Train drivers, also known as locomotive engineers, drive locomotives that pull cars loaded with freight or passengers to different destinations across the country. Federal regulations mandate that train drivers pass formal training programs that include classroom, simulator and hands-on experience with locomotives. They must then submit to a background check and pass a hearing and visual test, rail operations knowledge test and skills test. Successful completion results in the granting of a license.
Train drivers make a median hourly wage of $23.01, or a yearly salary of $47,870. However, wages at the low end of the scale can descend to $16.07 or $33,430, while those at the opposite end rise to $42.64 or $88,690. This is as of May 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The highest-paying industries for train drivers are rail transportation, with pay at $25.88 or $53,830; the federal government, in which compensation is $24.52 or $50,990; and local government, in which compensation is $23.03 or $47,910. Both rail transportation, with 41,850 jobs, and local government, with 580 job, also rank in the top for job opportunities. Ranking behind them for jobs is rail transport support, with 170 positions, and pay at $17.41 and $36,200.
This job's best-paying employers are located in New Mexico, with wages at $43.64 or $90,780; California, at $33.34 or $69,340; and Colorado, at $33.19 or $69,040. However, these do not match the states with the highest concentration of train driver jobs, which are North Dakota, with wages at $26.70 or $55,540; Kansas, at $30.70 or $63,860; and Indiana, at $20.88 or $43,420.
The cities with the best-paid train drivers are also the ones offering the best job opportunities. They are Los Angeles, with wages at $26.80 or $55,740; and Minneapolis, Minn., at 18.36 or $38,190.
The BLS sees train driver jobs increasing by nine percent from 2008 through 2018, which is as fast as average for all positions. Demand will come from increases in rail freight and passenger services, as trains become a cheaper alternative to the rising fuel costs of trucks and cars. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandates rest hours of train crews between shifts. This requires that rail companies hire more train drivers to fill in the rest gaps.