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Railroad Science

National Academy of Railroad Sciences

Earn a college certificate at the National Academy of Railroad Sciences (NARS), a partnership of Johnson County Community College and BNSF Railway.


NARS logo

Established in 1988, NARS offers training to those seeking a job in the railroad industry.

Learn in laboratory conditions and simulated situations that duplicate on-the-job requirements. Our training facility spans 130,000 square feet of office, classroom, laboratory and multimedia studio space.

You'll learn from former railroad conductors who have met industry and Higher Learning Commission standards.

At the end of NARS training, you may earn an interview with BNSF or other employers.

  • Our payment deadline is four weeks before class start date.
  • We accept the first 14 students who enroll and pay.

NARS is strictly an educational opportunity.

Individual railroads can differ somewhat in the qualification requirements for applicants; most of them won't accept color-blind applicants. Railroads usually make applicants who advance in the hiring process pass a medical evaluation. Research the specific application requirements for the railroad to which you're considering applying.

Choosing the railroad for a career is a long-term commitment, rewarded with an outstanding retirement system. And on the road to that retirement goal, railroad employees enjoy very livable wages and handsome benefit packages for themselves and their families.

Are you trying to decide if the railroad "way of life" is right for you? Here are some general observations and things to think about:

  • Conductors work in all weather conditions
  • Road conductors are on call, unless they work a shift with set hours (usually yard jobs). They usually have to report to work within two hours of receiving a call to work.
  • Railroads usually operate 365 days per year, even on holidays.
  • Railroad conductors should be somewhat physically fit because they will experience some days with higher-than-normal physical exertion.
  • Most railroads are seniority-based (except for some short line railroads). As a new hire or an employee low on the seniority rosters, you could be furloughed or laid off from time to time.
  • Railroad conductors should be self-motivated. They will perform many aspects of their duties without supervision.
  • Railroad conductors should be punctual, honest and loyal to their employer.

Each railroad has somewhat different expectations for its employees, but the above observations are a good starting point to determine your fit in a railroad career. There are seven Class I railroads and more than 500 short line railroads in the United States. The employment potential is there, based on your personal situation and desires.

Other Important Aspects of Railroad Work

Below are some of the general requirements of railroads, but you should consult specific railroads for their requirements.

You must pass a background check and an aptitude test as part of the railroad hiring process.

This may include:

  • Your Social Security number
  • Criminal and drug history
  • Past employment
  • Education
  • Professional licenses and certifications
  • Military history
  • Driving record
  • Credit history
  • Any other information relevant to the job

To judge whether you are able to perform the essential tasks of the position, you must complete a:

  • Medical history questionnaire
  • Color vision exam
  • Physical ability test
  • Urine drug test
  • Medical screening

You must also be able to prove that you are a U.S. citizen or that you are authorized to work in the United States.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Outside work experience
  • Experience working on an on-call basis
  • Experience working varying shift schedules
  • Experience operating heavy equipment
  • Mechanical experience
  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Possess a high school or general education diploma (GED)
  • Ability to lift 75 lbs.
  • Valid driver's license
  • Pass hearing and vision requirements. Applicants cannot be color blind.
  • 2 years of verifiable work experience and/or college

Physical Requirements

  • Medium to heavy work, lifting up to 50 pounds occasionally and up to 83 pounds on a rare basis
  • Stoop/bend/kneel/crouch/crawl/balance/climb
  • Work in cramped, confined, enclosed or awkward places
  • Ride on the outside of rail equipment for long periods of time
  • Walk long distances over uneven terrain
  • Demonstrate auditory and visual acuity/tracking/inspection
  • Meet color vision requirements as described in the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations

Basic Competencies

  • Verbal comprehension (Understand oral and written communications - both general and technical)
  • Communication skills (provide clear instructions/directions)
  • Reasoning skills (problem-solving and troubleshooting skills)

Personal Characteristics

  • Possess a reliable and safety-conscious attitude
  • Ability to work in all weather conditions
  • Possess strength and alertness
  • Ability to follow rules and procedures
  • Organized and detail-oriented
  • Ability to work well independently or with a team

Typical Conditions of Employment

  • Work safely to prevent on-the-job accidents and injuries
  • Wear protective equipment including hearing protection, safety-toe boots or safety glasses
  • Work hours may include a nonstandard work week, overtime and various shift work, including on-call 7 days a week, 24 hours per day, with extended periods of time away from home and short rest between assignments in accordance with the regulation on hours of service 
  • Work hours are based on seniority. New hires will work primarily nights, weekends and holidays.
  • Must be able to report to work safely with two-hour notice
  • Complete annual training and pass safety operating rules examination
  • Federal regulations require random testing for drugs and/or alcohol
  • Must pass all required assessments
  • Must pass a background screening
  • There is a strict disciplinary policy regarding inability to report to work within proper time frame or failure to accept a call for work
  • Advance to engineer position when required, based on seniority
  • Some positions are governed by a collective bargaining agreement. Membership is required.
  • Must pass a post-offer medical examination, including drug and physical capabilities test that entails a 1.5 hour strength and cardiovascular fitness test. You will be required to travel up to 4 hours to a testing center, at your expense.

