35 per week
£35,000+ per year
Train drivers operate trains, making sure that passengers and freight get to their destination safely and on time. They drive trains on local and national rail networks.
If you are interested in railways, can concentrate for long periods and understand the importance of safety, this could be a perfect career for you.
You do not always need specific qualifications, although most employers will expect you to have a good general standard of education. You will also need to pass a series of medical checks as part of the recruitment process.
You would make stops along your route to pick up and drop off passengers or freight. Other tasks could include:
- checking equipment and engines before a journey starts
- contacting control centres for information about routes and any problems
- following signalling instructions during the journey
- making passenger announcements
- controlling automatic doors
- positioning and handing over engines to drivers on the next shift.
You would also record any incidents during your shift, for example equipment problems on the train or by the track, and dangers and delays.
Working hours and conditions
Most companies operate on a 35-hour week. This could be spread over four or five shifts (known as turns) including weekends, evenings and nights.
On freight or engineering trains, you would usually do more night shifts. On long distance routes, you may have overnight stays away from home.
You would usually work alone in the driver's cab during the journey. Sometimes a trainee driver or driver inspector will be with you.
Trainee drivers can earn from around £20,000 to £30,000 a year, depending on the company and stage of training.
Qualified drivers can earn from £35,000 to over £60,000 a year.
Free or reduced price travel is usually offered as an extra benefit.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
You do not always need specific qualifications to be a train driver, although most employers will expect you to have a good general standard of education, including GCSEs in maths and English. Some mechanical or electrical knowledge may also be useful. You could check with train operating companies directly for details of vacancies for trainee drivers.
Another way into this career is to start work in the rail service doing another job, for example as part of the station staff or maintenance crews. You could then apply for trainee driver posts as they become available. Train companies often recruit from their own workforce.
You normally have to be at least 21 to work as a train driver on the national rail network. If you are aged between 18 and 21, you may be able to train and work in yards and depots away from passenger lines. To work on the London Underground you must be at least 18.
If your initial application is successful, you will be invited to an assessment centre for tests and an interview. Tests could cover:
- basic mechanical knowledge
- ability to remember information
- reaction times
- concentration skills
- group exercises.
You will also have to pass medical checks, which will test your fitness levels, eyesight, colour vision and hearing. Companies also screen for drugs and alcohol.
You can find a list of train companies on the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) website.
People 1st is the Sector Skills Council for hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism and their website, Careers That Move, gives more information and advice about jobs in the passenger transport and travel industries.
Training and development
Once you start work, your training period would normally last between 9 and 18 months. Some of your training may take place in a cab simulator, which gives the effect of real-life situations such as trackside dangers, bad weather and mechanical failure.
Your training would be split into stages, including:
- rules and regulations – driver cab controls, signalling systems and track safety
- traction knowledge – engine layout, safety systems and fault identification
- train handling – 200 to 300 hours' practical driving skills, including night driving
- route knowledge – route-specific information, such as braking distances, speed restrictions and signal positions.
You must pass assessments at the end of each stage to fully qualify as a train driver. You would also complete a Personal Track Safety (PTS) certificate during the training period. You can only drive on routes you have been assessed on, so you would continue to learn more routes once you qualify.
You could take work-based qualifications, such as:
- Level 2 (NVQ) Certificate in Rail Services (Shunting)
- Level 2 (NVQ) Diploma in Rail Services (Driving).
As a driver, you could also work for a rail engineering company and receive training to drive on-track machines used in maintenance work. For example, machines like ballast tampers, which pack the ballast underneath tracks, and rail grinding and milling machines used to remove track defects.
A driving standards manager would regularly assess your driving skills throughout your career.
Skills, interests and qualities
To become a train driver, you will need to have:
- good ability to concentrate over long periods
- good customer service skills
- an excellent understanding of normal and emergency procedures
- the ability to react quickly, calmly and safely to unexpected problems
- a responsible attitude and a high level of safety awareness
- a willingness to work flexibly.
Careers That Move
Employers include passenger train operators, freight companies, and underground, light rail and metro companies. You can find a list of train operating companies on the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) website.
With experience, you could be promoted to driver instructor and then driver safety manager jobs. Beyond this level, you could move into operations management.
You may find the following useful for vacancies and general reading:
Job market information
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