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Career profile Rail Maintenance Worker

Also known as Machine Operator, Rail Maintenance Worker, Track Equipment Operator (TEO), Track Inspector, Track Laborer, Track Maintainer, Track Repairer, Track Walker, Trackman

Rail Maintenance Worker

Also known as Machine Operator, Rail Maintenance Worker, Track Equipment Operator (TEO)

Interests Profile
  • Realistic
  • Conventional
  • Enterprising
Pay Range
$36,110 - $81,670 (annual)
Required Skills
  • Operations Monitoring
  • Operation and Control
  • Equipment Maintenance
Knowledge Areas
  • Transportation
  • Mechanical
  • Building and Construction
Core tasks
  • Patrol assigned track sections so that damaged or broken track can be located and reported.
  • Repair or adjust track switches, using wrenches and replacement parts.
  • Weld sections of track together, such as switch points and frogs.
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What does a Rail Maintenance Worker do?

Rail Maintenance Workers lay, repair, and maintain track for standard or narrow-gauge railroad equipment used in regular railroad service or in plant yards, quarries, sand and gravel pits, and mines.

In addition, Rail Maintenance Workers includes ballast cleaning machine operators and railroad bed tamping machine operators.

What kind of tasks does a Rail Maintenance Worker perform regularly?

Rail Maintenance Workers are often responsible for overseeing or executing some or all of the following tasks:

  • Patrol assigned track sections so that damaged or broken track can be located and reported.
  • Repair or adjust track switches, using wrenches and replacement parts.
  • Weld sections of track together, such as switch points and frogs.
  • Observe leveling indicator arms to verify levelness and alignment of tracks.
  • Operate single- or multiple-head spike driving machines to drive spikes into ties and secure rails.
  • Operate track wrenches to tighten or loosen bolts at joints that hold ends of rails together.
  • Cut rails to specified lengths, using rail saws.
  • Drill holes through rails, tie plates, or fishplates for insertion of bolts or spikes, using power drills.
  • Lubricate machines, change oil, or fill hydraulic reservoirs to specified levels.
  • Clean tracks or clear ice or snow from tracks or switch boxes.
  • Raise rails, using hydraulic jacks, to allow for tie removal and replacement.
  • Adjust controls of machines that spread, shape, raise, level, or align track, according to specifications.
  • Clean, grade, or level ballast on railroad tracks.
  • Dress and reshape worn or damaged railroad switch points or frogs, using portable power grinders.
  • Grind ends of new or worn rails to attain smooth joints, using portable grinders.
  • Clean or make minor repairs to machines or equipment.
  • Operate single- or multiple-head spike pullers to pull old spikes from ties.

The above responsibilities are specific to Rail Maintenance Workers. More generally, Rail Maintenance Workers are involved in several broader types of activities:

Getting Information
Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
Making Decisions and Solving Problems
Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment
Running, maneuvering, navigating, or driving vehicles or mechanized equipment, such as forklifts, passenger vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft.
Handling and Moving Objects
Using hands and arms in handling, installing, positioning, and moving materials, and manipulating things.
Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Materials
Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.

What is a Rail Maintenance Worker salary?

The median salary for a Rail Maintenance Worker is $56,370, and the average salary is $57,430. Both the median and average roughly describe the middle of the Rail Maintenance Worker salary range, but the average is more easily affected by extremely high or low salaries.

Many Rail Maintenance Workers earn significantly more or less than the average, due to several factors. About 10% of Rail Maintenance Workers earn less than $36,110 per year, 25% earn less than $44,560, 75% earn less than $68,440, and 90% earn less than $81,670.

Between the years of 2020 and 2030, the number of Rail Maintenance Workers is expected to change by 5.1%, and there should be roughly 1,500 open positions for Rail Maintenance Workers every year.

Median annual salary
Typical salary range
$36,110 - $81,670
Projected growth (2020 - 2030)

What personality traits are common among Rail Maintenance Workers?


Career interests describe a person's preferences for different types of working environments and activities. When a person's interest match the demands of an occupation, people are usually more engaged and satisfied in that role.

