A railroad inspector is a person who is in charge of inspecting the railway system’s tracks and trains to ensure that they are in compliance with all applicable safety regulations. Railroad inspectors are usually employed the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), a division of the Department of Transportation in the United States. Although there is no formal certification process, the federal government expects railroad inspectors to have certain skills and abilities, including knowledge of railroad operations, communication skills, analytical insight, and the ability to travel extensively.
The most important qualification for becoming a railroad inspector is prior experience and knowledge of railroad operations and/or construction. Prior railroad industry experience is required, and while there is no specific written test, applicants are evaluated based on their experience and training as well as their answers to a supplemental qualifications exam. Although the FRA does not require inspectors to have a specific college degree, a background in engineering is advantageous for the inspector’s job and for obtaining positions that provide the necessary experience. Any position dealing with one or more of the five inspector occupational disciplines: track, signals and train control, operations, motive equipment, and hazardous materials is especially useful.
Anyone who wants to work as a railroad inspector needs to be able to communicate effectively. Although railroad inspectors, especially those who specialize in track or signal inspections, do some direct inspection of the rail industry’s physical components, they also need to interview people in and around the industry to gather information for their investigations. The operations specialty, in particular, is concerned with the human aspect of train operation, ensuring that the crews who load and operate the trains adhere to industry safety standards. Inspectors are also required to write up and/or present their findings and recommendations after an investigation is completed.
Railroad inspectors oversee the safety of the railways on a continuous basis, but they also conduct investigations to determine the causes of railway accidents and mishaps. As a result, anyone interested in becoming a railroad inspector must be able to conduct an investigation and determine which factors contribute to a failure in rail operations, who is responsible, and how future risk can be reduced. Determining whether a train’s driver followed proper procedures or investigating whether signaling equipment was functioning properly are two examples.
Any potential railroad inspector must also be willing to travel extensively in order to complete the job. A valid driver’s license and a sufficient credit rating to be entrusted with a government expense card are also required, in addition to a willingness to travel. Railroad inspectors who are unable to obtain or retain their travel cards will be subject to removal from Federal service, according to the FRA.
Because the position of railroad inspector is a Federal job, those interested in applying must also meet the requirements for Federal employment. Inspectors may be subjected to random drug testing throughout their careers, and drug tests are required as part of the application process. Railroad inspectors must divest themselves of any and all reemployment rights, leaves of absence, and seniority rights they may hold from rail companies to avoid conflicts of interest. Since railroad inspectors must have prior experience with the companies they will be inspecting and investigating, railroad inspectors must also divest themselves of any and all reemployment rights, leaves of absence, and seniority rights they may hold from rail companies. If the railroad inspector fails to comply, he or she will be fired from the federal government.
Although railway experience, investigation skills, and written and oral communication will be required for applicants to become railroad inspectors in countries other than the United States, the core competencies of railway experience, investigation skills, and written and oral communication will be required for applicants to become railroad inspectors anywhere. Although the job of railroad inspector can be demanding, it is also a rewarding career path because it allows you to make a difference, keep people safe, and provide closure and explanation in the aftermath of tragedies.