnings

  • Start training as soon as possible.
  • Make a healthy diet and exercise a part of your lifestyle.
  • Remember that even fit people can have difficulty with certain parts of the test, so it is best to prepare even if you currently have a physically demanding job.
  • For more information about getting a railroad job see this railroad employment blog:
  • Consult a physician before beginning a fitness plan to obtain diet and exercise advice and guidelines, and to be sure that your plan is right for you.

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