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How to become a train driver

Train drivers do an important job, helping us travel around and get to where we need to be. Getting into this career will take a lot of dedication, but it can also be very rewarding.

'Being a train driver involves much more than simply driving a train'

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What does a train driver do?

Okay, we know that this job pretty much does what it says on the tin. But, you might be surprised to hear that being a train driver involves much more than just driving. In fact, as a train driver, you have to be incredibly switched on. This is because you will be responsible for things like ensuring the safety of your train and passengers, making sure your service runs on schedule and following signals.

'mind the gap' written on a train platform
Being a train driver involves much more than just driving

Other typical duties of a train driver can include:

  • Making passenger announcements
  • Stopping the train at the right stops and on schedule
  • Operating the doors for passengers who are getting on and off
  • Checking the train before each shift to make sure everything is safe and working correctly
  • Checking the latest weather conditions and travel information that may affect your journey
  • Making sure the correct freight is loaded (if you are driving a freight train that transports goods)

How much do train drivers earn?

According to Glassdoor, the average UK salary for a train driver is £54,001. However, train drivers mostly work alone, and are also expected to work evenings and weekends. So, if you’re not a fan of flying solo, or don’t fancy giving up some of your weekends, then train driving might not be for you. On the plus side though, many operators offer train drivers heavily discounted (and sometimes even free) travel to their train drivers. Not a bad perk, if you ask us!

What qualifications do I need to become a train driver?

Technically, you don’t need any formal qualifications to become a train driver (although having good GCSEs and A-levels is definitely a plus). That being said, this doesn’t mean it’s an easy career to get into. In fact, many train drivers actually work their way up from different roles, such as conductors or passenger assistants.

Here are a few things you should know about the application process:

  • For a lot of train driver roles, you will usually have to be at least 20 or 21 years old to apply (although this may vary depending on the operator)
  • Often, you will have to live within 1 hour of the depot you are applying to
  • As a new driver, you can expect to have to train for at least one year before becoming qualified
  • If you get an interview, you can expect to have to go through a few stages, which can include psychometric, reaction and concentration tests
  • You will also need to pass certain medical examinations to make sure you are fit for the job, such as eyesight, colour and hearing tests

If you want to gain a nationally recognised qualification while you train, there is actually a train driver apprenticeship. This apprenticeship will typically take between 12-18 months to complete. To be eligible, you will need to be at least 18 years old, and have GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, in English and maths. If you are interested in doing a train driver apprenticeship, it is worth checking different train operators’ websites to see if this is something that they offer.

Train conductor looking for driver's signal
Train drivers need quite a varied skill set

What skills do I need to become a train driver?

Train drivers need quite a varied skill set, that can include things like:

Career progression

Once you are qualified, some of the roles you could move into include: Driving different types of trains, such as engineering trains or freight trains, becoming an instructor to train new drivers, or moving into a management or operations role.

Want to find out more about similar careers? Check out our transport and logistics career zone to find out more about other jobs in this industry that you could do.