What does a train driver do?

A train driver is someone who drives a train professionally. They will hold a train driver’s licence, and can drive either freight trains, passenger trains, or a mixture of the two. They will be based at a rail depot, and should live within an 45 minute to 1-hour radius of the depot at which they are based. As the loads they transport can vary from dangerous substances such as crude oil to carriages filled with passengers, they must be highly responsible individuals who can concentrate for long periods of time to ensure that their cargos are delivered safely

This is the longest I have ever stuck with a career and I can see myself staying, it’s one of the few areas left where you can really have a job for life.

Craig Puffett, Train Driver

How do I train to be a train driver?

As of 2019, the Rail Delivery Group conference resulted in the release of a new Train Drivers Academy website. This was launched on behalf of all UK rail companies, and aimed to collect all the important information and apprenticeship opportunities into one place. You can use the website to find apprenticeship opportunities.

The key requirements for beginning an apprenticeship to become a train driver are that you must fulfil medical standards – including those related to your visual acuity – and be 18 years old or above. The course will take between 12 and 18 months, after which you will become a qualified train driver.

How long does it take to train to be a train driver?

Train driver apprenticeship programmes tend to last between 12 and 18 months. In order to apply, you must be over the age of 18, and fulfil all medical requirements.

What skills do train drivers need?

In order to become a train driver, you will need to have the following skills:

  • Concentration skills – train driving involves long hours sitting alone in a cab. Throughout this time, you will need to be awake and alert, as in the event of an emergency you will need to react immediately. Concentration skills are therefore vital.
  • Excellent attention to detail – one small error as a train driver can make a very large impact, either due to risk of damage to the vehicle and tracks, or because you’re carrying many passengers. An eye for detail will greatly help you in your role.
  • Patience and the ability to be calm under stress – driving a train will sometimes result in stressful situations, delays and emergencies. You will need to be able to remain calm and resolve situations while keeping your train and passengers safe.
  • Knowledge of public safety and security – your role as a train driver involves driving an incredibly heavy vehicle at high speeds where mistakes can cost lives. You must take care to stay within public safety guidelines and in accordance with security regulations.
  • Ability to work well in a team or alone – you will spend long periods of time doing very little in the cabin other than staying alert. While you may have a train crew on passenger services, there’s no guarantee of this, so being able to work alone and in a team is important.
  • Good IT skills – technology is increasingly prevalent in every job, so unsurprisingly good IT skills are becoming ever more prominent as a requirement as a train driver.

What qualifications do you need to become a train driver?

Most of the qualifications you require to become a train driver will be earned during the training process. This is because you cannot realistically practise most of the required skills outside of this environment. To begin training as an apprentice train driver, the only requirements are that you must hold the following qualifications:

  • GCSE English – you must achieve between Grade 9-4 (A*-C).
  • GCSE Mathematics – you must achieve between Grade 9-4 (A*-C).

How much does a train driver make a year?

Train drivers are very well paid when compared with many other jobs. The average salary of a qualified train driver in 2018 was £54,000 according to research conducted by Glassdoor.  You can expect to earn approximately:

  • Apprentice train driver: £18,000 – £27,000
  • Entry-level qualified train driver: £35,000 – £40,000
  • Experience qualified train driver: £47,000-£67,000+

Steps to become a train driver:

  1. Get your qualifications:

    – Although you don’t need a degree or any formal qualifications to become a train driver in the UK, most rail companies require you to have some GCSE’s in English and maths.

  2. Verify your age:

    – To apply for a training licence you must be at least 21 years old. You can show a valid UK passport or licence to confirm your age.

  3. Receive a medical evaluation:

    – To become a train driver, rail companies will also require you to pass a background check and a medical fitness exam by an approved physician registered with the Office of Rail and Road. The essential tests will include hearing, eyesight and colour accuracy. 

  4. Take a psychometric test:

    – You will also need to undergo a psychological examination and take a  psychometric assessment with an ORR-certified psychologist. You can then use your psychologists registration number to include on your job applications

  5. Apply for a train driving licence:

    – In order to become a train driver it is important to earn your train driving licence. You can access this on the governments rail licensing website. 

  6. Apply for a job as train driver:

    once you have received your train licence you can choose to apply for a train apprenticeship which usually takes 12-18 months to complete, or you can apply directly to a rail company to become a trainee driver.

Do you need a driving licence to drive a train?

Yes, but it is separate to other vehicle driving licences. The licence is issued for a period of 10 years and is issued directly to the train driver by their employer once they have passed appropriate tests, including medical and competency-based examinations. The certificate details the types of rolling stock they may drive, and the infrastructure they may drive trains over.

What is a train driver called?

While in international media you may see them referred to as an engineer, engine driver or train engineer, in the UK and other countries using Commonwealth English the term used is simply ‘train driver’.

What hours do train drivers work?

Train drivers are expected to work a range of hours, including early and late shifts. You will be expected to conduct a working week of approximately 35 hours, which will be spread across 4 or 5 shifts. These shifts can include weekends, late nights and early mornings. In some cases, you may even be expected to run overnight services. There are also hidden regulations, which state that you must have at least 12 hours between shifts, and cannot work more than 13 days in a row without a day off. However, it is incredibly unlikely that you would ever be faced with more than 5 or 6 days working in a row, as working Sundays is not contractually obligated.

Leaving school, nothing else really caught the bug or anything like that. I always thought nah, I’d like to be a train driver.

Gary Gibb, Train Driver

Can you be a train driver if you wear glasses?

If you wear glasses, you can still be a train driver in some cases. When driving the train, you must wear your glasses at all times, and your vision must be within the following parameters:

  • Distance vision shall be at least 6/9 in the better eye, and 6/12 in the other eye.
  • Where spectacles or contact lenses are used, visual acuity must be at least 3/60 in each eye.
  • You cannot have medical conditions that could cause visual impairment.
  • You cannot have any progressive eye disease.
  • Binocular vision shall be at least N8 (after corrections).
  • You must have full colour vision.

Is train driving stressful?

Train driving, compared with some jobs, is not highly stressful for the most part – at least not on the surface. However, when things go wrong, stress can build up quickly. When working as a train driver, you will be one cog in a much larger railway network, and when things go wrong, there will be delays, cancellations and other stressful events. Being able to compartmentalise this and accept that you cannot always personally prevent them from happening are an essential part of the job.

You may also find yourself faced with traumatic events such as facing an animal or person on the tracks. While some of these events will be accidents, others are due to individuals feeling suicidal. There is excellent support in place for train drivers who are exposed to this, but when choosing to become a train driver you must be aware of the fact that there is a possibility you will be involved in an accident of this type.

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