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What Subway and Streetcar Operators Do

Subway and streetcar operators transport passengers in urban and suburban areas. Subway operators drive trains that run on separate tracks that may be underground or above ground. Streetcar operators drive electric-powered streetcars, trolleys, and light-rail vehicles that run on streets or on separate tracks above ground.


Subway and streetcar operators typically do the following:

Subway trains and streetcars are normally electric powered, with no separate locomotive pulling the rest of the vehicle. Trains with a separate locomotive travel much further, often through several states or across the country, while subways and streetcars operate within a single metropolitan area.

Operators work a variety of controls. Although some subways are driven by a computer while in route, most operators control when to start and stop a train. On manually driven subways and on streetcars, operators monitor the speed of the vehicle. Most also control the vehicle doors, helping to ensure that passengers get off and on safely.

Subway operators drive heavy-rail trains that travel on their own right-of-way on underground, above-ground, or elevated tracks. The train’s speed often is controlled by a computer, not the operator. However, drivers must be able to take over and drive the train manually in case of an emergency.

Streetcar operators drive electric streetcars, trolleys, and other light-rail vehicles in an urban area. Some streetcar tracks are built in the street, and operators must drive in regular traffic and obey all traffic laws. Operators start, stop, and slow down so that passengers can get on and off. Some operators collect fares and make change. Answering questions about fares, schedules, and routes, streetcar operators interact more with passengers than subway operators do.

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