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Train Dispatcher Job Description

Train dispatchers monitor and direct the movements of trains. Dispatchers guide and track several locomotives at a time conducting a delicate symphony of movement. Others responsibilities include for keeping travel records, logs and schedules. Dispatchers use radios, telephones and sophisticated computer systems to follow the trains under their charge. Train dispatchers are the railway counterparts of air traffic controllers.

Education and Training

Candidates with collegiate degrees in transportation, engineering or related fields are preferred. Practical transportation industry experience and military backgrounds are highly desirable as well.

New train dispatchers receive extensive on-the-job training on computer systems and safety procedures. This paid training can take several months to complete. Before an apprentice dispatcher can advance, he must pass a written and practical exam, show familiarity with his territory and understand a vast lexicon of railroad terms.

Other Considerations

Dispatchers are directly responsible for the safety of train passengers and cargo. If a dispatcher makes a mistake, the results could be disastrous. People who pursue this career path must be attentive to detail and able to handle stress. Because dispatchers play such a major role in maintaining safety on the railways, job candidates are often required to take drug tests and undergo extensive background checks.

Work Schedules

If you're looking for a 9-to-5 job with regular time off, train dispatching is not for you. Trains run day and night. When there are trains on the rails there has to be workers on the clock. Like most railroad workers, dispatchers are expected to work holidays, weekends and unusual shifts. This is especially true for new hires.

Workers with the least amount of seniority are often assigned extra board, or backup positions. These workers are on call 24 hours a day. Even after a rookie dispatcher earns a regular full-time schedule, early morning and night shifts are required.

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Earnings

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, the average hourly wage for a train dispatcher was $29.25 in 2008. Annual earnings averaged $60,830. Wages vary depending on experience. Apprentices usually earn less while training and receive a large pay increase upon completion of studies. Major employers, such as Union Pacific, supply full health benefits, including disability.

Job Outlook

According to a BLS report, there were 2,920 train dispatcher positions, as of May 2008. The BLS estimates that dispatching positions across all industries will decrease 3 percent between 2008 and 2018. Experts attribute this decline to increasing worker productivity and the use of computers and other advanced technologies.



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