Training up: what railway apprenticeships can do for you

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Did you know that there were an incredible 1.7 billion journeys made by train in the UK in 2016?

That means lots of talented staff are needed to keep the country’s railways running smoothly and on time. There are loads of different railway jobs you could do – everything from expert train drivers to brilliant engineers and customer service pros. There are roles for people who love science, or really enjoy working with others.   

A great way to get started in the railway sector is to do an apprenticeship. You’ll learn technical abilities and soft skills on the job – while studying towards a professional qualification and earning a salary. (Read all about apprenticeships here.)

'Almost 4 million people travel by train every day in the UK. Apprenticeships can launch your career on the railway'
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From picking up the tricks of the trade in railway stations to learning the ropes in the control room, here we’ll take a look at all the different railway apprenticeships you could do.

If you want to become an engineer… 

Fun fact: the UK has the world’s oldest railway network, which means lots of skilled engineers are needed to maintain it. This kind of apprenticeship would train you to become a track engineer. You’d learn how to look after the signals, tracks, lights and trains that make up the country’s railway network.

Rail engineering track apprenticeships train you to keep the
railway safe and efficient

On rail engineering track apprenticeships you could work in passenger rail services (that’s moving people around), rail freight services (that’s moving stuff around), controlling train movements, or railway infrastructure. Your tasks would include fixing signals, and maintaining the train tracks.

It’s available at the intermediate and advanced level.

For example on the advanced level apprenticeship, you could study towards an NVQ3 in railway engineering, meaning you’re setting yourself up for a fantastic career in engineering.

You could choose to specialise in:

  • Track: you’ll work in a team to manage the track network and keep the railway safe and efficient. You’ll be out at all times, in all weather. The transferable skills and technical abilities you’ll gain during this apprenticeship can lead to a great engineering job.
  • Off-track: you’ll learn how to inspect, maintain and renew level crossings, fencing drainage and access points. No two days are the same so you’ll develop a very wide range of skills.
  • Overhead lines: this is a technically challenging role where you’ll learn how to inspect and fix overhead power lines. If the wires are down, the trains come to a halt so you have to use your expertise to get these high-voltage systems fixed and back up in the air as quickly and safely as possible. You’ll get lots of support and training, so this apprenticeship could lead to a brilliant career in electrical engineering.
  • Signalling: signalling means both mechanical systems and digital ones – they make sure trains are safely spaced out and can move from one track to another. You’ll check, test, clean and fix signals during this apprenticeship.
  • Electrification and plant: you’ll learn how to keep power flowing through the electrified rails safely and efficiently. This is an exciting area where you’ll be working to tight deadlines.

If you want to work with passengers…

Almost 4 million people travel by train every single day across the UK? That means

Helping passengers get where they need to go is one of the
things you'll learn during a rail services apprenticeship

lots of clever employees are required to keep those millions of passengers happy.

Rail services apprenticeships train you to work in rail services, which means things communicating between stations and trains, or helping passengers on board.

You would choose to specialise in one of the following areas:

  • Shunting (moving trains from place to place).
  • Signal operations.
  • Control room operations.
  • Passenger services.

At the intermediate level apprenticeship, you could train as a ticket office agent, passenger service assistant, or control room operator.

And at the advanced level, you could become a station manager, control room supervisor or trains manager.

If you want to become a train driver or conductor…

You should also choose rail services apprenticeships if you’re interested in becoming a train driver or conductor.

At the intermediate level of this train driver apprenticeship, you could train as a:

  • Train conductor or manager.
  • Train driver/operator.

As well as technical skills, you would learn how to:

Are railway apprenticeships right for me?

So, railway apprenticeships give you employability skills, technical abilities and professional qualifications. Plus, they can launch a successful career in lots of different areas.

But are they right for you? The requirements of each apprenticeship will of course vary slightly, but check out this list of personal qualities and skills required to see if it sounds like you:

How can I get started?

If a railway apprenticeship sounds up your street, get your search started right here on Success at School. You can find apprenticeships in your area and chosen sector.

There are several companies across the country that offer different railway apprenticeships and a train driver apprenticeship. So you can also apply directly to the company or use the government’s search tool.

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