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Train drivers are responsible for driving passenger and freight trains, on local and national rail networks, along with working on engines to pull track maintenance equipment into place.

In addition to scheduled stops along a route, train driver responsibilities often include; equipment safety inspections, communication with a centralized dispatch facility, following signalling instructions, passenger announcements, automatic door control and shift transfer obligations.

Reporting of safety incidents, equipment issues, hazards and delays is an critical, and hopefully infrequent, facet of the role.

Occupational Requirements

There is no set list of preliminary qualifications for train drivers. Most employers rely on a good general standard of education, including maths and English GCSEs. Candidates may find some background mechanical or electrical knowledge helpful. Please be mindful that the UK does not recognise overseas credentials, therefore, international candidates need to follow the UK application process.

Job opportunities can be scouted directly through train operating companies. Alternatively, many individuals find success in working their way up to the position, through a company, as promotion from within is common in the field.

Age requirements in the profession vary based on assignment. On the national rail network, drivers must be at least 21, whereas individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 may be able to train and work in yards and depots away from passenger lines. London Underground employees must be at least 18 years of age.

Candidates successful in their initial application will be invited to a training centre for testing on knowledge and skills including: basic mechanics, ability to recall information, reaction times and concentration skills. From there, the process continues on through an interview stage and physical testing.

As part of the medical test, train drivers can expect to have their fitness levels, eyesight, colour vision and hearing checked. Additionally, with strict rules on drug and alcohol use, random testing can be carried out at any time.

Once Hired – What to Expect

Once hired, employees enter a training period that typically lasts between nine and 18 months. Often divided into modules, training frequently encompasses four key modules including rules and regulations, traction knowledge, train handing and route knowledge. Cab simulators, are a popular training tool used to recreate real-life situations such as trackside hazards, bad weather or mechanical failure.

Upon successful completion of training, employees are limited to driving on routes on which they have been assessed. Train drivers must pass assessments at the end of each stage along with completing a Personal Track Safety (PTS) certificate to fully qualify.

Work-based qualifications such as the NVQ Level 2 in Rail Transport Operations (Driving) or NVQ Level 2 in Rail Transport Operations (Shunting) are progressive options for train drivers. Ongoing assessment and review of driving skills, by a driving standards manager, would be commonplace throughout one’s career.

For qualified candidates, the train driving profession is an exciting and rewarding field to enter. With proper adherence to the application process, and possession of the appropriate skill set, the outlook for candidates is bright.

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