Railcar Mechanic

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Railcar Mechanic


The unmistakable sound of a train going down the tracks conjures up images of travel and the open road. The growth of the railway provided the opportunity to travel and transport goods and also provided employment for many workers. One type of worker employed by the railways is a railcar mechanic.

Railcar mechanics are responsible for inspecting, maintaining and repairing the structural and mechanical parts of rail cars. From repairing upholstery and touching up paint to installing bearings and repairing the braking system, a railway car mechanic involves a bit of a Jack-(or Jill)-of-all-trades mentality. Physically railcar workers must be fit and have good eyes and manual dexterity to complete the required tasks. However, this position also requires the ability to read blueprints and be able to repair and overhaul equipment systems according to manufacturers' specifications and established procedures.

Railcar mechanics need to understand the structural, mechanical and hydraulic systems of railcars to identify problems. They also have knowledge of the maintenance procedures needed to maintain the interior and exterior of the railway cars. It is important that mechanics stay up-to-date on the technological changes in their industry if they wish to succeed.
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  Interests and Skills  
Railcar mechanics are interested in maintaining safe functioning cars for the crew and passengers of railcars. They must be able to detect, through inspection, problems with the mechanical and structural systems of railcars. They have a good eye for detail and take notice if the seat covers are torn, the paint is scratched or the air valve needs to be replaced. They like to work with their hands and are able to work well alone as well as part of a larger crew. Railcar mechanics have an interest in all aspects of railcars and their systems.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Inspect interior and exterior components of freight, passenger and urban transit rail cars to determine defects and extent of wear and damage
  • Repair and install railway car parts such as compressors, air valves, bearings, air cylinders and piping
  • Repair and maintain electrical and electronic controls for propulsion and braking systems
  • Repair defective or damaged metal and wood components, using hand and power tools
  • Repair and repaint wooden fixtures
  • Replace damaged windows and repair upholstery
  • Test and adjust parts using testing gauges and other test equipment
  • Perform and document routine maintenance
  • A typical work day for a railcar mechanic will find them, touching up paint on the exterior of a train, working on the engine to install new air valves or testing the braking system. Each day will vary depending on what needs to be done on each particular car. Railcar mechanics might have one big job that takes a couple days to complete and then they will go back to performing whatever other tasks need to be done. They generally work a 40-hour week.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Railcar mechanics are employed by railway transport companies and urban transit systems.

  Long Term Career Potential  
It is possible, with experience and continuing education to keep up with the latest technology, for railcar mechanics to progress to supervisory positions.

  Educational Paths  
Railcar mechanics receive their training either through informal, on-the-job training or through an apprenticeship program. Trade certification can be obtained either through an apprenticeship program or after several years of work experience. While trade certification is not mandatory in all areas to become a railcar mechanic, it can be a requirement for many employers and can also help secure employment.

Apprenticeship programs involve a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. A pre-apprenticeship course may also be available which takes about five to six months to complete at a community college and is designed to help you get connected with a good company to apprentice with. It is important to apprentice with a reputable company as that is your education. While some apprenticeship programs may not require a high school diploma, it is important to note that employers generally prefer to hire high school graduates.

Apprenticeships can vary, however a typical apprenticeship lasts four to five years. The apprenticeship is a paid position, however wages are about 50 percent of what an employer pays the journeyperson, with yearly increases. After successfully completing the apprenticeship requirements, their industry training and apprenticeship office awards the railcar mechanic a certificate of completion.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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