Education and Training High school
Salary Median—$22,770 per year
Employment Outlook Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Traditionally, railroad clerks worked in railroad stations, freight houses, yards, terminals, and company offices. But local railroad companies have merged, and most clerks have moved to central offices where data are computerized and procedures are more efficient. They turn out a steady stream of freight orders, tickets, train timetables, and statistics.
Clerks may collect bills, investigate complaints, adjust claims, trace shipments, compile statistics, sell tickets, and keep books. Thousands of clerks work in technical positions, preparing statistics on employment and traffic that are required by the federal government. Some clerks are dispatchers who relay orders to train conductors, detailing routes, timetables, cargo, and track conditions. For example, if a tree limb falls on a railroad track, the dispatcher tells the conductors on all the trains running on that track to stop or slow down. Sometimes dispatchers communicate with conductors and engineers by illuminating the colored lights along the tracks.
Education and Training Requirements
Railroad clerks must be high school graduates. Some may need special skills, such as proficiency in accounting, that require college or business school education. Many railroad companies require applicants to take clerical tests.
Computer and software skills are essential; knowledge of mathematics can be beneficial. On-the-job training is usually provided. Many clerks are first listed
on the "extra board," which allows them to work when full-time employees are sick or on vacation. By filling in, they learn their duties before they get full-time jobs.
Getting the Job
Job seekers can apply directly to railroad companies. The Association of American Railroads provides a list of company addresses on request. Union offices, newspaper classified ads, and Internet job sites may provide employment leads.
Some job seekers start in lower-level jobs, such as office messenger, and work their way up to railroad clerk.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Railroad clerks can advance to higher-paying clerical jobs, such as dispatcher, or to administrative jobs, such as chief clerk and stationmaster. They can also become ticket, station, or traffic agents. With additional education and training, some clerks become auditors and statisticians.
Employment of railroad clerks is expected to decline through 2014, although qualified applicants may find opportunities when experienced clerks retire or leave the field. Demand for clerks should diminish as railroad companies computerize and centralize more of their operations.
Railroad clerks generally work forty hours per week. Ticket sellers often have evening or night duty. Clerks who are on the extra board work irregular hours.
Most clerks work in large central offices, although clerks who check freight orders spend much of their workday outdoors. Ticket sellers have to deal mostly with rail passengers, while freight clerks deal with valuable goods and see that they are protected. Office conditions vary from busy—Pennsylvania Station in New York City, for example—to small, quiet stations where trains stop once or twice a day. Many railroad employees are union members.
Where to Go for More Information
Association of American Railroads
50 F St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-1564
Transport Workers Union of America
New York, NY 10019
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary, depending on the kind of clerical work and level of skill and experience. In 2004 the median salary of all railroad clerks was $22,770 per year. Railroad dispatchers earned a median salary of $30,920 per year. Benefits vary by length of service, but generally include health insurance, paid vacations, and retirement plans.