Find training courses on Training and

Railway Train Driver career guide

Without them our transportation network would suffer tremendously, however railway train drivers do much more than just drive trains.

Safeera Sarjoo
01st March 2016
Share this article

What is a railway train driver?

Railway train drivers operate trains across both local and national rail services, ensuring passengers get to their destinations safely and on time. Though many Brits complain about delays and disruptions, train drivers operate a hugely popular mode of transportation within the transportation sector. Transport for London cites that approximately 24 million journeys are made every day across their network and train drivers play a crucial role in this.

Though it may seem that train drivers have a relatively easy job, they have other responsibilities beyond operating their train, which include staying aware of safety procedures, the route they’re serving as well as weather conditions. Training can be very intensive with mechanical knowledge and regulatory information playing a huge part in the run up to becoming a qualified train driver.

They also transport freight and need to also control train, which can be diesel, electric or a combination of the two. In recent years they have also assumed the role of train guard, which ensures the safety of passengers at all times.

What are their responsibilities?

Railway train drivers have a number of responsibilities that extend beyond driving a train. These include

  • Checking engine and general state of the train
  • Ensuring the precise route is known and agreed with control centre
  • Finding out about any issues affecting the route they’re serving
  • Maintaining an awareness of weather conditions
  • Following through safety regulations and signals
  • Maintaining control of brakes when train is in operation
  • Opening and closing automatic doors for passengers

Train drivers are also expected to stay aware of emergency procedures at all times and also position and hand over engines to other drivers after a shift. Recording incidents, whether its equipment issues on the train or track, or dangers and delays is also part of a train driver’s responsibility.

What skills and characteristics are needed for this job?

There are a number of skills and qualities that would suit this role.

  • Good mechanical knowledge
  • Good hand-eye coordination
  • Excellent concentration skills
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Awareness of health and safety procedures and potential issues
  • Alert with a good memory
  • Willingness to work flexibly
  • Ability to react quickly and calmly to unexpected problems
  • Great customer service abilities

Entry requirements and training

Though there are no specific qualifications required in order to gain entry into this particular role, employers will expect a good level of education like GCSEs in Maths and English. AS or A levels will also look impressive too. If you’re unsure about educational requirements then contacting train operating companies directly to find out more details about their trainee train driver vacancies is advised. Another route into this career is to take up another position within a train or rail station. This can be either as a member of staff or maintenance crew.

If your application is successful, you will then be required to take assessments and an interview. You will also be required to pass medical checks. These test your fitness levels, eyesight, colour vision and hearing. Companies will also screen for drugs and alcohol which is strictly prohibited.

You will need to be aged 21 or over in order to work as a train driver. Training for this role is taken very serious and can lasts between 9 and 18 months. Some training will take place in cab simulators, which gives you the effect of real life scenarios you may be faced with when working as a driver.

Training will be split into stages. These will include,

  • 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 of practical driving skills, including night driving
  • Route knowledge – route specific information, such as braking distances, speed restrictions and signal positions.

There will be assessments at the end of each stage to qualify as a train driver. There is also the option of taking work based qualifications that will prepare you for this job role. These are,

Level 2 NVQ Certificate in Rail Services (Shunting)
Level 2 NVQ Diploma in Rail Services (Driving)

Maintaining an awareness of the regulations and rules within the Railway Rule Book is vital. In fact, it is said to be the toughest part when training to become a train driver. 

Find a course

Most popular