The U.S Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports more than 36,000,000,000 miles are traveled by rail in any given year. Whether carrying freight or folks, trains are a hugely significant means of moving goods and people where they need to go. Of course, someone has to make sure such an important mode of transportation is safe and secure, which is why rail companies like CSX hire railroad police officers and railroad special agents.
The History of Railroad Police
Not long after the invention of the locomotive, trains began connecting the American coasts as the U.S. expanded westward. Unfortunately, the railways grew and people moved west faster than the burgeoning concept of police departments could keep up. Trains were frequently the subjects of raids and robberies, and the need to protect them became readily apparent.
Fortunately, the Illinois Central Railroad Company employed a bright young lawyer by the name of Abraham Lincoln (yes, the Abraham Lincoln), who urged the company powers that be to form a private police force capable of protecting its resources.
An enterprising Chicago police detective saw an opportunity, and Alan Pinkerton established the National Detective Agency and the first private detective firm in the U.S., which served as protection for railroad companies across the country.
Rail corporations soon began to see a benefit in employing their own police forces in-house, and it was not long before individual companies created corporate police departments.
Though they work for private companies such as CSX and Union Pacific, unlike private investigators, railroad police are fully sworn police officers with arrest powers.
The extent of their jurisdiction varies from state to state, but in almost all cases they can take the same law enforcement action as any other police officer in that state while in, on or around railroad property.
In fact, U.S. federal law provides that any railroad police officer or special agent sworn or commissioned in one state is considered sworn or commissioned in any other state in which the rail company owns property. In some states, railway police have jurisdiction throughout the state. In others, their power is limited to railroad property.
The primary purpose of railroad police and special agents is to protect freight and passengers. Section 28101 of the United States Code outlines the function of railway police to "protect employees, passengers, or patrons of the rail carrier; property, equipment, and facilities owned, leased, operated, or maintained by the rail carrier; property moving in interstate or foreign commerce in the possession of the rail carrier; and personnel, equipment, and material moving by rail that are vital to the national defense."
Railway police have many of the same units and provide the same opportunities as state, local and federal departments. They employ detectives and investigators, patrol officers, explosive ordnance disposal and WMD units, and even K-9 officers.
They also provide specialized training to other states, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Railway officers investigate crimes related to railroad property and personnel, patrol tracks, depots and other property, and partner with other agencies to combat terrorism.
In short, railway police do for critical rail infrastructure what state, local and federal police officers do for their communities.
Specific requirements to become a special agent or officer with a railroad police department may vary slightly, but generally, you must have completed a police academy and obtain a law enforcement certification in the state in which you'll work.
Railway police also often require you to have at least three years of prior law enforcement work experience. That means you'll need to become a police officer and work for a few years before you can become a railroad officer or special agent.
Railroad special agents are preferred to have at least a bachelor's degree and give preference to those candidates who have experience and training in investigations or other special law enforcement certification and skills.
To apply to become a railroad special agent or officer, visit the website of nearly any rail company and search for careers. In most cases, you can apply online.
While specific growth figures are difficult to find, it is certain that railroad companies will continue to require officers to patrol their tracks, protect their freight and keep their passengers safe. Since railroads span several states, there are plenty of opportunities nationwide for those who are willing to move.
Salaries may vary from state to state and company to company, but railroad agents are typically paid higher than their local counterparts to start, earning between $45,000 and $65,000 per year.
Is a Career Right For You?
If you love trains and appreciate the importance of freight transportation and don't necessarily want to be a conductor, then working with the railroads as a police officer or special agent can be fun, exciting, and rewarding. Railroad police have great opportunities to help keep a vital mode of transportation safe and secure, and may just be the perfect criminology career for you.