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Career profile Subway Operator

Also known as Combined Rail Operator, Light Rail Operator, Light Rail Vehicle Operator (LRV Operator), Rail Operator, Rapid Transit Operator (RTO), Streetcar Operator, Train Operator, Transit Operator, Trolley Operator

Subway Operator

Also known as Combined Rail Operator, Light Rail Operator, Light Rail Vehicle Operator (LRV Operator)

Interests Profile
  • Realistic
  • Conventional
  • Enterprising
Pay Range
$40,880 - $86,200 (annual)
Required Skills
  • Operations Monitoring
  • Operation and Control
  • Active Listening
Knowledge Areas
  • Transportation
  • Public Safety and Security
  • Customer and Personal Service
Core tasks
  • Monitor lights indicating obstructions or other trains ahead and watch for car and truck traffic at crossings to stay alert to potential hazards.
  • Drive and control rail-guided public transportation, such as subways, elevated trains, and electric-powered streetcars, trams, or trolleys, to transport passengers.
  • Operate controls to open and close transit vehicle doors.
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What does a Subway Operator do?

Subway Operators operate subway or elevated suburban trains with no separate locomotive, or electric-powered streetcar, to transport passengers.

In addition, Subway Operators may handle fares.

What kind of tasks does a Subway Operator perform regularly?

Subway Operators are often responsible for overseeing or executing some or all of the following tasks:

  • Monitor lights indicating obstructions or other trains ahead and watch for car and truck traffic at crossings to stay alert to potential hazards.
  • Drive and control rail-guided public transportation, such as subways, elevated trains, and electric-powered streetcars, trams, or trolleys, to transport passengers.
  • Operate controls to open and close transit vehicle doors.
  • Report delays, mechanical problems, and emergencies to supervisors or dispatchers, using radios.
  • Regulate vehicle speed and the time spent at each stop to maintain schedules.
  • Direct emergency evacuation procedures.
  • Make announcements to passengers, such as notifications of upcoming stops or schedule delays.
  • Complete reports, including shift summaries and incident or accident reports.
  • Greet passengers, provide information, and answer questions concerning fares, schedules, transfers, and routings.
  • Attend meetings on driver and passenger safety to learn ways in which job performance might be affected.

The above responsibilities are specific to Subway Operators. More generally, Subway Operators are involved in several broader types of activities:

Operating Vehicles, Mechanized Devices, or Equipment
Running, maneuvering, navigating, or driving vehicles or mechanized equipment, such as forklifts, passenger vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft.
Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
Getting Information
Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
Performing for or Working Directly with the Public
Performing for people or dealing directly with the public. This includes serving customers in restaurants and stores, and receiving clients or guests.
Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Materials
Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.

What is a Subway Operator salary?

The median salary for a Subway Operator is $69,440, and the average salary is $65,480. Both the median and average roughly describe the middle of the Subway Operator salary range, but the average is more easily affected by extremely high or low salaries.

Many Subway Operators earn significantly more or less than the average, due to several factors. About 10% of Subway Operators earn less than $40,880 per year, 25% earn less than $52,930, 75% earn less than $79,830, and 90% earn less than $86,200.

Between the years of 2020 and 2030, the number of Subway Operators is expected to change by 10.0%, and there should be roughly 1,100 open positions for Subway Operators every year.

Median annual salary
Typical salary range
$40,880 - $86,200
Projected growth (2020 - 2030)

What personality traits are common among Subway Operators?


Career interests describe a person's preferences for different types of working environments and activities. When a person's interest match the demands of an occupation, people are usually more engaged and satisfied in that role.

Compared to most occupations, those who work as a Subway Operator are usually higher in their Realistic and Conventional interests.

Subway Operators typically have very strong Realistic interests. Realistic occupations frequently involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many of the occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.

Also, Subway Operators typically have strong Conventional interests. Conventional occupations frequently involve following set procedures and routines. These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.


People differ in their values, or what is most important to them for building job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Compared to most people, those working as a Subway Operator tend to value Relationships, Support, and Working Conditions.

Most importantly, Subway Operators strongly value Relationships. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment.

Second, Subway Operators strongly value Support. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees.

Lastly, Subway Operators moderately value Working Conditions. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer job security and good working conditions.

Psychological Demands

Each occupation brings its own set of psychological demands, which describe the characteristics necessary to perform the job well.

In order to perform their job successfully, people who work as Subway Operators must consistently demonstrate qualities such as dependability, stress tolerance, and self-control.

Below, you'll find a list of qualities typically required of Subway Operators, ranked by importance:

Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Stress Tolerance
Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
Attention to Detail
Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
Job requires being honest and ethical.

What education and training do Subway Operators need?

Working as a Subway Operator usually requires a high school diploma.

Subway Operators need anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with this occupation.

Educational degrees among Subway Operators

  • 3.1% did not complete high school or secondary school
  • 37.7% completed high school or secondary school
  • 33.0% completed some college coursework
  • 11.0% earned a Associate's degree
  • 12.5% earned a Bachelor's degree
  • 2.7% earned a Master's degree
  • 0.1% earned a doctorate or professional degree

Knowledge and expertise required by Subway Operators

Subway Operators may benefit from understanding of specialized subject areas, such as transportation, public safety and security, or customer and personal service knowledge.

The list below shows several areas in which most Subway Operators might want to build proficiency, ranked by importance.

Knowledge of principles and methods for moving people or goods by air, rail, sea, or road, including the relative costs and benefits.
Public Safety and Security
Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.
Customer and Personal Service
Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
Education and Training
Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.
Knowledge of transmission, broadcasting, switching, control, and operation of telecommunications systems.

Important Abilities needed by Subway Operators

Subway Operators must develop a particular set of abilities to perform their job well. Abilities are individual capacities that influence a person's information processing, sensory perception, motor coordination, and physical strength or endurance. Individuals may naturally have certain abilities without explicit training, but most abilities can be sharpened somewhat through practice.

For example, Subway Operators need abilities such as control precision, multilimb coordination, and reaction time in order to perform their job at a high level. The list below shows several important abilities for Subway Operators, ranked by their relative importance.

Control Precision
The ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust the controls of a machine or a vehicle to exact positions.
Multilimb Coordination
The ability to coordinate two or more limbs (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while sitting, standing, or lying down. It does not involve performing the activities while the whole body is in motion.
Reaction Time
The ability to quickly respond (with the hand, finger, or foot) to a signal (sound, light, picture) when it appears.
Problem Sensitivity
The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.
Rate Control
The ability to time your movements or the movement of a piece of equipment in anticipation of changes in the speed and/or direction of a moving object or scene.

Critical Skills needed by Subway Operators

Skills are developed capacities that enable people to function effectively in real-world settings. Unlike abilities, skills are typically easier to build through practice and experience. Skills influence effectiveness in areas such as learning, working with others, design, troubleshooting, and more.

Subway Operators frequently use skills like operations monitoring, operation and control, and active listening to perform their job effectively. The list below shows several critical skills for Subway Operators, ranked by their relative importance.

Operations Monitoring
Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.
Operation and Control
Controlling operations of equipment or systems.
Active Listening
Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
Talking to others to convey information effectively.
Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.

What is the source of this information?

The information provided on this page is adapted from data and descriptions published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration under the CC BY 4.0 license. TraitLab has modified some information for ease of use and reading, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this information, please send a message.