Compared to most occupations, those who work as a Rail Maintenance Worker are usually higher in their Realistic interests.

Rail Maintenance Workers typically have very strong Realistic interests. Realistic occupations frequently involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many of the occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.


People differ in their values, or what is most important to them for building job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Compared to most people, those working as a Rail Maintenance Worker tend to value Support, Relationships, and Working Conditions.

Most importantly, Rail Maintenance Workers moderately value Support. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees.

Second, Rail Maintenance Workers moderately value Relationships. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment.

Lastly, Rail Maintenance Workers moderately value Working Conditions. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer job security and good working conditions.

Psychological Demands

Each occupation brings its own set of psychological demands, which describe the characteristics necessary to perform the job well.

In order to perform their job successfully, people who work as Rail Maintenance Workers must consistently demonstrate qualities such as dependability, cooperation, and concern for others.

Below, you'll find a list of qualities typically required of Rail Maintenance Workers, ranked by importance:

Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
Concern for Others
Job requires being sensitive to others' needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.
Attention to Detail
Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
Job requires being honest and ethical.

What education and training do Rail Maintenance Workers need?

Working as a Rail Maintenance Worker usually requires a high school diploma.

Rail Maintenance Workers need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with this occupation.

Educational degrees among Rail Maintenance Workers

  • 9.6% did not complete high school or secondary school
  • 54.5% completed high school or secondary school
  • 27.6% completed some college coursework
  • 5.4% earned a Associate's degree
  • 2.9% earned a Bachelor's degree

Knowledge and expertise required by Rail Maintenance Workers

Rail Maintenance Workers may benefit from understanding of specialized subject areas, such as transportation, mechanical, or building and construction knowledge.

The list below shows several areas in which most Rail Maintenance Workers might want to build proficiency, ranked by importance.

Knowledge of principles and methods for moving people or goods by air, rail, sea, or road, including the relative costs and benefits.
Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
Building and Construction
Knowledge of materials, methods, and the tools involved in the construction or repair of houses, buildings, or other structures such as highways and roads.
Public Safety and Security
Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.
Administration and Management
Knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.

Important Abilities needed by Rail Maintenance Workers

Rail Maintenance Workers must develop a particular set of abilities to perform their job well. Abilities are individual capacities that influence a person's information processing, sensory perception, motor coordination, and physical strength or endurance. Individuals may naturally have certain abilities without explicit training, but most abilities can be sharpened somewhat through practice.

For example, Rail Maintenance Workers need abilities such as control precision, manual dexterity, and multilimb coordination in order to perform their job at a high level. The list below shows several important abilities for Rail Maintenance Workers, ranked by their relative importance.

Control Precision
The ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust the controls of a machine or a vehicle to exact positions.
Manual Dexterity
The ability to quickly move your hand, your hand together with your arm, or your two hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble objects.
Multilimb Coordination
The ability to coordinate two or more limbs (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while sitting, standing, or lying down. It does not involve performing the activities while the whole body is in motion.
Problem Sensitivity
The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.
Arm-Hand Steadiness
The ability to keep your hand and arm steady while moving your arm or while holding your arm and hand in one position.

Critical Skills needed by Rail Maintenance Workers

Skills are developed capacities that enable people to function effectively in real-world settings. Unlike abilities, skills are typically easier to build through practice and experience. Skills influence effectiveness in areas such as learning, working with others, design, troubleshooting, and more.

Rail Maintenance Workers frequently use skills like operations monitoring, operation and control, and equipment maintenance to perform their job effectively. The list below shows several critical skills for Rail Maintenance Workers, ranked by their relative importance.

Operations Monitoring
Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.
Operation and Control
Controlling operations of equipment or systems.
Equipment Maintenance
Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
Critical Thinking
Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.

What is the source of this information?

The information provided on this page is adapted from data and descriptions published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration under the CC BY 4.0 license. TraitLab has modified some information for ease of use and reading, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this information, please send a message.