Your Choices

  • Face-to-Face Conductor Certificate: 6 weeks of classes on campus at JCCC in Overland Park, Kansas, with 10 weeks of distance learning. (Major code 4410.)
  • Online Conductor Certificate: 6 month session online. Only 7 consecutive days of required attendance on campus. (Major code 4410.)
  • AAS Degree: 2 years of general education classes, including the conductor certificate requirements, to earn an associate degree. (Major code 2980.) 

Online Conductor Program

Our online railroad conductor program is a five-month program. At the end of the five months, seven consecutive days are required on campus for hands-on field training. The online portion follows a weekly format. Your instructor will expect you to log in, read course materials, contribute to online discussions and complete assignments each week.

Is online learning right for you?

Face-to-Face Conductor Program

  • 16 weeks (Six consecutive weeks on the JCCC campus — 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 weeks distance learning)
  • Our face-to-face program meets from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for six weeks. After that, you have 10 weeks to complete your distance learning coursework. You can complete your distance learning coursework anywhere.

Selection Process and Requirements

  • 10 weeks prior to class start date: Financial Aid must be submitted. You are responsible for checking your student account to ensure all documentation is submitted successfully.
  • 6 weeks prior to class start date: $500 non-refundable deposit due. This deposit goes toward tuition.
  • 4 weeks prior to class start date: Remaining full cost of tuition due, or financial assistance firmly in place to reserve your seat — first come, first served. Tuition is $6,000-$8,000 (subject to permanent residence.) See Program Costs & Financing below.
  • Must be at least 18 years old and possess a high school or general education diploma (GED).
  • Able to lift 75 lbs.
  • Pass a hearing and vision test. Applicants cannot be color blind.

Steps to Apply

1. Choose a session date.

  • Online Conductor Certificate
    • Jan. 22, 2019
  • Face-to-Face Conductor Certificate
    • Oct. 1, 2018; Feb. 25, 2019; June 17, 2019; Sept. 16, 2019

2. Apply here: Application is good for 2 years.

Application hints:

  • Under the Academic Major at JCCC section, select Program and search Railroad to select either certificate or A.A.S.
  • The Academic Term is the college semester in which the class session of your choice begins.
  • Allow at least 48 hours for JCCC Admissions to process your application. Check your email for application status.
  • Class space is limited. Applicants will be notified if their class session choice is full and will be invited to attend the next available class session.

Railroad Conductor Certificate Costs

Residence Cost
Johnson County $5,781*
Kansas
(Outside Johnson County)
$6,070*
Metro $6,495**
Out of State $7,940*

*The JCCC board of trustees can change the cost per credit hour without notice.
**Metro Rate applies only to Missouri students residing in ZIP codes starting with 640 or 641.

Additional Expenses

In addition to tuition, you'll have the following expenses:

  • $500 non-refundable tuition deposit to reserve your seat in the class. First come, first served. This deposit goes toward tuition.
  • Books: Approximately $100
  • Railroad-approved footwear: $100 - $150
  • Hearing and vision tests: Approximately $60
  • Lodging: Approximately $1,200 - $1,400
  • Laptop or tablet: All exams will be administered in the Learning Management System. Exams may also be accessed through most mobile devices.

Railroad Operations, AAS Costs

You pay for an associate degree by the credit hour. It usually takes two years to complete an associate degree. Visit our catalog for the total credit hours required to earn our associate degree. Visit the college's tuition page to determine your cost per credit hour. The cost per credit hour varies depending on your permanent residency. The JCCC Board of Trustees can change the cost per credit hour without notice.

Financing

Financial aid is monetary assistance for the cost of attending college that comes from a source other than you and your family. You can apply for financial aid to help pay for our programs. Get more information and financial aid application instructions online. You may also email the JCCC Financial Aid office or call 913-469-3840.

Other sources of financing may include:

Note: Students with approved funding sources are eligible for BNSF scholarships.

The U.S. Department of Labor compiles statistics on the careers involving railroad science. You'll find information specifically related to careers in Kansas, including salary information and the job prospects.