If you spent your childhood watching Thomas the Tank Engine, playing with train sets and dreaming of working on the railways, it’s not too late. Why not become a railway engineer?
As a rail engineering technician, you'll build and service the mechanical and electrical systems on train engines and rolling stock.
So, what will I actually be doing?
You'll have a wide range of jobs, which will probably include:
- Building new engines and carriages
- Fitting out new carriages with upholstery, lighting, control panels and communication systems
- Inspecting bodywork, roofs and under-carriages for wear and tear or damage
- Repairing or replacing parts
- Making new parts
- Carrying out regular maintenance checks on systems such as brakes and couplings
- Taking apart and testing mechanical, electrical and pneumatic systems
- Writing reports and updating maintenance records
For most of these you'll use hand and power tools such as welding equipment, following technical drawings and instructions.
You'll work closely with other craftspeople, such as carpenters and painters.
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The nitty gritty
Expect to work around 37 hours a week, usually on shifts. You may work weekends and bank holidays.
You'll spend most of your time in a rail depot or engineering workshop, with some time on the sidings.
You could find jobs with train operating companies, London Underground, light rail and metro companies in big cities, and rail freight and leasing firms. You may also be able to work with specialist engineering maintenance companies who are contracted by the rail operators.
With experience, you could be promoted to maintenance team leader or engineering workshop manager.
Money, money, money
Figures are intended as guideline only.
- Trainee rail engineering technicians earn between £9,000 and £15,000 a year, depending on age.
- Experienced staff can earn between £18,000 and £30,000 a year
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The good points...
Great job if you want to save the pennies, you may receive free or discounted rail travel
...and the bad
Some jobs may be very dirty and greasy, so expect to be filthy by the end of the day. But good news, you'll be given protective clothing so you won’t wreck your new jeans.
Is there study involved?
You'll need experience as a mechanical fitter, electrician or craftsperson in another industry, for example, as a coach builder or motor technician.
At interview, you'll have to pass a medical exam to test your physical fitness, eyesight, colour vision and hearing. You may also have to take an aptitude test to assess your skills and knowledge.
You could also take a Rail Transport Engineering apprenticeship. These are offered by rail engineering firms, Network Rail, train operating companies and Tube Lines on the London Underground. You'll normally need four GCSEs (grades A-C), including English, maths and a science subject.
See the GoSkills website for more details about apprenticeships, jobs and training in the rail industry.
You must also hold a track safety card before you can work trackside. Your employer will put you through the Personal Track Safety (PTS) course for this. See the National Competency Control Agency website for more information.
As an apprentice rail engineering technician, your employer would train you in basic engineering craft skills in a workshop. You would then spend time working on maintenance tasks under the supervision of experienced fitters and technicians. You would also go to a college on a day-release basis to learn the theory.
You would be expected to work towards the NVQ in Railway Engineering at levels 1 to 3. This contains several options, depending on your exact duties, but covers fault finding, re-assembling parts, testing systems and preventative maintenance.
Prospects are excellent for qualified and experienced craftspeople. However, apprenticeship opportunities for school and college leavers are also increasing as the industry continues to grow. For example, major track and Underground upgrading programmes are being introduced as the south-east gears up for the 2012 Olympics.
OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
To be a good railway engineering technician, you should have:
- Excellent mechanical and electrical skills
- Good problem-solving skills
- The ability to work both as part of a team and alone
- Good communication skills
- Good eyesight, normal colour vision and good hearing
- Good English and maths skills
- An understanding of industry quality standards
- A good level of fitness
- A willingness to work flexibly
- A knowledge of safe working practices