What's it really like?
Reginald is now retired but was a train driver in the London area for forty-seven years, working out of Nine Elms, Wimbledon, Waterloo and Voctoria depots.Prior to becoming a train driver, he spent six months cleaning engines and eight years working as a fireman. Working on steam trains had been a boyhood dream and was the most exciting time of Reginald’s life. It was, however, hot work, especially in summer and could get very dirty. The training for operating a steam train was work-focused and Reginald trained by watching and taking advice from a fully qualified driver. A verbal test was then taken, during which he needed to explain how the engine worked and explain the official rules. Electric trains required a two-week long training course and diesel trains required a further two-week long course.
Before being able to drive each route, Reginald had to spend three weeks learning the "roads", so that he was aware of where the signals were. Since Reginald spent so long working with trains, he experienced the effects of several of the major changes which occurred in the industry. He found the transition from steam to electric generally positive, since it allowed drivers to work more sociable hours in cleaner conditions. However, privatisation caused the family atmosphere that came with working as a train driver to diminish somewhat.
Reginald appreciated the fact that no single day was ever the same. There was also a feeling of freedom associated with his role. However, he disliked the unsociable and long hours. Waking up at 2am is nobody’s idea of fun! He also hated working on Saturday and Sunday nights. Ultimately, Reginald believes that becoming a train driver provides individuals with a good job for life, as long as they remain focused and hardworking.
If Reginald was still working in the rail industry, he would love to work as a Eurostar driver, as a result of the prestige, excitement, and high salary associated with the role. However, he was quick to point out that individuals hoping to become Eurostar drivers should be aware that they will need to be fluent in the language of the destination country. The official rules will also have to be known in that language. The job can also be more stressful because the train is travelling at high speeds and there is highly technical equipment onboard.
Train drivers are responsible for transporting both passengers and freight. They drive trains which may operate on local or national rail networks and they may also spend time manoeuvring engines in sheds or yards.
Train drivers perform an important role in the transport industry today. Travelling by train is one of the most popular forms of public transport and thousands of commuters depend upon rail services on a daily basis. Although complaining about trains and the quality of service offered by rail companies is a favourite pastime of many Brits, we are actually extremely lucky as a nation to have such a relatively efficient system at our disposal.
Trains which transport freight also need to be controlled by train drivers and they will also be expected to shunt engines in sheds or yards. The trains operated by train drivers may be diesel, electric, or a combination of the two. Several years ago, train drivers were supported on the train by guards but it is now common for train drivers to conduct guard duties as well. This includes ensuring the safety of the passengers at all times.
Trainee train drivers can expect to earn around £17,500 each year, whilst drivers with several years’ worth of experience should earn in the region of £30,000. Very experienced train drivers may earn up to £35,000. Drivers of Eurostar trains command a much higher salary. Additional benefits for train drivers include subsidised travel on public transport systems.
The typical tasks undertaken by train drivers include:
- Checking the engine and general state of the train prior to starting each journey
- Ensuring that the correct freight is loaded if necessary
- Ensuring that the precise route is known and agreed with the control centre
- Finding out about any problems which are currently affecting the route
- Maintaining an awareness of track conditions and weather conditions
- Following signals
- Following safety regulations at all times
- Keeping the train under control and at the appropriate speed at all times
- Keeping control of instruments including brakes
- Making announcements to passengers
- Opening the automatic doors for passengers when arriving at stations
- Maintaining an awareness of emergency procedures
- Making sure that restrictions are kept to at all times
- Stopping the train at the appropriate stops on each schedule
- Alerting the driver taking over duty about any incidents or engine issues
- Keeping a record of any problems which may occur
- Recording any delays which have affected the service
- Alerting the control centre to any hazards which have been spotted along the route
No formal qualifications are needed in order to become a train driver. However, train companies will expect to see a good standard of education, with good GCSE grades an advantage. A Level and AS Level grades will also look impressive. You will need to be at least twenty-one years of age before you start training as a train driver on the national rail network, although those aged eighteen and above can work generally on a train. The London Underground also employs individuals under the age of twenty-one.
After making an initial application, you may be invited to attend an official training centre. At the centre, you will be asked to sit tests which will assess both your knowledge on aspects including mechanical knowledge, and your reaction times. If you impress at this stage, you will be asked to attend an interview. At the end of the selection process, a medical will assess your physical fitness, and your eyesight and hearing level will also be examined. Potential applicants should bear in mind that random drug and alcohol tests may be performed at any time throughout your career.
The training process will take between nine and eighteen months to complete and includes various components, including driving practice with a qualified instructor and theory lessons taught in a classroom environment. A Personal Track Safety certificate will also be completed as part of your training and work based qualifications can be worked towards. These qualifications include an NVQ Level 2 in Rail Transport Operations (Driving).
Train drivers will also need to be aware of the official rules of working on the railway. The railway rule book is an extremely tough part of the training process. The rule book released by Network Rail is approximately eight inches thick, which gives some indication of the work which goes into becoming a train driver.
SkillsTrain drivers will need to possess the following skills:
- Good mechanical knowledge
- Good hand-eye co-ordination
- The ability to concentrate for long periods of time
- Physical stamina
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- The ability to deal with members of the public
- Good reaction times
- A good memory
- Excellent awareness of health and safety regulations and emergency procedures
- The ability to remain calm under pressure
- A responsible attitude
- Good judgement and decision-making skills
Train drivers usually work between 35 and 42 hours per week and shift week is obviously a common feature of the job. Weekend and evening work is common, as is work over a public holiday. For train drivers operating on long distance routes, overnight stays in various locations will be necessary. The job can be lonely, since train drivers usually work on their own in their cab. Furthermore, it can be stressful, as delays and hazards on the track are not uncommon. The cab of the train should be relatively comfortable but it may be quite cold and noisy. Train drivers will need to wear a uniform at all times whilst doing their job.
No previous experience is needed prior to making an application to become a train driver. However, many applicants do have previous experience in the rail industry. It is common for station staff or maintenance staff to apply for trainee positions. It may be advisable to ask a fully qualified train driver a few questions in order to decide if the rigours of the role will suit you or not.
If you want to become a Eurostar driver, you will need to have been working on a high-speed intercity route for at least five years.
The major employers of train drivers include:
- Train Operating Companies
- Underground Rail Companies e.g. the London Underground
- Metro Companies
- Light-rail Companies
- Engineering Supply Companies
- Freight Companies
Within the role of train driver, different positions have different levels of prestige attached to them. It is for example considered the pinnacle of success to work for Eurostar. Experienced individuals may wish to become instructors, who help trainee drivers to qualify. Alternatively, for those seeking management roles, vacancies in operations management are always attractive to experienced train drivers seeking a change.