Railway Switch Operator

Keep trains on the right tracks.
picture of Railway Switch Operator

Quick Stats


Salary Range
$30,000 – $69,000

Data from U.S. Department of Labor


What do Railway Switch Operators do?

Trains do an excellent job of moving forward in a straight line. However, they don’t do an excellent job of turning, and that’s where you come in. As a Railway Switch Operator, you help a train make a turn in a train yard by diverting a portion of the tracks to the right or left.

A typical workday as a Railway Switch Operator begins when the Yardmaster gives you a list of all the trains scheduled to arrive in the station during your shift. The list also provides you with instructions about where those trains should be stored, and which switches you need to flip to get them there. Staying in constant contact with the Yardmaster during your shift helps the Railway Switch Operator stay aware of any changes to that plan.

When a train is scheduled to arrive, you consult the list to determine where it’s coming from and where it should go. Before it arrives, you walk down the track and move the switch.

In old train yards, these switches must be moved by hand, and they’re heavy and greasy. In newer train yards, however, they can be moved via remote control or computer. You may stay slightly cleaner if you work in a newer train yard, but you won’t have the impressive muscles you might develop from working in older yards.

Once the train arrives and it’s stopped in the proper location, you use levers to raise or lower cars to disconnect them from one another. Trains are very noisy, so you won’t be able to yell to the Engineer to move the train forward to disconnect the cars. Instead, you rely on an elaborate set of hand signals and flags.


Should I be a Railway Switch Operator?

You should have a high school degree or higher and share these traits:
  • Logical Thinker: You take a step-by-step approach to analyze information and solve problems.
  • Independent: You enjoy flying solo and doing things your own way.
  • Outside the Box Thinker: Your creative brainpower gets a workout as you come up with innovative ideas.

  • Also known as: Skates Operator, Switching Operator, Switch Operator, Yard Switch Operator

    How to become a Railway Switch Operator

    Most Railway Switch Operators have no higher education and get on-the-job training. Think about earning a Certificate to increase your competitiveness in the field. Chart?chd=s:9daaaa&chl=no+college+%2894%25%29|certificate+%286%25%29||||&cht=p3&chs=466x180&chxr=0,94,94
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