Many people dream about becoming a train driver from an early age, and some people decide later in life that they would like a career change and would prefer driving trains instead. But what do you need to do in order to become a train driver?
Unlike some jobs, there are no set academic requirements for train drivers, although some employers will request that you have a minimum standard of maths and English (normally GCSE level). Most companies in the UK state that drivers need to be at least 21 years old to work on the national rail network, although some driver positions are available in yards and depots which are away from the national passenger network.
Drivers on London Underground trains must be at least 18 years old. Some companies may be willing to begin the training process for gifted individuals before they reach the minimum age requirement, so long as they will reach that age during the training process.
Potential train drivers are required to pass certain tests, in order for their applications to progress. Medical checks include eyesight, hearing, colour blindness checks, fitness levels checks, urine analysis, blood analysis and drug and alcohol checks. Train drivers must not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In some cases, it is possible to become a train driver, even if the medical checks are not passed, however additional support may need to be given to you to ensure your health and safety, and the health and safety of your passengers.
You will also be required to pass basic aptitude tests, including memory tests, tests for your reaction times, and checks of your concentration skills. As a train driver, you may be working alone, so it is important that you are able to concentrate for long periods of time. Failures in concentration can put people’s lives at risk, as can slow reaction times.
Training to become a train driver normally lasts between 9 and 18 months. Some training will be paper-based learning exercises, some training may take place in a cab simulator, and some training may place you on a real life train. Training is usually broken down into various sections: including learning rules and regulations (such as safety precautions and signalling rules), technical skills, train handling and route knowledge. You will be tested on each individual section of your training, and you must pass all sections in order to qualify as a driver.
Trainee drivers must also pass a Personal Track Safety (PTS) scheme, for which you will be given a license and a card.
Once you are fully qualified, you will normally be expected to commit to further learning opportunities. Train drivers are only allowed to drive trains on routes which they have been tested on, so drivers may continue to study new routes, even whilst they are already working as a driver on other routes. Learning new routes will give you the maximum level of flexibility as part of your work.