What Does a Rail Controller Do? (Plus How To Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published August 8, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Rail controllers perform important work helping coordinate all operations that take place on train tracks. If you're interested in a job as a train or rail controller, it's helpful to review information about the position like what capabilities controllers need, how much they can expect to earn and what their responsibilities are. Discovering the answers to these questions can help you decide if being a rail controller is the right choice for your professional goals. In this article, we define this career and explain what a rail controller does, how to become one and what skills they have.

What is a rail controller?

A rail controller, or train controller, is someone responsible for managing railway activities and operations. They often have assigned territories and monitor what happens on their designated portion of the track. Usually, rail controllers work alongside other team members to ensure the safety and efficiency of the trains they oversee. Their work helps trains deliver their freight or passengers to their destinations safely and on time. Most of the surveillance and management rail controllers do is on a computer, where train companies use specific software to illustrate operations and activities.

What does a rail controller do?

Rail controllers perform many duties related to train operation and procedures. Here are a few common rail controller responsibilities:

  • Monitoring track activity

  • Coordinating train arrivals and departures

  • Overseeing scheduling and logistical planning

  • Working with a team to ensure proper passenger and freight transportation

  • Promoting the safety of train employees and passengers

  • Maintaining scheduling commitments

  • Communicating changes and updates to rail supervisors and field operators

  • Using computerized trail control systems

  • Updating display boards and communication channels with timely information

  • Coordinating emergency procedures if necessary

  • Staying educated on relevant policies and requirements

How to become a rail controller

If you're interested in becoming a rail controller, here are some steps you can take:

1. Get a high school diploma or equivalent

Most rail controller positions require candidates to have at least a high school diploma or GED. Some might have additional educational requirements, too, like training specific to railroad policies and operations. Consider reviewing specific job descriptions to learn more about a particular company's qualification requirements.

2. Gain experience in transit operations

Most jobs also like candidates to have existing experience in transit operations. Consider working in a role that can teach you about train operations and logistics. The skills and experience you learn in these positions can help prepare you for a role with additional responsibilities and managerial aspects. While in these positions, aim to learn all you can about railway operations. This can help you include key skills and experience on your applications to future positions.

Related: 14 Jobs for Train Workers

3. Get certified

Many rail controller jobs require candidates to have relevant certifications to ensure they can follow and communicate important railway policies. There are many certifications to choose from, so consider browsing job postings to discover popular certification requirements. If you're already working in the industry, consider asking your employer for advice or help in finding a worthwhile program. Some employers even offer financial support for these professional development courses.

Try to find certifications specifically for train controllers and operators. Learning about incident management and emergency operations can also be valuable.

4. Update your resume

Update your resume to include your work experience, education and certifications. When listing previous work experience, be sure to highlight skills and activities that might appeal to prospective employers. Consider putting certifications in a special section of your resume so they're easy to find and see. This can ensure employers know that you're a qualified candidate with the skills and experience needed to succeed.

5. Research and apply to open positions

You can look for open positions on job boards, online or through your existing network. Read through job descriptions to learn more about the skills and requirements specific employers are looking for in a candidate. Before sending in your resume, be sure to update some of the words you use to match the job you're interested in pursuing. Talk about the experience you have performing some operations they list in the job description. If they list specific characteristics, skills or competencies they want to see in a candidate, incorporate these into your application, too.

Customizing your resume can make it easier for employers to envision you in a specific role and it ensures you communicate qualities employers look for.

Related: Learn About Being a Dispatcher

6. Interview to become a rail controller

A hiring manager may contact you after reviewing your application. If they ask you to come in for an interview, make sure you dress professionally and arrive on time. Following these steps can communicate to employers that you care about the role and are a responsible candidate. Come prepared to answer common interview questions and to explain your existing knowledge and skills.

Skills for a rail controller

Here's a closer look at some skills rail controllers can benefit from in their role:

Problem-solving skills

Sometimes rail controllers have to think quickly if there's a problem or a scheduling issue. The decisions rail controllers make can be very critical, with public safety repercussions and significant company investments at stake. Being able to analyze technical obstacles, determine alternative actions and recommend helpful solutions is very important for rail controllers.

Computer skills

Most of the work rail controllers do is on the computer. They often have to use specific software to manage and monitor train operations. Learning to use this software and technology adeptly can help rail controllers execute the functions of their position successfully.

Related: 11 Jobs You Can Work in the Railroad Industry

Communication skills

Rail controllers are often responsible for communicating updates, receiving important information and relaying messages accurately. They might have to do this verbally or in writing on a notice board or digital display. It's also important for controllers to understand policies and to communicate needs and requirements to their team members and railway users.

Time management skills

Since trains run on strict schedules, the safety of passengers and timeliness of deliveries can depend on flawless schedule management. It's important for controllers to understand what operations are happening and when. Doing this effectively can help controllers monitor and maintain processes and timely procedures.

Related: How To Become a Train Dispatcher in 7 Steps

Salary and job outlook for a rail controller

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average national salary for all railroad workers is $64,210 per year. This salary may vary depending on where you work and how much experience you have in the industry. The BLS also reports an expected 5% growth in the employment of railroad workers between 2020 and 2030.

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