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How to Become a Railroad Conductor or Yardmaster

Employers of conductors and yardmasters generally require a high school diploma and several months of on-the-job training.


Most conductors and yardmasters have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Some take training courses at a community college.


Most railroad companies have 1 to 3 months of on-the-job training for conductors and yardmasters. Amtrak (the passenger train company) and some of the larger freight railroad companies operate their own training programs. Smaller and regional railroads may send conductors to a central training facility or a community college.

Yardmasters may be sent to training programs or may be trained by an experienced yardmaster. They learn how to operate remote locomotive technology and how to manage railcars in the yard.

Conductors and yardmasters also learn the proper procedures for loading and unloading different types of cargo.

Work Experience

Some conductors and yardmasters are promoted from within the railroad company. They may have worked as signal, switch, or brake operators. For more information, see the profile on train engineers and operators.


Recent legislation will soon require conductors who operate on national, regional, or commuter railroads to become certified. New conductors will have to pass a test that has been designed and administered by the railroad and approved by the Federal Railroad Administration. Existing conductors will be granted automatic certification. The new rule is expected to go into effect in late 2012.


Some conductors or yardmasters advance to become locomotive engineers.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Conductors and yardmasters constantly speak with locomotive engineers and dispatchers to prevent accidents and ensure that the train stays on schedule. Conductors and yardmasters must be easily understood.

Customer-service skills. Conductors on passenger trains ensure customers’ comfort, make announcements, and answer any questions a passenger has. They must be courteous and patient. They may have to deal with unruly or upset passengers.

Leadership skills. On some trains, a conductor directs a crew. Yardmasters oversee other rail yard workers.

Speaking skills. Conductors on passenger trains announce stations and make other announcements. They must be able to speak clearly so passengers understand what they are saying.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition