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Locomotive Engineer vs. Conductor: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Locomotive engineers and conductors are two important roles in the railroad industry. Though they work together to keep trains running smoothly, there are several key differences between these two positions. In this article, we discuss the duties of locomotive engineers and conductors, the similarities and differences between them, and what you need to know to pursue a career in either role.

What is a Locomotive Engineer?

Locomotive Engineers operate and maintain locomotives to transport passengers or freight. They inspect the locomotive before each trip to ensure that it is in safe working condition. They start the locomotive, couple it to the train and then operate it according to a schedule. Locomotive Engineers use a variety of controls to operate the locomotive, including levers, switches and a throttle. They must be able to maintain a safe speed and keep the train on schedule. In the event of an emergency, they are responsible for stopping the train and evacuating passengers.

What is a Conductor?

Conductors are responsible for the safe operation of trains and ensuring that passengers and crew follow all safety regulations. They work with the locomotive engineer to plan the route, schedule stops and communicate with dispatchers. Conductors also collect tickets, help passengers with questions or concerns and make announcements over the PA system. In the event of an emergency, Conductors are responsible for evacuating passengers and crew in a safe and orderly manner. Conductors typically work for railroad companies, but may also work for transit systems or other businesses that operate trains.

Locomotive Engineer vs. Conductor

Here are the main differences between a locomotive engineer and a conductor.

Job Duties

One of the primary differences between a locomotive engineer and a conductor is the type of duties they perform on a train. A locomotive engineer operates the train by driving it from one location to another, while a conductor oversees the passengers as they travel. Conductors check tickets to make sure each passenger travels safely and abides by the transportation company’s rules, while engineers operate the vehicle that transports materials and products.

Another key difference is that locomotive engineers work mostly alone, while conductors often work in teams. This is because conducting a train involves multiple responsibilities, such as ticketing, boarding and communicating with other crew members. Locomotive engineers only have to focus on operating the train, which can be a solitary activity.

Job Requirements

Locomotive engineers must have a high school diploma or equivalent and complete training through their employer, which can last up to three months. Some employers may require locomotive engineers to have experience working with machinery or in the railroad industry. Conductor candidates must also have a high school diploma or equivalent, although some employers may prefer candidates who have completed postsecondary coursework in business administration or a related field. Both locomotive engineers and conductors must pass a physical examination and drug test before being hired.

Work Environment

Locomotive engineers work in a variety of environments, depending on the type of train they operate. For example, those who drive passenger trains may spend most of their time inside the locomotive cab, but those who drive freight trains often travel between different cars to ensure that cargo is secure and safe.

Conductor jobs are more likely to be spent entirely on board a train, as these professionals rarely have responsibilities outside of the train itself. However, some conductors may also perform duties at stations or other locations along the route.


Both locomotive engineers and conductors need to have excellent coordination skills. Locomotive engineers need to be able to coordinate the movement of the train, while conductors need to coordinate the activities of the passengers.

Both locomotive engineers and conductors need to have a strong understanding of the railroad system. Locomotive engineers need to know the layout of the tracks and switches, while conductors need to know the schedule of the trains.

Both locomotive engineers and conductors need to be able to communicate effectively. Locomotive engineers need to be able to communicate with the dispatcher, while conductors need to be able to communicate with the passengers.


Locomotive engineers earn an average salary of $72,285 per year, while conductors earn an average salary of $35,136 per year. The average salary for both positions may vary depending on the location of the job, the size of the company and the level of experience the employee has.


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