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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Operating Practices Inspector


An Operating Practices Inspector is concerned with operating rules and practices, administration of Federal alcohol and drug control programs, hours of service for railroad employees involved with the movement of trains, Federal locomotive engineer certification standards, occupational safety conditions and reporting, and employee training and qualification.  Significant duties include: 

  • Investigate serious railroad accidents, visits the accident site, makes inspections and tests of situations and objects to determine the operational condition of affected equipment.  Questions employees and witnesses to develop facts.  Writes a narrative report, describing the accident, the cause or causes and recommends measures to prevent similar accidents in the future. 
  • Examine carrier records to determine that all reportable personal injuries and accidents have been properly reported. 
  • Examine carrier records to determine if employees connected with the movement of a train were permitted to be or remain on duty contrary to provisions of the law. 
  • Examine carrier records to determine if employees connected with the movement of a train are in compliance with Federal alcohol and drug regulations. 
  • Examine carrier records to determine if employees connected with the operation of locomotives or a train are in compliance with Federal regulations concerning locomotive engineer certification. 
  • Investigate complaints from railroad employees or the general public regarding unsafe practices involving train operations. 
  • Investigate as part of a team, reportable accidents and incidents involving railroad operations to determine probable cause and if Federal regulations were violated. 


To be qualified for an Operating Practices Inspector you MUST have demonstrated knowledge in the following areas:

  • Federal regulations and standards relating to railroad operations and requirements in such areas as hours of service, accident reporting, blue signal protection of workers, rear end markers, radio communication, railroad employee qualifications, and railroad employee testing.

To qualify for the GS-12 , you must have at least one full year of specialized railroad related experience equivalent to the work performed at the next lower grade level for this occupation.  Your experience must include at least a year:

  • Investigating serious railroad accidents, incidents and complaints and generating reports based on the data and analysis performed during the investigation. 
  • Examining carrier records to ensure employees are in compliance with all appropriate Federal rules and regulations, including, but not limited to alcohol and drug regulations; locomotive engineer certification, operating rules, etc.
  • Experience providing written communication related to operating practices, rules, and procedures.
  • Presenting information related to operating practices, rules, and procedures a one-on-one or group setting. 

Physical Demands and Work Environment:

The work regularly requires long periods of walking around railroad yards, industrial plants, grain elevators, coal piers, car floats, and accident sites, both day and night.  Also requires bending, crouching and stretching to inspect wreckage, track or equipment, climbing steep embankments around road beds, climbing ladders on bridges, trestles, railroad cars, loading platforms and racks, signal towers and signal masts.  During accident investigations long and tiring work is performed in addition to time spent while traveling to the accident site. 

Duties regularly require working in railroad classification yards, day and night, often during inclement weather conditions, where rail cars are being humped by gravity and moving continually into various yard tracks.  Constant lookout must be kept at all times in any railroad yard, along main tracks, or in industrial plants such to prevent possible serious injury.  While in railroad yards, on main tracks, in industrial plants, and freight forwarders, the inspector is frequently exposed to poisonous, explosive, and highly flammable commodities that could be leaking from rail cars or containers, or suddenly ignited by fire by improper handling.  Accident sites involve such hazards as electrified third rail and overhead catenary wires with high voltages, bridges, trestles and tunnels day and night.  Inspections also include sites such as coal docks, grain elevators and float bridges where rail cars are loaded on and off of car ferries.