How To Become a Train Driver in 9 Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 23 November 2022

Published 25 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you want to work in transportation, a career as a train driver might be ideal for you. There are a few career paths for train drivers, such as driving passenger or freight trains. However, before you start working as a train driver, you first need to complete training to acquire the skills you might need to succeed in the field. In this article, we learn about what a career as a train driver can be like, including their main responsibilities, and explore some steps for how to become a train driver.

What is a train driver?

A train driver is a technician who operates or drives a train, transporting freight or passengers. Rail companies employ train drivers to perform a wide range of tasks, including monitoring air pressure during transit and checking the engine status. Train drivers can work on local or national rail networks and may also spend time inspecting engines in yards or sheds. Their work can ensure that train transport systems perform efficiently, which can be especially important because the train is one of the most popular modes of transportation in the country.

Related: How to become a train conductor (with skills and duties)

Responsibilities of a train driver

Here are some common responsibilities that a train driver can have:

  • Inspecting the engine and general condition of the train before each journey

  • Verifying that the correct freight has been loaded

  • Checking for the potential for obstacles in the current route

  • Monitoring the weather and track condition

  • Verifying the details of the route with the control centre

  • Obeying all applicable signals on the route

  • Ensuring all safety guidelines are met at all periods of travel

  • Controlling instruments within the driver's cabin, including the brakes

  • Making announcements to passengers

  • Opening the automatic doors once the train arrives at a stop for passengers to board and depart

  • Staying aware of the relevant emergency and safety procedures

  • Ensuring that they maintain all stipulated restrictions

  • Notifying the driver entering a new shift about current inconsistencies with the engine or train that they should be aware of

  • Maintaining a record which details any unforeseen circumstances that might arise

  • Keeping track of the delays that affect the train service

  • Notifying the control centre about any challenges that occur on the route

Related: 35 train driver interview questions (with answers and tips)

How to become a train driver

Here are some steps you can use to become a train driver:

1. Complete secondary school

While there are no specific education requirements to get a job as a train driver in the UK, it can be helpful to finish secondary school before you start looking for jobs. This is because it's usually necessary for train drivers to have basic math and reading skills. Once you graduate from secondary school, you can use your GCSE or transcript to identify your highest level of education to potential employers.

Related: How to study effectively (with steps, benefits and tips)

2. Verify your age

Confirming your age to employers can be especially important for train drivers because you need to be at least 21 years old to work as a train driver on the national rail. Some candidates find work as a train driver when they reach the age of 18, but they're only eligible to drive trains for the tube. To verify your age to potential employers, you can show them your UK photo card or passport that confirms that you're old enough to obtain a driver's licence.

3. Receive a medical evaluation

Train drivers in the UK typically need to get a medical evaluation before applying to work for the national rail. The essential tests that a doctor can carry out when evaluating your fitness to become a train driver include your hearing, eyesight and colour accuracy. When scheduling your medical evaluation, it can be beneficial to choose a doctor who is registered under the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) physician register to conduct the examination. This can ensure that you receive all of the necessary tests to qualify you for work as a train driver.

4. Visit a certified psychologist for a psychometric test

After receiving a physical examination, train drivers also usually need to undergo a psychological evaluation. There can be several options for psychologists who can perform a psychometric test, so it can be helpful to search online in order to find a psychologist who's certified by the ORR. Once you complete your psychometric test, you can retain your psychologist's registration number to include on your job applications in the future.

Related: How to pass psychometric tests (types and ways to prepare)

5. Apply for your train driving license

Earning a train driving license can be one of the most important steps in becoming a train driver. You can access the train driving licence application on the government's rail licensing website. When filling out your application, it can be essential to make sure you include all the necessary information so your application is complete. Here are the details you should include in an application for a train driving licence:

  • Name

  • Address

  • Phone number

  • Reference number

  • Birthdate

  • Photo

  • Proof of medical evaluation

  • Proof of psychological evaluation

After completing the application, you can submit and download a digital copy or print one out directly to submit to the Office of Rail and Road. As soon as your application is approved, the ORR can print out your ID card and send it to your home. As you wait, you can check your application's status online, as it's registered in the licence record.

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6. Search online for a trainee driver job

Most aspiring train drivers first work as a trainee train driver, which is an entry-level job in train transportation. This role is available for individuals who are new to the industry and want to build professional experience as a train driver. You can find job openings for trainee drivers online by searching for employers who are hiring trainee drivers in your desired location.

The interview process for a trainee train driver typically consists of two or more structured interviews. Most employers can use these interviews to learn more about your reaction time, concentration and psychometric characteristics. It's also common for employers of trainee train drivers to conduct random alcohol and drug tests at the start of a candidate's employment as well as throughout the rest of it.

Related: Guide: Using Indeed Job Search

7. Complete training

Train companies often conduct training for their new trainee driver recruits. This includes providing the trainees with helpful instructions and details that enhance their capabilities to handle the job once they are hired as train drivers.

During the training period, you can learn about the essential safety procedures and protocols you're expected to follow on the job. Your employer can also offer you a certification that identifies you as qualified to work with them professionally. If you ever transition to a different job, like as a train driver, your new employer might require you to get certified again with them.

8. Work as a trainee driver

After you pass your employer's certification, you can start working as a trainee driver. This can involve working long hours that begin early in the morning and end late at night, which can help you learn about driving trains with different passenger capacities and at different times of the day. For example, if you work as a trainee driver on a freight train, you might encounter a high number of evening or night shifts, with overnight shifts for long-distance routes.

You can also learn how to contact control centres, check engines and equipment, make passenger announcements, follow signal instructions and report any unforeseen circumstances.

Related: How to get work experience (with tips)

9. Apply and start your job as a train driver

Once you complete the training and build some professional experience as a trainee train driver, you can start applying for jobs as a train driver. While the number of years of required experience as a trainee driver can vary depending on the company you want to work for, most candidates can begin transitioning from a trainee driver to a train driver after one or two years. You can find job openings for train drivers online using search engines and job search websites.

Related: A Guide To Civil Service Jobs

Essential skills to succeed as a train driver

As working as a train driver can involve complex processes with specific protocols, there are certain skills that can help you succeed on the job as a train driver. Here are a few skills that a train driver might benefit from having:

  • Ability to concentrate for long periods of time

  • Attention to detail

  • Dedication to the industry

  • Knowledge of public safety and security

  • Recording and observation skills

  • Ability to operate and control train equipment

  • Patience

  • Expert understanding of the rail system and trains

  • Ability to conduct computerised tasks on digital devices

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