How To Easily Uplevel Or Kickstart Your Successful Career On The Railway

The UK railway employs thousands of people in a huge range of different vocations, from train drivers to engineers, and can be an exciting and varied place to build a career. 

The railway is one of the most important modes of transport in the UK, not only allowing people to get from A to B, but also providing a greener mode of transport than cars or planes. With millions of people using trains every day, skilled workers within this industry are highly sought after, so this is an excellent place to gain training.

With projects such as HS2 well underway, there is no doubt that more railway workers are going to be required over the coming years, so now is the perfect time to ensure that you’re in the best possible position to gain employment, or progress within an existing career.

There are a range of different employers within the rail industry, including Virgin Trains, CrossCountry Trains and Avanti West Coast, as well as Network Rail which is responsible for overseeing the functionality and maintenance of the rail infrastructure as a whole, so there truly is something out there for everyone, no matter your location or background. Many also offer brilliant benefits, such as healthy pension schemes, childcare vouchers and subsidies on rail travel.

If you’re looking for ways to get your foot in the door of the world of rail, or to boost your existing career, take a look at our suggestions below…

Different Careers in the Railway…

There are a huge number of varied roles within the railway industry, some that you may not have even considered! From physically working on the railways in a mechanical or engineering based role, to being responsible for developing and introducing new and exciting ways for the rail to be a greener and more sustainable in the future, there is no end of opportunities available to anyone who wants to be a part of it. 

Below we’ve listed out some of the more popular roles alongside details of how you can get involved. 


Apprenticeships can give you a great step up and make you a more desirable candidate when applying for a role in the railway. They are designed to give you practical experience within your chosen sector at the same time as classroom-based learning, providing you with everything you need to get started in the industry. You can benefit from hands-on advice from the experts, helping you to develop your skills and choose the area that you want to work in once your course is complete.

Apprenticeships typically last about 3 years, after which you will be able to join a depot close to your home to specialise in your chosen maintenance disciplines. You can also apply for more advanced learning after this point should you so wish.

You need to be at least 16 years of age to apply for an apprenticeship, there is no age limit, although they’re generally aimed at people between 16-24 years old. One of the biggest benefits of an apprenticeship for new starters is that you will be paid while you learn, with a salary of £9,479 in your first year, rising to £12,525 in the second year for 18-24 year olds with Network Rail.

Engineering Roles…

Railway engineers are probably one of the more common that you may think of when it comes to this industry. The role is reasonably varied, responsible for a range of tasks including:

  • Building new engines and carriages
  • Fitting out new carriages with upholstery, lighting, control panels and communication systems
  • Inspecting train bodywork for wear and tear or damage
  • Repairing or replacing parts
  • Making new parts
  • Carrying out regular maintenance checks
  • Taking apart and testing mechanical, electrical and pneumatic systems
  • Writing reports and updating maintenance records

In order to become a railway engineer, there are a few different routes you can take. The first is to come from a mechanical fitter, electrician or crafting background in another industry, such as a motor technician. 

Alternatively, you can move into this career after completing a railway apprenticeship. Whilst in training, you can expect a salary of between £9,000 and £15,000 per year, increasing to between £18,000 and £30,000 once you are more experienced. 

Some of the skills that are suited to this role are great communication, ability to problem-solve, excellent mechanical and electrical knowledge and a good level of fitness!

Signalling and Telecommunications…

Railway signalling is the system used to ensure that railway traffic stays clear of each other at all times. Within this area, there are a few different roles that are available, depending on your skills, interests and background. 

Telecoms engineers are responsible for testing, installing and repairing communication systems within the UK railway. They tend to work on a number of projects, implementing best practice standards of telecoms systems and procedures and maintaining cost effective, high quality and safe designs on all their outputs.

They are also expected to conduct site visits and assess the condition of current telecoms, ensuring everything is compliant and environmentally responsible.

Signalling engineers are responsible for designing, testing and putting live new signalling systems. It is a very technical role which requires a huge understanding of the current systems in place and the ability to come up with solutions for a wide range of issues which may arise. They also conduct regular site visits to monitor the performance of new systems and ensure they are working as expected.

