Rail Apprenticeships

Did you know you could work as a technician apprentice for Transport for London or even create the very tracks our trains travel on? You can, and we're here to tell you all about them. Consider this your guide to rail apprenticeships, what they are and where to find them.

Rail Apprenticeships

From steam locomotives and trams to monorails and high-speeds, trains are super cool. If you fancy yourself somewhat of a Francis Bourgeois, you can turn that into a very fruitful career with a rail apprenticeship.

1.4 billion of us made train journeys in 2023, so whether that’s a quick journey into town, an Instagrammable ride from one end of the country to another, or a trip on the Hogwarts Express – trains are a huge part of our everyday lives.

Our rail network has kept this country connected since the 1800s and you can help keep the wheels churning too. How? Through a rail apprenticeship! 

Whether that's an apprenticeship with TfL or as a rail engineer, there's a role for you.

Consider this your guide to rail apprenticeships, what they are and where to find them.

What are rail apprenticeships?

Rail apprenticeships are work experience schemes within the rail industry to give you the skills and knowledge you need to high-speed your way into a long-lasting rail career.

Even if you don’t know your locomotives from your TGVs, the great thing about apprenticeships is you’ll learn everything on the job while earning a salary. Whether it’s manning the rail lines, building tech for trains and equipment or even looking after rail workers in an HR capacity, there is a role for you.

It’s important to remember that apprenticeships are full-time jobs, and you’ll work up to 40 hours a week max. You’ll split that time alongside your official training, whether at a training provider, on-site at your apprenticeship, a college or university.
Rail apprenticeships are perfect because they are hands-on. So if that’s you, it’s worth looking into.

What types of rail apprenticeships are there?

You’re in luck, there are loads of rail apprenticeships across all levels and expertise for you to get stuck into.

Not sure what the apprenticeship levels are?

Level 2 (Intermediate) – equivalent to five GCSEs

Level 3 (Advanced) – equivalent to two A Levels

Level 4/5 (Higher) – equivalent to a foundation degree

Level 6/7 (Degree) – equivalent to a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree.

Find out more about the range of apprenticeship levels available by reading our Guide to Apprenticeships.

We’ve included examples of some roles in the rail industry below.

Rail Engineer (Level 3)

As a rail engineer, you’ll wear a variety of helmets. A lot of what you’ll do will be on-site and in rail depots where you’ll be responsible for the build and maintenance of rail tracks and power lines across the network. 

There are loads of opportunities to specialise in other aspects of rail engineering including, civil engineering, section engineering and site engineering.

Entry requirements:

  • At least 18 years old

  • Three or more GCSEs (including maths, science and english) graded at 9 to 5 (A* to C) or equivalent.

"“The things I really enjoy about my programme is that it is extremely varied and I am always at different sites on different placements. This not only exposes to so much more than being at one particular site, but it also prevents a job becoming tedious. I also really like the fact that my programme is 50/50 with office and site based work, giving me time to reflect on the jobs I have completed and good experience with both sides!”" Apprentice Rail Technician, Network Rail

Customer Service (Level 2/3)

You’ll be a rail customer’s first point of contact. Based in a train station, your tasks will be working in a ticket office and on platforms helping customers with any enquiries, helping to dispatch trains and ticket inspection.

Employers love candidates who are people-focused, friendly and attentive.

Entry requirements:

  • At least 16 years old

  • Two or more GCSEs (including maths and english) graded at 9 to 5 (A* to C) or equivalent. If not, you’ll need to take an assessment in maths and english during your training.

Power (Level 4)

In this electrifying apprenticeship, you’ll get to grips with rail electrical systems and maintenance. You’ll become highly skilled in thermal imaging, finding system faults, and reading electrical and mechanical drawings.

Entry requirements:

  • At least 18 years old

  • Five GCSEs (including maths and english) graded at 9 to 5 (A* to C) or equivalent

  • Two A Levels graded at A* to D or equivalent.

Project Management (Level 6)

Project managers are multitaskers, they're leaders and can see the bigger picture. If that’s you, this is the apprenticeship for you. As an apprentice project manager, you’ll delegate roles, make sure the team works according to schedule and manage social, legal and environmental aspects of each project.

Entry requirements:

  • At least 18 years old

  • Three A Levels (in any subject) graded at A to C or equivalent.

Who offers rail apprenticeships?

All major rail companies in the UK offer apprenticeships. Even if working directly for a train company doesn’t suit you, there are plenty of infrastructure businesses that offer rail apprenticeships too.

Here are a few companies.

