I hired out 3 years ago this month with CN in Edmonton. Not sure if they do the same system out east, but here is how it goes nowadays out here:
1. You start out learning your CROR. 5 weeks in class that include general rules exams as well as signals exams.
2. Next step is field training. Around 3-4 months of training in the yard with an assigned crew week to week, and road training will be either with a set crew on a road assignment, or you will be called by the crew office for "train x" to "here". If I recall you need 40-something yard tours and 20 road tours. This field training should also include 5-7 days of beltpack training, with a mix of theory and practical.
3. Qualification. (Once again, not sure about out east, but here all qualification tours are basically a yard shift). A supervisor will pair you up with another trainee once you both have finished your training tours and you will pretty much be on your own during this shift. Its your responsibility to put all the knowledge you gained during your training into effect. The shift might include normal flat switching, servicing industries or doing a transfer. If the person evaluating your crew is satisfied, off you go, to either work the yard or the road. If not, a few more weeks of training.
When you do qualify, however, you will be Condcutor / Foreman qualified. Meaning, you could be the conductor on a train or the foreman of a yard shift the day you qualify. (Its kind of silly, I know, but they went away with doing the whole "brakeman / switchman for x amount of time before you become a conductor).
4. The last few months a good portion of the new guys out here have been able to hold yard assignments, but mostly the yard spareboard. The road tends to be more senior guys.
Not sure if they upped the training rate or not, but 3 years ago it was $160 per day ( 5 out of 7 days). Qualifying shift will be a normal foreman rate (~$240).
To give you an idea of how much you will make, my first year of qualifying I worked as a switchman in the yard on a night shift (2200-0600) and I made roughly $65,000. Last year I did both yard and road (9 months road, 3 months yard) and made roughly $80,000.
But know your wondering, do I get any freakin' days off???
Yard assignments work 5 days a week with set days off. Days off are covered by either set relief assignments or a crew called off the spareboard. If you get stuck on the spareboard, you are on call 24/7. EXCEPT: When on rest (yard employees are entitled 0-14 hours rest), or on an EO (Excused Absence). You need 1075 miles (or 5 yard shifts) to get an EO, where you can take anywhere from 0-48 hours off.
Road works in 3 ways. Spareboard, Pool, or assignment. The spareboard you are available 24/7 with the same exceptions as yard, but instead you can take up to 24 hours rest after each trip. EO's are the same, except you accumulate miles faster on the road. A pool is generally a higher seniority thing, meaning you only go east, or you only go west. Assignments, well, your an assigned crew set to an assigned train with an assigned day off.
There you have it, I think I just about covered the basics.
Warning: This railroader prefers a GE over an EMD.