As you may have guessed, the primary role of the train driver is to operate the trains they run, attempting to keep to a strict schedule as best as possible whilst keeping their passengers and their cargo safe. There’s other parts to the job as well though, including the technical elements – checking all the equipment before a journey, and making sure that correct protocol is followed throughout the duration of any trip.
There’s also different levels of driving trains – there are local rail networks as well as the ones that run up and down the country, and even international trains such as the Eurostar. There’s also the London Underground to consider, if you like a little more controversy in your profession!
Salary & benefits
Trainee drivers tend to earn between £20,000 and £30,000 a year, which is dependant on the firm that you’re working for and the level of training you’re currently working at. Once qualified, however, earnings can rise to between £35,000 and £55,000, as well as the fact that you’re almost always given free (or at least reduced) rail travel across the country, which is a pretty nifty bonus.
The industry standard working week is around 35 hours, which tends to be spread across four or five shifts, but these can be scheduled at any time, including evenings, late nights and weekends.
The type of shifts you will do depends on the type of company you are working for – passenger trains tend to run to a schedule that does not end too late or start too early, but if you work for a freight or engineering train service, night shifts and work in the early hours is far more common. Overnight trips are common on long-distance services.
There are no set entry requirements for the profession, although you’ll be expected to have a decent standard of education, and especially GCSEs in Maths and English. It would also be a bonus to be able to understand the technical requirements of the role, which might include some sort of background in mechanics or electrical engineering.
You must be at least 21 years old to work on the National Rail network, although 18 is the minimum age requirement to join the London Underground. Both networks employ a rigorous selection policy, including an assessment centre and interviews, which will test your suitability for the role, as well as a medical assessment and screenings for drugs and alcohol.
Training & progression
Training for the role usually takes between 9 months and two years, and will take place in numerous different ways, including simulators and railyards, to make sure you have a full grip of the situation before sending you out onto the rail network.
You’ll have to learn the regulations of the railways, the innermost workings of the train, the skills needed to drive a railway engine and the knowledge of the network that you’ll be using, including information about signal positions and railway station procedures.
There will be plenty of testing to make sure that this knowledge is up to speed and that your practical skills are up to the task at hand, which you’d expect in a job with such consequences of failure. In terms of progression, there is scope for moving into a more senior role or managerial position, especially if you happen to have a knack for the engineering qualities of the job, which are amongst the most challenging.
Ultimately, the role offers serious scope for progression to those who take on such a challenging task and succeed in facing up to those challenges head on. Rail controllers and line managers often come from being train drivers, and can earn a significantly higher wage.