Railway Train Driver

The Job and What's Involved

Railway train drivers are responsible for driving passenger and goods trains safely, punctually and economically. They work on set routes from and to stations or depots. They have to know their route and possible difficulties, such as complex signalling systems, sharp bends or inclines.

Before starting on the first journey of their shift, train drivers check for any last minute changes that might affect the route they are taking and carry out safety-related operational checks on the train.

The driver is given permission to pull out of a station or depot, either by a signal light or a hand signal from a member of the station staff on the platform. Signal lights along the track tell them if they need to stop or slow down and signalling rules have to be observed at all times.

When the train is moving, they must:

  • Operate the Driver Safety Device to show they are maintaining control of the train.
  • Control the speed of the train to ensure a safe, comfortable and punctual journey.
  • Carefully observe speed limits and restrictions.
  • Operate the brakes and other instruments.
  • Keep a sharp look out for problems and, if needed, put in place emergency procedures.

Increasingly, driver-only trains operate on short journeys. Drivers on driver-only trains need to interact with customers, making journey and safety announcements and operating the locks on doors.

Train drivers also try to identify, and if possible deal with, any faults that develop. If the fault cannot be put right, or if there is a problem on the line, they report it using the telephone or radio system in the cab, or one of the telephones located along the railway line. At the end of the journey they write a report of any delays, problems, hazards or difficulties they have encountered.

Train drivers work 35 to 40 hours a week on a shift system, plus paid overtime when required, with the daily shift length varying between six and 11 hours. Freight and engineering drivers usually work more night shifts. Train drivers also work some weekends and bank holidays. Drivers on long distance routes may be required to stay overnight at the end of a journey before they start their next shift.

Train drivers are based in the driver's cab in the train. They are on their own in the cab except for occasions when a driver inspector, driver standards manager or a trainee driver travels with them.

Starting pay for a trainee driver may be around £18,000 a year. There may be other benefits, including free or reduced price travel. A uniform is normally provided.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Railway train drivers are employed by:

  • Train operating companies (TOCs) - TOCs run rail passenger services throughout the UK.
  • Underground, metro and light-rail companies.
  • Freight companies.
  • Infrastructure engineering supply companies.

Train operating companies (TOCs) are the main employers of train drivers. There are currently 24 rail franchises in the UK - these are listed on the National Rail website, www.nationalrail.co.uk. There are train operating companies and freight companies across the UK.

Vacancies are advertised on the websites of the individual train companies and may also appear at Jobcentre Plus offices and in local newspapers. However, many TOCs recruit trainee drivers from their existing station or train staff.

Education and Training

There are no set qualifications to become a railway train driver. However, train operating companies look for a good standard of education, such as some GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or the equivalent, preferably including English, maths and a science or technical subject.

Additional work experience may be an advantage, particularly in a job involved in delivering customer service.

Applicants legally need to be at least 21 years of age before training can begin. However, young people aged 16 can start work at a station and at 18 can work on-board a train. In this way, they can gain knowledge of the railway system and experience of dealing with passengers before applying to become a trainee train driver. Some TOCs also recruit train shunters from the age of 18, to shunt wagons into sidings and bring trains forward for service. This is an excellent route to gain related work experience.

The selection process for trainee train drivers involves a series of driver assessments testing the applicant's ability to:

  • Concentrate.
  • Operate hand and foot controls.
  • Stay calm under pressure.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of basic mechanical principles.

All candidates also have to pass a full medical for fitness, eyesight, colour vision and hearing. There is a rigid safety policy on drug and alcohol abuse, and random alcohol and drug tests can be conducted at any time. Candidates also undergo a criminal records check.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Railway train driver training takes from nine to18 months to complete, and is usually based in a company training centre. As well as classroom sessions on safe working practices, rules and regulations, and knowledge of train types, the training includes practice in driving trains with a driver training instructor, and learning routes by sitting alongside an experienced driver.

Some training may take place in a cab-simulator which can recreate real-life situations such as trackside hazards, bad weather and mechanical faults. Driving standards managers conduct regular tests of all drivers, both while they are training and after they are fully qualified.

Trainees may work towards an NVQ/SVQ at Level 2 in Rail Transport Operations (Driving).

Trainee Eurostar drivers require at least five years' full-time experience of operating as a driver on high-speed intercity routes. Language training may also be necessary.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Railway train drivers need:

  • A responsible attitude coupled with a strong awareness of safety and security.
  • Excellent concentration and observational skills.
  • Quick reactions and an ability to deal calmly with difficult situations.
  • A good memory, to retain details of complex systems, rules and routes.
  • To be self-reliant and happy to work alone for long periods.
  • Clear speech and good communication skills.
  • Self-motivation and the ability to work without direct supervision.
  • Good eyesight and hearing.
  • Normal colour vision.
  • Some mechanical or electrical engineering understanding.

Your Long Term Prospects

Some train drivers build up experience and move up into driving trains on the more demanding international or high-speed routes.

With experience, train drivers may be able to become a driver trainer or driver standards manager, particularly if they also have a training or assessor qualification.

It may also be possible to be promoted to become a driver manager or move into more general management in the rail industry.

Get Further Information

GoSkills, Concorde House, Trinity Park, Solihull, West Midlands B37 7UQ
Tel: 0121 635 5520
Website: www.goskills.org

Individual train operating companies are listed on the websites www.nationalrail.co.uk and www.careersinrail.org

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