How to Become a Train Conductor for CN
So you want to be a railroad conductor? Becoming a train conductor for the railroad, no matter which one, does have some requirements. Some of the requirements you have complete control over and some you may not.
If you are 100% sure you want to work for the railroad as a conductor, this hub will layout most of the requirements to become a train conductor.
What Does Becoming a Train Conductor Entail?
First of all, many people always ask me one major question. What are the hours like for a conductor? Well, to make it simple, you are on call. You are on call as a conductor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You will probably work holidays and special events. To elaborate on this a little further, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. For example, the railroad I work for, CN Rail, does give you some time off. If you work a yard, you can book rest. If you work a road trip, you can book rest also. You will have days off, so don't think you are working non-stop with no rest periods or time to see your family. On the contrary, if you are scheduled to work on Christmas day, tough luck. You will be expected to be there. Once you start holding higher seniority, you will be able to be on specific jobs that only run certain times so that gives you a bit of a better schedule. Conductors are also eligible for engineer training. So.... being a conductor does have it's perks despite sometimes crappy work hours.
Aside from hours, another major question is what is the work like. This depends on where your home terminal is located. If you are located at a terminal where there isn't a yard, you will get mostly road work, which includes spotting industries and doing a lot of sitting on the engine. You may also have to do some repairs to cars, like changing a knuckle if it breaks, so that would entail walking the train. That sucks when it is like -40C outside with a wicked wind chill and you have a long train. If you work the yard, your job would entail building trains, pulling pins, getting on and off moving cars, etc... The yard is a bit more physical, but still not at all hard.
All Right, I'm Interested. How Do I Actually Become a Conductor?
OK. Each railroad has it's own personal hiring process. However, each have one common trait about them that they need to hear. Safety. If you are a safe person and can demonstrate that in your interview and resume, you have a major advantage over those applicants that are not safety oriented.
Basically, it goes like this:
- Go to the recruiting website
- Apply for the conductor position with the railroad of your choice
- Upload your resume
- Wait some more
- Wait a little bit longer
- Get a reply for a job fair / interview session
- Take a switch test
- If you pass, get an interview date
- Go to your interview (remember.... safety!)
- Pass the interview, get a background check done
- Get your medical done
- Wait some more
- Are you still waiting? Good!
- If you are selected, you will be notified and given a date to report for training! Congratulations!!!
- Pack up all your stuff (could be 1 week to 3 months notice)
- Get your butt to training and study your rules and signals!
- Pass the tests
- Do yard training, belt pack training, and road training
- You are now a qualified conductor
So as you probably noticed, I said "wait" a lot. There is a reason for this. Railroads are notoriously slow for the hiring process. Also, if you don't pass your background check and/or medical, you probably will not get hired.
What to Wear to a Conductor Interview?
There are those people who will tell you to "wear the part". This is furthest from the truth however. When you go to an interview for any of the railroads, you need to dress in nice pants and a nice shirt. Never wear jeans to an interview. It speaks that you may not be as serious as another applicant that took the time to dress better.
What did I wear to my interview? I work black dress pants, dress shoes, and a nice matching sweater. You don't have to wear a suit and tie, but you should look like you put at least 80% effort into your interview day.
Just my 2 cents...
What Questions Do They Ask in Conductor Interviews?
The questions that I was asked, as well as many other applicants were all situation based questions.
Example: What would you do if your train went into emergency and was blocking an intersection where motorist were stopped. You have been stopped for a length of time and some motorist are starting to leave their vehicles and are getting angry. What would you do, as a conductor?
Example: Name a time at a previous job where safety was a concern. What did you do about it?
Example: When it comes to safety, who's responsibility is it?
Safety needs to be incorporated into each of these questions. No matter what the question is, try to incorporate some instance of safety into it. It will do your interview good.
Try not to have a lot of dead air after they ask you the questions. You don't really want to think about the question for to long, and don't be like "uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, can you repeat the question?". Railroads want employees that can think on the fly. Understand that.
I hope you found this article helpful. I am speaking from my own experiences with a very large railroad as a conductor. Understand that even though I am sharing tips and experiences with you, yours might be entirely different. It depends on the railroad you apply to and whether or not your recruiter had his pancakes with whipped cream in the morning or not.
I cannot make you get hired on as a conductor, no matter how awesome I am.
Some things to take note of is that if you have chronic health conditions, you will probably not get hired. You have to pass a vision and hearing test as well as a physical fitness test.
If you have stupid marks on your background check like assault, drugs, animal abuse, crap like that, you will probably get no response from the recruiters as to if you are getting hired or not. In short, you will not get hired. Simple as that. Keep your nose clean fellas and good luck.
And if you do get hired, what your supervisors say goes. Do not argue. That is the fastest way to make enemies and see your way out the door. If they tell you to jump up and down 3 times and sing the birthday song before you couple some cars, do it. Especially if you're new. Good luck and enjoy your new career!
Update: Practice Railroad Flat Switching Test
I recently received numerous requests for a practice test for the railroad flat switching test they give to people applying for the conductor position. I thought I would help some people out and make a simple and quick practice test, even though it's nothing elaborate by no means.
You can find the practice test on my profile page or at this link.
Thanks for reading, again!