When you say train conductor, many people imagine a guy who yells "All Aboard!" and punches tickets or helps you with bags once you're on the train. While that description is true for passenger trains like Amtrak, there are more train conductors that work on freight trains.
Freight trains use freight cars (or wagons/trucks) to transport goods or materials (cargo). They carry coal, grain, rocks, cars, steel, lumber, power transformers, gas, oil, poisons, radioactive materials, shipping containers full of all sorts of things, and much more.
Have you ever wondered if being a train conductor is dangerous?
It depends. A railroad conductor who mainly rides passenger trains is relatively safe, however working as a conductor for a freight railroad might be not only more challenging but it can also expose you to greater risks of getting hurt. Besides paperwork, talking to the yardmasters and dispatchers, a freight conductor has to do some physical work that involves loading and unloading heavy materials, and a lot more tasks that really work the arms and back. Please read train conductor requirements and train conductor job description for a better understanding of what a conductor does.
Paperwork is very important. The conductor needs to make sure that, for example, explosive or dangerous cars are far away from the locomotives where they ride. And there are many other similar situations where the conductor has to assure everything is in place, in order to avoid accidents that can, in extreme cases, even lead to death. Patience plays a tremendous role in this job as well, as if things are done too fast, it can be the cause of catastrophes.
Let’s go over some train accidents statistics and facts, you can judge for yourself how dangerous the train conductor job is.
While some of the below numbers and not directly corelated to the train conductor, all of them are railroad related accidents/ injuries.
- According to the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2018 there were 2,232 train accidents at railroad crossings, resulting in 258 fatalities and 847 nonfatal injuries.
- Train travel is considered a safe mode of transportation, coming in at third place behind bus and air travel
- A train hits someone in America every 115 minutes, often with fatal results
- According to Operation Lifesaver, a national non-profit organization, nearly 2,000 Americans are killed and injured at highway/rail grade crossings each year
- It takes the average freight train hauling 6,000 tons and traveling at 55 mph a mile or more - the length of 18 football fields - to stop. For that reason, trains have the right of way 100% of the time over emergency vehicles, cars, the police and pedestrians.
Safety is extremely important for a railroad company, that is the reason why they have a highly regulated work protocol, which lead to a great decrease in employee fatalities.
According to BTS.org, back in 1975 there were 110 on-duty employees killed and 47,312 injured, compared with 11 employees killed and 3004 injured, in 2020. Better work conditions, effective regulations, training and few other resulted in this better, but not perfect work environment.
Things can go wrong on the railroad and it is very important that the crew stay alert and prepared and that everything is done according to the protocols in place.