Railroad Careers Outlook
The 1960s and 1970s were decades of such intense decline for the American railroad industry that many people wondered if it might become obsolete altogether. As freight revenues fell and passenger traffic dropped, the railroad became perceived as a dinosaur—useful only as a relic of the past. However, the railroads that were stagnating 30 years ago are once again thriving and are expected to endure. There are several reasons for the railroads’ turnaround.
The passing of the 1980 Staggers Act allowed railroads to negotiate shipment rates with customers, offering volume discounts. Prior to 1980, this had been prohibited by government regulations. A second reason for the improvement in the industry is the development of better containers for carrying freight. The beginning of this trend was piggybacking. In piggybacking, truck trailers and containers are carried on railroad flat cars. An improvement to piggybacking came with the development of standard cargo boxes that can be carried easily by train, truck, or ship. This type of shipping, called intermodal shipping, allows railroads to engage in partnerships with other forms of transport, and therefore boost productivity and usefulness.
A final reason for the recovery of the railroads, paradoxically, is the decrease in rail employment. As technology has been incorporated into the railroads, the need for human labor has been reduced. Computers are used to keep track of freight cars, match empty cars with the closest loads, and dispatch trains. Computer-assisted devices alert engineers to train malfunctions and new work rules have become widespread allowing trains to operate with two- or three-person crews instead of the traditional five-person crews. While this is clearly beneficial for the industry itself, it unfortunately does not indicate a good outlook for railroad job seekers. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts a decline in railroad transportation positions overall through 2014. Long-distance train crews will have better opportunities than those who work in rail yards. Employment for subway and streetcar operators is expected to grow as large cities add new lines as commuters turn to rail to escape congested highways.
Related Career Fields:
Related Career Cluster:
- Diesel Mechanics
- Locomotive Engineers
- Railroad Clerks
- Railroad Conductors
- Reservation and Ticket Agents
- Signal Mechanics