Train drivers take charge of getting people across the UK to work, holidays and home on time. Their jobs involve skill, concentration and technical know-how. They can also be hugely rewarding, giving you the chance to work independently and literally take the driving seat with your career.
We caught up with Francis Oldfield, a mainline train driver, to find out what he enjoys most about his job and how to become a train driver.
Find out more about transport careers in our transport and logistics career zone.
Name: Francis Oldfield
Company: South West Trains
Industry: Transport - Railways
What is your job: Mainline Train Driver
How long have you been doing this job? Just over 2 years
NVQ Level 2: Railway Operations – Driver
AS Levels: Law and Government & Politics
Interests: Railways! I also work as a Special Sergeant for Hampshire Police and enjoy photography. I love watching Formula 1 as well!
What was your very first job?
My first ever job was working as an assistant in the building department at B&Q. I got to wear the famous apron!
What did you want to do when you were at school?
I have always wanted to work on the railway. After doing my school work experience at a local train company and having a go on the train driver simulator at South West Trains, I knew I wanted to be a driver!
How did you get there?
There are no real courses that you can do to prepare to become a train driver at school or college, but I did do work experience as a 15 year old with the local train company to learn about all the different roles. I also read everything on the internet that I could I find about the railway and driving in particular.
To become a train driver you normally need to be promoted from another role on the railway. So, as soon as I turned 18 (the age limit for most railway jobs) I joined South West Trains working as a station assistant on the platforms and this is where my rail career began.
From there I slowly moved up the ranks into the role of train conductor and eventually onto the role of driver where I am today.
What is a typical day at work like?
A typical day sees me working either an early turn or a late turn. For an early I can book on as early as 3am, but travelling at dawn and sunrise does lead to spectacular scenery! I will go and book on with the train crew supervisor who makes sure I am fit and well to work and especially rested.
I then pick up my diagram, which shows the trains I will be driving, and where I need to stop. I have a quick look at the late notice case to check for any changes, which can include speed changes, and then it’s off to my first train.
Most of the day for me is spent alone in the cab (we are not allowed visitors) where I watch the track ahead and stop at the correct stations nice and smoothly for passengers. Days range between 6 and 9.5 hours. When I finish it’s a quick check to see what I am doing tomorrow and off home!
What’s the best thing about your job?
Taking responsibility for anything up to 1,000 people on board my train, getting them all to work safely and of course on time. The conditions are excellent as well. I work 35 hours a week over four days and get paid well for it.
The training is excellent too. It lasts between 12 and 18 months and is ongoing throughout your career. Finally, when you’re in the driving seat, you are your own boss!
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Concentrating completely all day. This can be a real challenge when you start at 3am and your alarm goes off at 1.30 in the morning!!
What advice do you have for people who want to know how to become a train driver?
Be prepared to be patient. The job is popular mainly because of the pay. I have been told in the past that, for every driver job advertised, over a 1,000 people can apply. Don’t let this dishearten you though as if you are good you’ll get in. Although you need no specific qualifications you do need a good general education. Maths and English are a must as is a general understanding of mechanics (for repairing faults with trains on the move).
They are looking for skills in people that match the role. You need to be OK working alone for long periods, to be able to concentrate completely, and to be able follow strict rules without any deviation.
What things do you wish you’d known before starting your career?
Just how long you would need to wait. You need to be 21 to be a train driver; I joined the railway industry at 18 and started applying more or less on my 21st birthday. I was 25 when I finally got offered the job!
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
Hopefully still driving, but I’d also perhaps like to move up the company into a operations standards role or better still into a training role where I could train new drivers.
Thanks Francis for talking about how to become a train driver. If you're interested in beginning a career in transport, check out our career zone.