I was first interested in train employment while riding aboard The Ghan, run by Great Southern Rail in Australia. We were traveling from Adelaide to Darwin, when I met the train employee named Jenny, who was working the snack car. She came from a similar background as myself, having worked on cruise ships for 10 years prior. These days, she finds herself selling snacks and preparing the many meals available on the trains as she works and travels across the whole of Australia. During the 40 hour train ride she found a bit of time to answer my questions about working on the trains.
Railroads are still used for a variety of purposes, but mainly they are used for transporting cargo or passengers and many times the passengers are like cargo. You will also find that every country has plenty choo choo's to choose from when it comes to working.
The first major decision you have to make is whether you want to work on passenger trains or freight trains. They both involve very different skills and will take you to very different places. Research the responsibilities of each and make sure you choose the industry that you feel best about. For the sake of this article we will focus on working passenger trains as that requires a customer service skill set which many of our readers already have.
The lifestyle working on trains will be somewhat dependant on the line you work for. They each have their own company values and benefits. Working on trains often allows you to get free trains rides during your time off. Virgin Trains has an excellent web page on a Day in the Life of a train employee.
They do work long hours trying to please travelers and commuters heading every which way. It involves a lot of standing and you must not get motion sickness from being on a moving train for up to 40 hours at a time. You could be working for 10-16 hours straight before you get enough downtime to fall asleep. Even when you do go to sleep there is no guarantee how long it will last. Sounds fun, right?
Jobs responsibilities while working on passenger trains will include serving and preparing food, checking and selling tickets and answering stupid questions. Questions might include such zingers as "Have we left yet?" and "Where are the seat belts?"
There are a very wide variety of jobs on trains and to better find the job that fits your skills, here are a few of the jobs available. These positions might have different names on different companies, but in the duties are the same.
The Lead Service Attendant is in charge of the dining car. They also look over the kitchen staff and servers. The admin duties might include checking inventory and accounting from the dining car.
Dining Service Car Attendants are in charge of the dining car. They take orders and serve food to the guests. This job would be great for someone with experience in the service industry.
The Chef onboard the train has similar duties to what a chef would do on a nonmoving restaurant. He or she prepares food for the dining car and maintains the kitchen with a small staff.
The Food Specialist is like the chefs right hand man. They will take over chef duties when needed as well as assist in preparation of food for the guests.
Coach attendants have a lot of responsibility, and they are the ones who may be dealing with passengers, both good and bad. The coach attendant assigns seats, ensures coach cleanliness and makes sure train passengers get off when they are supposed to. As well, you have the less than glamorous duties of cleaning the bathroom and replacing "sick bags". This can be a lot to handle, thus the reason why this position has a high turnover.
Sleeper Car Attendants have the same roles and duties as the coach attendants, except they do it in the first class sleeper car. That means they have less people to watch over. Couple that with the fact that sleeper car passengers are better rested so they might be easier to handle when things don't go exactly as planned. Additional duties for first class attendants might include carrying luggage, making beds, serving breakfasts and keeping the car orderly.
I can't speak for other train lines, but as far as Amtrak goes, the employees are part of a union which guarantees pay and benefits. The rates I have listed are the pay of senior employees and starting pay will be at 75% and it goes up the longer you are with the company. As well, many jobs that deal directly with passengers will get tips on top of this. Add to this the fact that as a union employee you will be guaranteed breaks among other things, and any time these aren't given you are paid penalties. Plus your working shifts will be very long hours on your feet the whole time.
Train Attendants (coach, sleeper, business, etc.) 18.86
Service Attendants (dining car waiters) 18.86
Lead Service Attendant (cafe/lounge/dinette attendants) 19.50
LSA Diner (dining car stewards) 21.93
Food Specialist (second cook/dishwasher) 20.30
Chef (kitchen manager/held responsible for food stock) 20.66
When you're new to work on trains, you will not be getting regular hours. It is similar to airline employees in that way. As you get more experience and have more seniority you will find more hours and more consistent scheduling. For those looking for train employee pay from other countries, I suggest you seek that information on the train company website or ask around.
Jobs to work on trains are everywhere. Depending on what country you are allowed to work will decide the train you work. I have listed below links to the career pages of a couple passenger train operators. There are more train companies out there and to apply to them, just look them up and go to the link on their web page called Careers or Employment.
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