Traveling by train is the safest, and most ecological means of transport for long distances. Governments have realized the importance of a high quality rail network recently. New tracks are being built, new conductors and engineers are recruited, in order to bring the ever growing number of passengers safely to their destinations.

In fact, the only deaths linked to trains are typically suicides–when people jump under the train, accounting for roughly 3% of all suicides in the developed countries. But back to your new job and what you have to do to get it.

In contrary to common misconception, you won’t get any highly technical questions when applying for a job of a locomotive engineer or train conductor. Because before they let you be responsible for the train with hundreds of people onboard, or hundreds of tons of cargo, you will undergo an extensive training, typically spanning over three to six months. You will learn the technical stuff. So what they will inquire about in an interview then?

They will ask about your motivation, reasons why you chose this career, your ability to stay focused during a long ride, and your attitude to various tricky situations you may encounter while driving the train. Let’s have a look at some of these questions.


Why do you want to work as a locomotive engineer (train conductor)?

These jobs are very well paid in most countries. The people I know who have these jobs typically switched to them from other careers (sometimes totally unrelated), simply to make more money, and to avoid high stress levels of corporate careers. And it is completely fine if you say so in your interview, but you should also add something about the job.

Say that you consider yourself responsible. You are always vigilant and keep your eyes open while working, which is important in this type of work. What’s more, you always liked trains (even as a kid) and it would be a sort of dream-come-true if you can drive one. Everything considered, you see yourself as a perfect applicant for this type of work.

Obviously if you have other reasons–recommendation, relevant previous experience, or anything else, you can mention them. The key is to give them some other reason than money. You are in for a great paycheck, like everyone else, but it’s not the only thing that motivate you to apply.


You will have a huge responsibility in this work. How do you want to handle it?

Ensure them that you have never had a problem with a sense of responsibility. Perhaps you already have a lot of it–for your family, your life, things that matter to you. What’s more, it’s not something that stresses you out. But you want to remind yourself this responsibility, simply to always stay focused in your job, to not allow yourself make any mistakes.

You can say that you are ready to carry the responsibility for any mistakes you make, but will try to avoid making them. Just like with most interview questions, it’s about showing the right attitude to people, life, to your job.

Imagine that you drive a train, and behind a curve spot a guy lying on the railway tracks. You try to stop the locomotive but it’s not possible on such a short distance. The train kills the man. What will be your thoughts in such a moment? How will you get over it?

The most important thing is to ensure them that the situation won’t break you. Because, sooner or later, it will happen. It’s just statistically impossible to drive a train for several years and not experiencing this incident at least once.

Ensure the hiring managers that you will simply stop a train, and follow all procedures–calling police and whatever, notifying the signalling staff, or doing anything else you’ll learn in the training. Of course you have your feelings, and the incident will touch you. When someone dies it is always a sad thing to witness.

On the other hand, you are aware that you could do nothing more to save the person from dying, and also that they decided their fate–not you. This awareness will help you to get over the experience. You may take a few days off, just to relax and get it out of your head. Once over, however, you will be ready to resume driving trains.


How would you ensure all areas of the locomotive have been inspected before use?

The key is to ensure them that you want to have a system in your work. A clear manual, or a list of items you have to check, before each single ride. You will learn these things during the training, and will follow the process each and every time. In no way will you inspect things in some hectic fashion.

Tell them that safety of passengers is your first priority. It goes before anything else, including arriving and leaving on schedule. If you have any doubts about the locomotive, you won’t leave the station. You will call the technicians to inspect it on site.


What routes do you prefer? To which places would you like to drive?

The most important thing is to show flexibility. Of course it’s good to have some preferences. Maybe you’d love to do some long haul journeys, going to far-away lands with your train, forgetting everything back home.

Or, on the contrary, you have a young family and prefer to sleep at home each night, or at least each weekend. These things are totally understandable for the employer, and you should clearly express them in your interview.

At the same time, however, it’s good adding that you are flexible, and are sure that you will find some compromises when it comes to route planning and shifts…


This is a repetitive job. What would motivate you to try hard and to stick to all rules and regulations, day after day?

You have a few options for a good answer here. One is referring to your personal goals. Surely you go to a job for a reason, and the job of a locomotive engineer pays pretty well. It will allow you to take care of your family, or to have a better lifestyle (if you are on your own). You know that if you drop your level or make some fatal mistake you will lose the job. Hence you cannot afford any drop of motivation. Your goals will help you with that.

Another thing is responsibility. When you have a few hundreds people onboard the train, you cannot do anything else than sticking to all rules and regulations. It’s the only way how to transport them safely from point A to point B, each an every time. Your sense of responsibility motivates you.

Third alternative is saying that in your view, the job isn’t particularly repetitive. You do your inspections, meet with other staff before each ride, the weather changes, so do the roads, and of course some problems will occur here and there. When one has right attitude to work, lives in a present moment and have an eye for detail, the job does not feel repetitive. And that’s exactly your case…


Other questions you may face in your locomotive engineer job interview

  • Tell us about the last five defects you repaired, either at work or at your home.
  • Describe a time when you felt super tired on the shift. What did you do to prevent yourself from falling asleep?
  • The signalling gives you a green light, but you have a feeling that you see another train approaching in the distance, on the same rail track. What will you do?
  • How long do you want to work as a locomotive engineer? Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
  • Describe a time when you faced a tough dilemma in your last job.
  • Do you have any questions?


Conclusion, next steps

Getting a job of a train conductor or locomotive engineer is not the most difficult task in the world. Many transport companies struggle with employees, and not everyone is willing to go through a three to six months long training program, compensated by the company.

As long as you show some motivation in the interview, and right attitude to safety of the passengers, and some tricky situation this jobs may bring to your life, they will give you a chance, and will move forward with your application. I hope you will manage to succeed and wish you good luck!


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Matthew Chulaw
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