Balfour Beatty Apprenticeships

They’ve been around for 110 years, so you know there’s a breadth of knowledge you’ll pick up as a Balfour Beatty Apprentice.

They offer rail apprenticeships across all levels where apprentices will learn about designing, enhancing and maintaining rail lines all around the country. You’ll get the chance to expertise in some of the following;

  • Electrification

  • Track Solutions

  • Rail Plant

  • Signalling

  • Manufacturing

  • Power Systems.

Network Rail Apprenticeships

If you didn’t know Network Rail owns, operates, maintains and develops Britain’s railway. They offer a variety of rail apprenticeships from Level 3 (Advanced) to Level 5/6 (Degree). These are:

  • Chartered Surveyor

  • Data Analyst

  • Engineering

  • Finance

  • HR Consultancy

  • Health & Safety.

"“I have developed many new skills on this apprenticeship. Working in a team on a daily basis has improved my teamwork and communication and helped me grow within my role. The opportunity to lead various jobs has also given me good leadership skills necessary for the next stages of my career.”" Technician Apprentice, Network Rail

Transport for London Apprenticeships

You’d recognise Transport for London's iconic signage for its 272 Underground stations and the big red buses. TfL keeps The Big Smoke moving. They also offer loads of rail apprenticeships from Level 2 to Level 6, including,

  • Electrical Installation

  • Power

  • Rail Engineering

  • Signalling and Control

  • Track.

"“I appreciate working with TfL as a driver. It presents a special chance to socialise with people from all backgrounds and contribute to the effective movement of people around the city. It is satisfying to be in charge of making sure that passengers are safe and having a good time while travelling.”" Driver, TfL.

West Midlands Railway Apprenticeships

At West Midlands Railway, you can pick between two apprenticeship pathways:

  • Train driver apprenticeship. 

  • Engineering apprenticeship. 

There are loads more companies to explore working for, some more of these are;

  • EMR

  • Gatwick Express

  • Great Western Railway

  • Northern Rail

  • Southern Rail

  • VolkerRail.

Want to know what it’s like to be a rail apprentice? We have hundreds of reviews for you to get into.

Browse Rail Reviews

Are you interested in becoming a train driver? Read on for more.

How do I become a trainee Train Driver?

Easy, with a rail apprenticeship. While it might help to study engineering at university, a lot of those skills you’ll find easier to pick up during an apprenticeship.

Train driver apprenticeships are super exciting fast-paced schemes that last up to two years.

You’ll spend the first few months undergoing serious training to get your technical knowledge up to scratch including how to operate train controls such as acceleration, braking, and signalling.

Once you’re ready, you’ll start to shadow train drivers and eventually drive trains under supervision. Some of your tasks will include:

  • Checking controls and equipment before your journey

  • Inspecting the train and reporting any maintenance or repair needs

  • Following schedules and timetables

  • Learning train operations, safety procedures, and regulations.

Although you can apply to become a train driver by applying for a dedicated apprenticeship, train drivers are often recruited in-house.

You’ll find plenty of train drivers who were previously conductors, train station staff or had other roles within the rail industry. So if you’re already working in the industry, you’ll have the advantage of already having the skills and knowledge needed.

Hear more about trainee train drivers and what it’s like to do a train driver apprenticeship with Northern Trains.

Entry requirements

To become a train driver, you’ll need to…

  • be at least 21 years old

  • GCSEs graded 9-4 / A*-C (or equivalent, including maths and english).

If you’re not yet 21 but will be by the time training begins, you can still apply.

What skills do I need to become a trainee train driver?

Employers are looking for candidates who can demonstrate a wide variety of soft skills (which you’ll likely already have), all of the technical skills you’ll learn through training. Some of these skills include,

  • Observation and concentration skills

  • The ability to stay calm

  • Problem-solving

  • Customer service

  • Teamwork skills.

You’ll need to demonstrate that you have these skills in your CV, cover letter and application. The best way is to think about any past experience you might have where you’ve had to use your soft skills – they can even be at school!

Not sure what soft and hard skills are? Read Hard Skills vs Soft Skills.

How much does a rail apprentice earn?

How much you earn will depend on the company you work for. You could start off between £27,000 and £31,000 per year, which will quickly rise to £40,000 per year after you’ve qualified.

Once you’ve gained a bag of experience as a train driver, you could earn around £60,000 per year

Some benefits can include anything from healthcare to free rail travel for yourself and heavily discounted rail travel for your family.

Why not start your career today? Click below to search for the latest apprenticeships.

find an apprenticeship
Recruiting? See how we can help you