A train driver is also known as a rail driver or an engine driver. In this role you will be required to transport people and freight between stations and depots across the UK in a safe and timely way. As a big part of the job you may well be working alone in the engine room of a train for much of your time as a train driver.
Train drivers are in-demand professionals working in a highly specialised industry. You are also very well paid. But the work of a train driver is challenging. Because of the importance of their role, working in this field can be a rewarding career choice – and build for a life-long career.
What Does a Train Driver Do
The work of a train driver is to operate trains on Britain’s rail network. You will be required to transport people and freight across the UK. The type of work you will undertake will most likely include:
- Ensuring you check controls and equipment before a journey.
- Driving the train between stations or freight depots to a specific schedule, while also leaving platforms and pulling into stations safely. You will also need to control automatic doors.
- You will need to maintain contact with control centres along the route about any issues that arise.
- Ensure that you follow track signalling, safety and speed instructions appropriately.
- Be prepared to make passenger announcements.
- You will also be required to position and hand over engines to drivers on the next shift.
- Be methodical in recording incidents like equipment problems, onboard issues or delays, and communicating them effectively.
- If you drive a London underground train, you are also classified as a train driver.
Who Employs Train Drivers
Train drivers are employed by train operating companies. These companies then bid for franchises to run different rail networks in the UK. If operators change, you can usually expect to be transferred over to the new franchise operator.
The London Underground system could also employ you as a train driver.
Job Salary for a Train Driver
The official UK Government statistics on the job salary for a train driver places the starting wage at £24,000 which rises to £65,000 for experienced train drivers.
Another source estimates the average train driver’s salary in the UK to be £57,180.34. This is based on a recorded minimum of £26,500 and a maximum salary of £130,446.
Some other figures are useful to allow you to compare salaries. In the UK, the national average wage is estimated to be around £30,000 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The current National Living Wage (which must be paid to people aged 23 and over) means the minimum untaxed income for a 40-hour week is over £21,000 per year.
As with other jobs, there are significant regional differences in the salary of a train driver in different parts of the UK. Train drivers in London and the South East of England are, like other professions, paid more than in other parts of the UK.
How Often is a Train Driver Normally Paid
As a train driver you can normally expect to be paid a salary every month.
Who Negotiates a Job Salary for a Train Driver
Train drivers working will be hired at a set salary. The train driver’s union plays a major role in negotiating overall wage levels in the industry.
What Sort of Contracts Do Train Drivers Have
Train drivers will usually have a fixed contract with clear rates of pay, working hours and a specific job description.
Earning Potential of a Train Driver
Train drivers can make an additional income by doing overtime with their companies.
How to Become a Train Driver
There are three main routes to becoming a train driver:
- Taking an appropriate apprenticeship.
- Applying directly to a company is another option. If you want to apply directly for jobs, you’ll usually need some strong interest in the job. To apply, you will need to have GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) in English and maths, or equivalent qualifications. You will then get engaged in a training programme which can last between 12 and 24 months.
- Working toward the role of a train driver is another route. You can start as a rail passenger assistant or train conductor, then apply for a trainee driver post. This is also a common way to become a London Underground driver. Doing this gives a good flavour of the work and work environment of a train driver.
To support your career choices the job alert system for train drivers is also worth following.
Qualifications/Courses – Train Driver
You can also take an apprenticeship route and do a train driver advanced apprenticeship. This is the only industry-recognised qualification. If you decide to enrol on an apprenticeship course like this you’ll usually need GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, in English and maths.
General Skills Required
- You will need good analytical skills and excellent timing.
- Strong concentration skills are always required when you are driving a train. To be a successful train driver you must be thorough and pay attention to detail.
- A positive attitude to problem-solving is needed to be a successful train driver, and you will also need persistence and determination.
- You must be a good team player and have the ability to work constructively with others carrying out aligned tasks in the rail industry. At the same time, you must also be confident in working on your own in the train cab.
- You must have the ability to follow track signalling, safety and speed instructions with confidence.
- A good memory is helpful since the work can often be repetitive and it is important to keep focus during every journey.
- You must be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device.
- You must possess physical skills like movement, coordination, and dexterity.
- Strong communication skills to explain issues to control centres and make passenger announcements.
- There will be a need to have excellent observation and reporting skills.
- You will usually have to wear a uniform.
- You must have the ability to pass your medical test and any occasional drug and alcohol tests.
- A driving licence will be an advantage if you work in different locations as a train driver. Many train operating companies ask that you live no more than one hour away from a train depot.
- All train drivers in the UK must be over 20 years of age.
- As a rail driver, you must also pass a clean Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) check.
Challenges of Being a Train Driver
- Train driving is always complicated. Driving a train is a challenging job.
- Appropriate judgement is essential to identify problems and glitches. You will also need to exercise skills in every aspect of your work.
- As a train driver, you will need to have constant vigilance to get things right.
- Your working environment will usually be physically demanding, and you will need to know how to drive a train safely in all weather.
- Your working environment will also be a safety-critical environment around live wires and on train tracks.
- You will usually have to have a medical test as part of the selection process, which will include checking your hearing and vision.
- You must always follow track signalling, safety and speed instructions and prioritise the avoidance of accidents.
- Ensuring you properly assess any risks and dangers on every occasion.
- The pressure of workload will always be a factor for you, and you must keep focused to meet journey time targets.
- Train drivers must be prepared to work in noisy conditions and busy environments.
Type of Person Suited for this Work
- You should be someone with a patient outlook and the ability to deal with stress.
- You must have self-discipline to be a train driver. This means following rules and health and safety instructions to the letter.
- Someone who is methodical, intelligent and possesses an eye for detail makes a good train driver.
- Someone prepared to work shifts on a rota system and to spend regular nights working away from home.
- You must have good writing skills to follow track signalling, safety and speed instructions.
General Expected Working Hours
As a train driver, you will work around 35 to 40 hours a week. Most train drivers work on a rota system involving some weekend, evening and Bank Holiday work. You will also spend regular nights working away from home.
Location of Work
As a train driver, you will be employed by a specialist train operating company. Your working environment will usually be noisy and physically demanding and include driving trains in all weathers. As a train driver, you must also expect to spend regular nights working away from home.
Train drivers employed to upskill and support others will be office-based.
If you drive a London underground train, you are also classified as a train driver.
Train drivers have a wide range of career prospects.
Once you’re qualified, as a result you could work on passenger, freight or engineering trains. All of these options are open to you as a qualified driver.
Some experienced train drivers also help support and upskill others who are learning new routes and cab controls. Many train drivers also switch to permanently acting as driver trainers, teaching new starters in the classroom, while also working with driver simulators and sometimes accompanying trainee drivers on journeys.
Other career options exist in service planning and management within the rail industry. This would lead to you supervising drivers. You would also make sure trains and crew are where they need to be on the rail network. At the top level, you could work on logistics and operations management. This would mean working on planning future rail developments.