Rail jobs and career options

The rail industry is one of the biggest industries in the passenger transport and travel sector and is made up of two main areas; rail operations and rail engineering.  Rail operations includes the work of the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) who run the trains and staff the stations. Rail engineering comprises companies that own, operate and maintain the rail network infrastructure (predominantly Network Rail and its many suppliers who provide services to them).

Altogether there are around 133,100 employees in the industry.  According to the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), more than 1.35 billion passenger journeys were made in 2010/11, with over 21,500 passenger services operated each weekday. In Europe, only Germany carries more passengers on a network over twice the size of the UK’s.  Investment has also steadily increased in the last 20 years - since 1996 more than £30 billion has been invested in Britain’s track, signalling and stations infrastructure.

There are many jobs in operations and service delivery including control room operators and service planners. Engineering is a very large aspect of the industry with engineers and technicians responsible for the rolling stock, the track and its surrounds, telecommunications and the electrification of the railway.

Career opportunities and skills needed

Career opportunities

The rail industry is commonly divided into two sub-industries: Rail operations and rail engineering.
Rail operations include Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and Open Access Operators (OAO) which operate rail passenger services (using the Network Rail infrastructure i.e. the rails and the signals and the stations). Within Train Operating Companies, the main roles are customer focused including train crew and station staff.

The rail industry usually operates day and night, every day of the week. This means that people in the industry have to be prepared to be flexible and work shifts that might include nights, weekends and bank holidays. As well as the passenger facing jobs that exist on trains and at the railway stations across the country, there is also all the administrative work that goes on to make trains run and get passengers moving, such as ticket sales, marketing and planning.

Skills needed

Most employers in the rail industry will look for employees who show an interest and knowledge in rail. Drivers and train staff need knowledge of routes, whereas engineers need to be able to demonstrate different technical abilities. Some jobs in the industry require qualifications, such as engineering, although apprenticeships and traineeships are also available in some areas. For customer-related roles, such as station assistants and passenger services, previous customer service experience is preferred – this can be gained, as an example, from working in shops, bars or restaurants.

Some roles require applicants to go through a medical check which may include checks for drug and alcohol abuse. Many roles require a sound level of physical fitness and employees can find themselves on their feet for most of the day.