Q and A with Stephen Klejst, National Transportation Safety Board

Collage image, with a welder on a track, a derailed train, and a rail yard worker.

In a Q and A with Fast Forward, industry expert Stephen Klejst shared his advice for students who might be considering a future in the railroad industry.

Klejst is the deputy managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). NTSB is a federal agency that comes into action when a significant transportation accident takes place.

“[NTSB] is the group that would come into the investigation process. We have the responsibility of determining the probable cause of the accident,” he said. "And more importantly, we develop recommendations to prevent those accidents from happening again.”

Klejst said that it takes a whole team of experts to determine the cause of a transportation accident. For that reason, NTSB tends to hire individuals who have experience in their field such as railroad operations, signal engineering, locomotives and rail cars, and human performance. Then they train these individuals to be accident investigators.

“It’s something you don’t normally just learn in school and apply. It’s an acquired skill set. We look for people at our agency that have established track records of experience and performance in those areas. We train them to be investigators,” he said.

We asked Klejst if he had advice for students who might be considering railroad careers. He began by explaining that the railroad industry has a lot to offer in terms of career options.

“The railroads are almost like a small city if you can imagine. There are a variety of positions and skills that are required. Ranging from the locomotive engineers that operate the trains to the employees that either build or repair the railroad track system. The bridges that the railroads operate over. We have plumbers, commercial electricians, law enforcement. There’s also a need for a variety of skills required to support a railroad operation such as finance, administration and IT.”

He also said different railroad jobs might require different educational backgrounds.

When we asked him about benefits like pay and job security, Klejst said, "Depending on the type of position that you might aspire to, it might require a different level of education,” he said. "If someone does not feel that going to a four-year degree program is right for them, there are very good paying and very rewarding careers for those that might want to go for that two-year college degree.”

“Railroad industry employees tend to be paid very well because of the skill set and the expertise required to perform those jobs and keep the railroad system operational. So, it’s a very good industry to get into from a pay standpoint."

“The figures that were used on the [Association of American Railroads] website show that with pay and benefits, it is not at all unusual for employees to be paid well over $100,000, including medical benefits, vacation, sick leave, and retirement benefits.”

He also said that railroads tend to offer on-the-job training for their employees. But they do look for employees with specific skills and educational backgrounds.

“Railroads tend to provide the training to bring employees to the point of competency to work on their systems, because of the uniqueness of them, but you do need to come on board with a set of basic skills.”

Klejst said that students should check out the Association of American Railroads website to learn more. There, they can find information on a variety of railroad careers, job requirements, college scholarship opportunities, and more.

And make sure to pay a visit to the NTSB website to learn more about transportation careers that can make a difference and save lives, including careers in accident investigation!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 6 - Rail