With almost 58,000 miles of railroad track in the United States, the potential for criminal or terrorist activity on this vital national transportation system is enormous. In order to safeguard railroads, each state and the federal government, in collaboration with state governments, have created railroad police units that enforce laws on and around rail facilities. The officers in the railroad police receive their salaries from private companies but derive their authority to arrest and enforce laws from state mandates.
While rail transportation receives little notice from most of the public, it is an essential means of conveying passengers and goods across large distances in a short amount of time. The rail system is a highly complex and tightly controlled network that could suffer catastrophic damage through even minor disruptions.
Railroad Police Job Description
Railroad police are required to fulfill many responsibilities as part of the job, including:
- Monitor and secure the facilities associated with railroads including stations, warehouses and fuel depots
- Ensure that only authorized personnel are on trains
- Investigate thefts, property destruction or vandalism
- Ensure the security of tracks
- Patrol the cars and detect suspicious behavior or packages
- Investigate any disruptions to rail service
How to Become a Railroad Police Officer
The path to becoming a railroad police officer is dependent upon the state. Some states require that railroad police officers obtain commissions as other local and state officers do, while other states may only require certifications similar to a security guard. As a result of the Crime Control Act, commissioned railroad police officers with arrest or other powers in one state may also carry those powers to any other state in which their railway employer operates.
In most states, the jurisdiction of railroad police is limited to the immediate area around railroads, stations and facilities supporting rail transport. In some states, however, railroad officers possess the broad powers and jurisdiction of local or state police. Most railroad police are actually employed by railway companies, although they receive commissions through state agencies.
Most railway companies use similar standards as other law enforcement agencies in the hiring process. Applicants should possess a high school diploma, although a college degree would be helpful in competing for railroad police jobs. Candidates should also possess superior strength, dexterity and stamina to pass the physical component of the selection process. Once selected, recruits will be enrolled in police training programs similar to those of other law enforcement agencies.
The majority of railroad police serve as patrol officers, but many employers have specialized units to respond to specific types of incidents. Major rail companies have developed special operations teams that conduct operations involving explosives detection and removal, hazardous materials, and counter-terrorism. These specialized units receive additional instruction through state or federal authorities like the FBI.
Railroad Police Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), transit and railroad police officers earned an average salary of $69,570. The highest-paying industries for transit and railroad police officers during this time were:
- Rail transportation – $97,470
- State government– $71,810
- Local government – $64,580
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for transit and railroad police. Job growth projections from the US Department of Labor-sponsored resource, Projections Central. Figures are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2022.