Both of these roles can be hired as either permanent, full-time staff, or as contractors who are employed for a set length of time, usually to complete a more complex project. Salaries can vary depending on location, experience and seniority, but are usually between around £30,000 to £40,000. 

Getting Started in the Railway Industry…

If you think a career in the railway is right for you, one of the best ways to get a head start and set yourself apart from others is by completing an NVQ, which can help to provide you with the knowledge and understanding required to progress into full-term employment. 

This type of qualification is acquired through an apprenticeship, and gives you a mix of theory learning and practical experience, often within a simulated railway environment. 

You can also enquire into separate train companies as to whether they are carrying out any driver training. If so, you can apply to be a trainee driver and can become fully qualified within 1-2 years. All you will need is GCSE or equivalent qualifications in English and maths, with grades at 9 to 4 (or A* to C). 

Finally, you can also apply via graduate schemes if you are at university, such as the one offered by Network Rail. This training will get you involved in various different engineering aspects including maintenance, design and construction and delve deeper into the more technical aspects of the rail service. Once you have completed the course, you will be expected to move into an engineering role within the company. 

Boosting Your Career in the Rail Industry…

If you’re already working within the rail industry, you may be looking for ways to move ahead and develop your skills in another area. Whilst opportunities within different employers may vary, there are things that you can do to position yourself as a prime candidate for promotion or transfer to another department.

The first thing is networking. As the famous saying goes, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”, and this is always something to be mindful of in your career as well. Many employees run regular networking events to help those in different areas gain support and education which they may otherwise not have access to. Some of the networking events can be targeted at specific employee segments, for example women in rail, or for members of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s worth speaking to your employer to find out what’s available to you and when different groups are set to meet.

Following on from networking, mentorship is also a really great way to help gain support from more senior members of staff and gain a better understanding of what you can do to boost your profile and be considered for future roles. They will be able to provide actionable feedback, support, advice and a vent for any frustrations (should you have any!) and can make a real difference when it comes to boosting your internal profile. You can also have more than one mentor in different areas of the business if you think this will be beneficial for you. Mentorship is something that can be discussed with your line manager to identify the right person or people to offer you support and to build a plan of where you want to go within the company. 

Finally, and possibly most importantly, is signing up for the relevant training to make sure you’re fully knowledgeable in the areas that you want to work in. There are absolutely loads of different options when it comes to training and qualifications within the railway, take a look at the next section to find out more.

What Training is Available?…

The type of training that you need will depend entirely on what role you’re interested in and the level of education you’re currently at. At Real Skills, we are specialists when it comes to railway training courses, and offer a huge range in a variety of different areas to help you gain the knowledge you need to succeed. 

Our courses include:

  • COSS Recert
  • Assessments
  • Safework Leader 2 recertification
  • Safework Leader 2 (without Tech)
  • Safework Leader 1 recertification
  • COSS to Safework Leader 1 (without Tech)
  • Protection Controller
  • Personal Track Safety
  • DCCR
  • Track Induction Course (TIC)
  • Lookout Initial
  • PTS Recertification
  • ICI Assessment
  • Small Plant Tools
  • Look Out Recertification
  • Access Overhead Lines Construction Sites (OLEC 1)
  • Individual Working Alone (IWA)
  • Controller of Site Safety (COSS)

All of the courses we provide are aimed at developing the knowledge and skill set of the railway workforce and ensuring they are fully equipped to deal with any situation that may arise within their role. 

All of our rail courses are accredited and delivered by quality assured course leaders who have a wealth of skills and knowledge to impart. They use their own experience within the industry to bring different scenarios to life, enhancing the quality of the training and making learning more immersive for the students.

Railway training can be carried out at our in-house facilities where we have easy access to useful training aids or we can also offer onsite training; bringing our training materials to your work premises and providing the course for more than one student at a time. 

Booking Your Training With Real Skills…

If you’re looking to start a career within the railway, or boost a career that you’ve already started, our courses could be just the thing you need. The level of education and experience that you need for each course varies, so please take a look at our website for more details, or alternatively do not hesitate to get in touch by completing our online enquiry form.

You can also call us on 0151 257 6969 or email info@real-skills.co.uk with any questions. We’re open from 8.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday and are happy to answer any queries that you may have.

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