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

NARS logo featuring a black and white drawing of a locomotive and the words Railroad Training Excellence

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 tasks. 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 Railway or other employers. NARS is strictly an educational opportunity.

Before beginning our Railroad Science program, please remember:

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

Individual railroads can differ somewhat in the qualification requirements for applicants; most of them will not 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 are considering applying.

Choosing the railroad for a career is a long-term commitment rewarded with an outstanding retirement system. On the road to that retirement goal, railroad employees enjoy very livable wages and competitive 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 factors to consider:

  • Conductors work in all weather conditions
  • Railroad conductors are on call, unless they work a shift with set hours (usually yard jobs). They usually must 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 can 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.

At JCCC, the National Academy of Railroad Science (NARS) has several different paths from which you can choose.

Choose a plan for conductor certificate or degree

Five-Month Conductor Certificate Plan

Major code 4410

The five-month plan begins August 24, 2020, and is designed with the working professional in mind. The coursework follows a weekly format online in the Canvas Learning Management System. Students are expected to log in, read course materials, contribute to online discussions, and complete assignments each week.

Once the online portion is complete, students will spend one week at JCCC to satisfy the requirements of RRTC 267, Conductor Field Training. 

Six-Week Conductor Certificate Plan

Major code 4410

The six-week plan begins August 31, 2020 and is a fast-track version of the five-month plan. Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, this plan is modified from the original on-campus classroom setting. Formerly, students met every weekday in the classroom from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The new instructional strategy, an online-hybrid method, will be presented to students predominantly online through daily, mandatory class meetings delivered in Canvas and Zoom.

You should be prepared to devote 6-8 hours per day to their studies, just as they would have done in the classroom. If you question your availability or discipline to satisfy these requirements, consider the five-month plan mentioned above.

One week of field training at JCCC will still be required at the end of training to satisfy the requirements of RRTC 267, Conductor Field Training.

Two-Year AAS Degree

Major code 2980

Two years of general education classes, including either conductor certificate plan, will satisfy the requirements to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree.

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.
  • 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 $5,892-$8,214 (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 and must meet vision and hearing threshold guidelines as described by the FRA.

Steps to Apply

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.
  • To change your major after submitting your application, follow these instructions.

Railroad Conductor Certificate Costs

Residence Cost
Johnson County $5,892*
Kansas
(Outside Johnson County)
$6,216*
Metro $6,684**
Out of State $8,214*

*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:

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.

Download the Railroad Program Outlook (PDF) for employment projections and salary information.

The National Academy of Railroad Sciences (NARS) provides affiliate colleges with industry-guided curriculum and expertise to enable their students to study locomotive mechanical courses in state-of-the-art training lab facilities.

Learn to inspect, maintain, troubleshoot and repair EMD and GE diesel engines and support systems, including locomotive air brakes, at either: