Railroad Industry: Help Wanted

Collage image of different railroad bridges, some during construction and others after completion.

According to railroad industry veteran Don McCammon, now is the perfect time to start exploring careers in railroad transportation.

Screenshot Image of Don McCammon, taken from our interview.

Click a button to watch our interview with Don McCammon:

McCammon, a civil engineer by trade, has spent much of his career designing, building, inspecting, and maintaining railroad bridges. Railroad bridges can reach over 1,000-feet long. They need to be able to carry thousands of tons of weight. And they have to last for multiple decades. Keeping them operational is a top priority for any railroad, because a downed bridge is like a break in the supply chain.

This brings us to a point about the railroad industry in general. According to McCammon, thousands of railroad professionals will be retiring over the next decade. And everyone from engineers to construction workers will be needed to fill the gaps in the workforce. Since railroads will be in a crunch to train and develop skilled employees, the benefits for those who pursue railroad careers will be great. Benefits like competitive pay and tremendous opportunities for advancement.

Railroad jobs often require skills that you can’t always learn in a classroom, McCammon explained. For this reason, the industry tends to value on-the-job experience. That’s why it’s important that fresh faces enter into the industry today. They'll become the experts that will support the industry of tomorrow.

A seasoned expert, McCammon is now the person railroad companies call when they have a question or need help planning, designing, or maintaining a railroad bridge, track, or facility. He has also developed and teaches a bridge inspection class. He has even visited the country of Bahrain to advise the Minister of Transportation in matters of railroad engineering. But his most recent project finds him working with the Montana State Department of Transportation to improve safety at rail crossings.

“People try to beat trains at railroad crossings,” he said. “What happens, though, is that you have a train with 16,000 tons of load behind. It can’t stop on a dime, and if that car or truck doesn’t beat the train, the car ends up the loser.”

McCammon is identifying and examining some of the most high-risk railroad crossings in his state to determine the best way of preventing these types of accidents. A promising solution, he said, is to direct cars under or over the train using a bridge.

“The best crossing is one where trains and cars can’t touch each other. You separate them,” he said.

McCammon said that interested students should pay a visit to the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way (AREMA) website to learn more about railroad careers.

“We’re a group of engineers and professionals that work in the railroad industry. … We’re all there working together and sharing methods to improve or allow the movement of freight of passenger trains in our country,” he said.

He noted that AREMA offers a number of resources to help students enter into the industry—such as scholarships, and even a mentoring program. There’s also an annual conference where students can meet and network with railroad companies and industry professionals.

“We’ve put students into contact with railroads and consulting engineers at these conferences,” he said.

Check out McCammon’s video accompanying this article to learn more. And be sure to keep following Fast Forward for the latest news, updates, and expert advice about transportation careers!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 6 - Rail