Locomotive Specialty / Train Diesel Mechanic - Diesel Mechanic Guide

Locomotive Specialty / Train Diesel Mechanic

With more companies turning to diesel-powered vehicles for the transportation of produce and merchandise across the country, diesel mechanics have various career options they can choose from in different sectors of the mechanic industry.

Locomotives have become a huge asset to companies that need large amounts of items shipped, and even vacationers are turning to railways for a new traveling experience.

Aspiring diesel mechanics who wish to work for locomotive companies need to meet the qualifying educational and certification requirements in order to land a higher paying position.

Educational Prerequisites

No matter what college an individual wishes to enroll in, meeting the college’s required educational prerequisites ensures potential students will be eligible for the diesel technology program.

Most colleges across America require students to have already earned their high school diploma or GED before applying for a program, and some take the requirements a step farther by requiring students to have taken certain courses in high school, including four years of English as well as two years of math and science.

Educational Requirements

diesel mechanic studentEven though a few companies hire diesel mechanics who have years of relevant work experience in lieu of a certificate or degree, most locomotive companies only consider potential hires who have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree in diesel technology to ensure they are knowledgeable in the equipment needed to repair and maintain diesel engines.

When searching for a diesel technology program, individuals need to make sure the program is properly certified through a governing organization, such as the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF).

Certified diesel technology programs will help prepare students for taking the proper certifications after graduation.

Associate of Science in Diesel Technology

Individuals who wish increase their chances of landing a position at a locomotive company without having to spend years gaining relevant experience need to earn their Associate of Science in Diesel Technology, which will take approximately three years to complete.

This program will provide students with the necessary hands-on experience and classroom instruction they need to succeed in the mechanic industry, training them in the fundamentals of diagnosing and repairing diesel engines.

In order to earn an associate’s degree, students will need to take the following courses:

  • Power transmissions
  • Diesel engine technology
  • Fuel systems
  • Hydraulics
  • Heavy duty brakes
  • Electrical systems

Bachelor of Science in Diesel Technology

For those whose goal is to ascertain a management position in a locomotive company, earning a Bachelor of Science in Diesel Technology will give them the training they need to further their career in the future.

Taking up to five years to complete, bachelor’s degrees focus on the science and technology behind diesel-powered engines, helping students better understand how these systems function.

Taking place in a lab or garage, certified instructors will teach students the methodologies and techniques needed to properly maintain diesel-powered vehicles as well as the generalized coursework, such as mathematics and human sciences, to manage other mechanics.

Coursework may include:

  • AC and heating systems
  • Welding theory
  • Diesel fuel systems
  • Diesel shop management
  • Hydraulics and pneumatics

Most locomotive companies that hire diesel mechanics require them to enter into an apprenticeship program before working by themselves on railway diesel engines.

In order to be eligible for the apprenticeship program, individuals need to first obtain the proper certifications.


Diesel mechanics who wish to work on locomotives or rail cars need to obtain the relevant certifications, which can vary according to the company.

Some companies require certification in specialized equipment or repair techniques, while others focus more on a general certification to prove the mechanic is proficient in diesel engine repair.

Even though certification is not necessary to work legally in United States as a diesel mechanic, it will increase one’s chances of landing a job in the locomotive sector.

For those who wish to further their career in the mechanic industry, earning a certificate through the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) adds value to their resumes, showing they are proficient in diesel engine repair and maintenance.

Diesel mechanics who wish to reach Master Medium-Heavy Vehicle Technician status can pass a specific group of tests through the ASE, which will qualify them for additional career opportunities in the locomotive sector.

Other certifications that diesel mechanics can earn include:

  • Engine inspection
  • Electrical systems repair
  • Preventative maintenance

In order to become certified in this field, diesel mechanics need to meet certain criteria, including two years of relevant work experience and passing of the qualifying exam. Law requires diesel mechanics to renew their certification every five years in order to stay up-to-date with changing technology. Renewing one’s license entails passing another exam and meeting ASE’s work experience requirements.

Career Outlook

With locomotives becoming an essential transportation option for companies in the United States, diesel mechanics have many job opportunities available to them in this field of expertise.

A 2012 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the career outlook for mechanics who work with heavy vehicles is expected to increase by nine percent over the next few years, leading to an additional 16,200 jobs in this field.

According to the BLS, rail car repairers who earn their diesel technology degree and ASE certification can expect to earn a median salary of $48,500 per year.

Depending on the training, company, and experience, diesel mechanics who work at locomotive companies can find work as:

  • Mechanical service operators
  • Rail car repairers
  • Work equipment mechanics

From repairing rail cars to maintaining locomotive engines, diesel engine mechanics have various career opportunities in the locomotive industry.

With the proper certifications and educational training, individuals who enter this career can count on job stability and advancement opportunities, especially if they are hardworking and dependable.