Conductors and yardmasters coordinate the daily activities of both freight and passenger train crews. Conductors work on the train. Yardmasters work in the rail yard.
Conductors typically do the following:
Conductors travel on both freight and passenger trains. They coordinate activities of the train crew. On passenger trains, they ensure safety and comfort and make announcements to keep passengers informed. On freight trains, they oversee, and are ultimately responsible for, the loading and unloading of cargo.
Yardmasters typically do the following:
Yardmasters do work similar to that of conductors, except that they do not travel on trains. They oversee and coordinate the activities of workers in the rail yard. They tell yard engineers where to move cars to fit the planned configuration or to load freight. Yardmasters ensure that trains are carrying the correct material before leaving the yard. Not all rail yards use yardmasters. In rail yards that do not have yardmasters, a conductor performs the duties of a yardmaster.
Freight trains move billions of tons of goods around the country and to ports where the goods are shipped around the world. Passenger trains move millions of passengers and commuters to destinations around the country.
Before a train leaves, the conductor or yardmaster discusses the train’s route, timetable, and cargo with the locomotive engineer. Conductors are in constant contact with engineers while en route, and they keep each other informed of any changes in the condition of the train. Conductors also receive information from dispatchers about delays and other trains’ locations.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition