Track laborers build tracks for cargo and passenger railroad transportation companies across the country. They also clear vegetation, dig trenches and inspect rails, cross ties and spikes to ensure they are properly mounted. If the thought of working in the hot sun, using shovels, bulldozers and spike-driving machines doesn't faze you, a track laborer job may be of interest. The use of manual track jacks makes the job manageable for those who don't have the rippling muscles of bodybuilders. You can also earn an above-average income compared to most occupations -- and be part of a legal "road gang."
Income and Qualifications
Track laborers usually get paid by the hour. They earned average annual incomes of $46,200 as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or $22.21 per hour. If you are among the top 10 percent in earnings, you would make over $63,600 annually. Most of these workers have high school diplomas or GEDs, but you can probably get a job without a high school education. Training is mostly on the job, but some employers may prefer that you have at least a year of railroad maintenance experience. Other essential qualifications include physical strength and stamina, a valid driver's license, and the ability to speak and understand English.
Income by Industry
Average incomes for track laborers varied somewhat by industry in 2012. They earned the highest annual incomes, of $53,880, working for the state government, according to the BLS. They also earn a relatively high income working in the coal mine industry -- $50,550 per year. Most of these laborers -- 10,400 of 16,870 in 2012 -- worked in the railroad transportation industry, where they earned $45,710 annually. Laying railroad ties for other civil engineering construction companies, including those who build rails for freight trains, workers make $41,950 per year.
Income by State
Track laborers earned the highest incomes of $55,970 per year in Massachusetts, based on 2012 BLS data. They also earned considerably high incomes in New York and Maryland, at $54,540 and $53,650 per year, respectively. Earnings are closer to the national average for track laborers in Wyoming or Ohio -- $46,500 or $45,250, respectively. But they only make $37,860 or $33,700, respectively, in Texas or Minnesota.
Jobs for rail track laying and maintenance equipment operators are expected to grow by 2 percent in the next decade, which is far below the national average of 14 percent for all jobs. A resurgence in railroad transportation in recent years, though, should produce job opportunities for track laborers. One reason is that trains are more than 10 times more energy-efficient than trucks, according to "Forbes," and 30 times more efficient than air transportation.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail: Rail-Track Laying and Maintenance Equipment Operators
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Rail-Track Laying and Maintenance Equipment Operators
- Union Pacific: Track Laborer Regional
- Bright: Track Laborer - System
- Association of American Railroads: U.S. Freight Railroad Industry Snapshot
- Association of American Railroads: AAR Reports Increase in Weekly Rail Traffic
- Forbes: With Economy Chugging Along, Rail Stocks Seen As Best Transport To Higher Gains
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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