Railroad Brake, Signal, and Switch Operators
SOC: 53-4021.00


Operate railroad track switches. Couple or uncouple rolling stock to make up or break up trains. Signal engineers by hand or flagging. May inspect couplings, air hoses, journal boxes, and hand brakes.

National Salary Information:

Hourly Statistics:

Annual Statistics:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015 wage data.

Employment Projections:

Employment (2014):
22,100 employed

Projected (2024):
21,700 employed

Projected growth (2014-2024)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015 2014-2024 employment projections external site. "Projected growth" represents the estimated change in total employment over the projections period (2014-2024). "Projected job openings" represent openings due to growth and replacement.

Alternate Titles:

  • Air Brake Operator
  • Air Hose Coupler
  • Brake Holder
  • Brake Rider
  • Brakeman
  • Car Coupler
  • Car Hopper
  • Car Rider
  • Car Runner
  • Car Shifter
  • Car Shunter
  • Carman
  • Conductor
  • Coupler
  • Dinkey Brakeman
  • Dukey Rider
  • Engineer
  • Enginehouse Brakeman
  • Flagger
  • Flagman
  • Freight Brake Operator
  • Freight Brakeman
  • Freight Conductor
  • Gang Rider
  • Headman
  • Lineman Apprentice
  • Locomotive Engineer
  • Locomotive Operator Helper
  • Locomotive Switch Operator
  • Motor Brakeman
  • Narrow Gauge Brakeman
  • Nipper
  • Passenger Brakeman
  • Passenger Train Braker
  • Patcher
  • Railcar Brake Operator
  • Railcar Foreman
  • Railcar Switchman
  • Railroad Brake Operator
  • Railroad Brakeman
  • Railroad Carman
  • Railroad Signal and Switch Operator
  • Railroad Signal Operator
  • Railroad Switchman
  • Railroad Yard Worker
  • Railway Switch Operator
  • Railway Switchman
  • Rider
  • Road Freight Brake Coupler
  • Rope Rider
  • Set Rider
  • Signal Person
  • Skates Operator
  • Skatesman
  • Snapper
  • Swamper
  • Switch Coupler
  • Switch Foreman
  • Switch Operator
  • Switch Tender
  • Switching Operator
  • Switchman
  • Terminal Carman
  • Track Helper
  • Track Supervisor
  • Trailer
  • Train Brake Operator
  • Train Brakeman
  • Train Braker
  • Train Crew Member
  • Trainman
  • Trains Service Conductor
  • Transportation Specialist
  • Trip Rider
  • Tub Rider
  • Yard Brakeman
  • Yard Coupler
  • Yard Person
  • Yard Switch Operator

  • Job Zone Two: Some Preparation Needed


    Some previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is usually needed. For example, a teller would benefit from experience working directly with the public.


    These occupations usually require a high school diploma.

    Job Training:

    Employees in these occupations need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with these occupations.

    Required Skills:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Active Listening
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Mathematics
  • Critical Thinking
  • Active Learning
  • Learning Strategies
  • Monitoring
  • Social Perceptiveness
  • Coordination
  • Persuasion
  • Negotiation
  • Instructing
  • Service Orientation
  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Operations Analysis
  • Technology Design
  • Equipment Selection
  • Operation Monitoring
  • Operation and Control
  • Equipment Maintenance
  • Troubleshooting
  • Repairing
  • Quality Control Analysis
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Systems Analysis
  • Systems Evaluation
  • Time Management
  • Management of Financial Resources
  • Management of Material Resources
  • Management of Personnel Resources

  • Knowledge Used:

  • Administration and Management
  • Clerical
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Customer and Personal Service
  • Personnel and Human Resources
  • Production and Processing
  • Computers and Electronics
  • Engineering and Technology
  • Mechanical
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Psychology
  • Sociology and Anthropology
  • Geography
  • Education and Training
  • English Language
  • Public Safety and Security
  • Law and Government
  • Telecommunications
  • Communications and Media
  • Transportation

  • Tasks:

  • Signal locomotive engineers to start or stop trains when coupling or uncoupling cars, using hand signals, lanterns, or radio communication.
  • Pull or push track switches to reroute cars.
  • Observe signals from other crew members so that work activities can be coordinated.
  • Inspect couplings, air hoses, journal boxes, and handbrakes to ensure that they are securely fastened and functioning properly.
  • Raise levers to couple and uncouple cars for makeup and breakup of trains.
  • Receive oral or written instructions from yardmasters or yard conductors indicating track assignments and cars to be switched.
  • Climb ladders to tops of cars to set brakes.
  • Set flares, flags, lanterns, or torpedoes in front and at rear of trains during emergency stops to warn oncoming trains.
  • Inspect tracks, cars, and engines for defects and to determine service needs, sending engines and cars for repairs as necessary.
  • Make minor repairs to couplings, air hoses, and journal boxes, using hand tools.
  • Connect air hoses to cars, using wrenches.
  • Operate and drive locomotives, diesel switch engines, dinkey engines, flatcars, and railcars in train yards and at industrial sites.
  • Refuel and lubricate engines.
  • Watch for and relay traffic signals to start and stop cars during shunting.
  • Monitor oil, air, and steam pressure gauges, and make sure water levels are adequate.
  • Ride atop cars that have been shunted, and turn handwheels to control speeds or stop cars at specified positions.
  • Adjust controls to regulate air-conditioning, heating, and lighting on trains for comfort of passengers.
  • Record numbers of cars available, numbers of cars sent to repair stations, and types of service needed.
  • Provide passengers with assistance entering and exiting trains.
  • Answer questions from passengers concerning train rules, stations, and timetable information.

  • Tools & Technology:

  • Air pressure gauges
  • Automatic track switching systems
  • Buffer stops
  • Car pullers
  • Derailers
  • Diesel freight engines
  • Diesel switch engines
  • Dinky engines
  • Dock boards
  • Electric freight engines
  • Equipment couplers
  • Ground throw switches
  • Hand brakes
  • Locomotive wheel chocks
  • Mobile radios
  • Mobile scaffolding
  • Oil pressure gauges
  • Protective glasses
  • Railroad track switches
  • Remote control locomotives
  • Safety air horns
  • Safety gloves
  • Signal flags
  • Signal flares
  • Signaling lanterns
  • Specialty wrench sets
  • Steam pressure gauges
  • Steel-toes boots
  • Switch handles
  • Data entry software
  • Electronic train management systems ETMS
  • Route mapping software
  • Time tracking software

  • transportation and material moving

    industry stats

    SOC: 53-0000

    Total Employed: 9,536,610

    Average Annual Salary: $35,160