Working on the railways used to be considered quiet a romantic job as the train chugged along and the world went by at a relatively slow speed as the steam engine “blew” its whistle, these days the job is hard work, here is our guide to getting started on this career path, first our summary findings:
1. Also known as train managers, guards or ticket inspectors, train conductors oversee every aspect of the passenger experience on a train.
2. Duties can include checking tickets, making announcements, looking after passengers with special needs and dealing with unruly passengers.
3. While conductors will generally work between 35 and 40 hours a week, this is far from a normal 9-5 job. You may be required to work late nights or early mornings and may even need to stay away overnight.
4. There are no set qualifications needed to become a rail conductor, though employers will look for a good standard of education, so having a handful of GCSEs at Grace C or above will certainly help.
5. Instead of academic qualifications, employers will look for experience of working in a customer-facing role.
6. Starting pay is relatively low, with new train conductors earning less than £15,000 a year, though senior conductors may earn more.
7. Train Operating Companies (TOCs) employ conductors directly, with some offering training and even Apprenticeships.
What Do Train Conductors Do?
Also known as train managers, guards or ticket inspectors, train conductors take responsibility for a wide range of tasks, almost all of them geared towards ensuring passengers feel welcome, comfortable and safe.
Some of the main duties of a train conductor may include:
- Checking passengers’ tickets and ensuring they are valid for the journey being made. At times, you may also be selling tickets on board the train.
- Making announcements, for example informing passengers of approaching stations and warning them of any potential delays to the service.
- Looking after passengers who may need special help, including elderly or disabled people, or children travelling alone.
- Checking that the train’s equipment, including its doors, is fully functional before welcoming passengers on board.
- Making sure a train is clean and ready for departure.
- Dealing with unruly passengers and with fare-dodgers. Train companies will prosecute any people who use any threatening behaviour towards staff members and the British transport police are normally very good at responding to any incidents that require their assistance.
While train conductors will generally work between 35 and 40 hours a week, this is far from a normal 9-5 job.
Each day is likely to be different, whether it’s having to work an early start or a late finish, or dealing with a new challenge.
At times, some overnight stays may be required, particularly if you end up working on long-distance routes, while you should also expect to work some public holidays, including shifts over Christmas and New Year.
Qualifications and Experience
There are no set qualifications needed to become a rail conductor, though employers will look for a good standard of education, so having a handful of GCSEs at Grace C or above will certainly help.
You will, however, need to be at least 18 years old to work as a train conductor.
Many conductors recruited from within train operating companies (TOCs), though it’s also possible to embark on this career path without first having any experience in the rail sector.
Generally speaking, employers will look for experience of working directly with the public, for example in a customer service role. They are also likely to look for:
- Excellent communication skills
being able to male clear, easy-to-understand announcements and to deal with passengers from all walks of life are both essential parts of the job, so you will be required to demonstrate good communication skills.
- A good level of fitness and eyesight
Most TOCs will include a full medical as part of the recruitment process. For health and safety reasons, conductors will need to be in good shape and have good eyesight, colour vision and hearing.
- High levels of concentration
Train conductors need to be alert at all times, so if your mind tends to wander, this may not be the job for you. First ScotRail, for example, requires prospective conductors to sit concentration tests as well as maths and reasoning tests.
Some TOCs will also offer Apprenticeships, giving young college-leavers the chance to learn on-the-job while earning a small wage.
These opportunities will be advertised on the TOCs’ individual websites.
Benefits of Working as a Train Conductor
Starting pay is relatively low, with new train conductors earning less than £15,000 a year.
However, with time and experience, conductors may be promoted to a more senior role, including into general management posts. Given that TCOs like recruiting internally and rewarding potential, you may also be in a good position to train as a train driver if you thrive as a conductor.
Other benefits of working as a train conductor include being able to enjoy discounted or even free train travel, the chance to meet new people and see different places on a daily basis, and the ability to leave the office behind for a job where no two days are ever the same.
As of 2013, there are more than 20 TOCs working across the UK, and all of them recruit train conductors on a regular basis.
Experience in this type of work is not always necessary, with employers providing comprehensive training, though some experience in a customer-facing role is likely to be necessary.
Some of the best known train operators:
- Northern Rail, for example, allows you to train and as conductor in around three months, offering a mixture of classroom and work-based learning. See: Northern Rail Careers.
- First Group Plc operate First Capital Connect, First Great Western and have a careers page with jobs and opportunities for Graduates see FirstGroup Careers.
- Virgin Trains are interested to hear from anyone who can show that unique passion associated with their brand see Virgin Trains Careers.
- Train conductor vacancies are also regularly advertised on specialist recruitment websites, including Railway People (http://www.railwaypeople.com/) and Rail Professional (http://www.railpro.co.uk/jobs/).