Railway track

Rail Apprenticeships: Get Your Career On Track

Rail apprenticeships are a great way to get your foot in the door of a sector that is incredibly diverse. Through an apprenticeship, you’ll gain highly sought skills, a nationally recognised qualification and the experience that employers look for! 

Think working in rail means being out on the tracks or a train driver? Think again!

Working in rail offers a wide range of opportunities. From being the face of the industry working in customer service to actually building the trains and everything in between, a career in rail guarantees no two days the same. 

What Is a Rail Apprenticeship?

A rail apprenticeship consists of 80% on the job training combined with 20% off the job training. While you study, you’ll build your theoretical knowledge so you can then put this into practice at work. Training on the job will help you to gain vital skills and exposure to the sector. What’s more, you’ll even earn while you learn! 

If you think rail apprenticeships are an easy alternative to university, that’s  a myth we can bust right there! As an apprentice, you’ll need to find a study-work-life balance and that can be far from easy at times. Apprenticeships are also available from level 2 right through to degree. Yes, you heard us right! That means you can get a degree but without the debt!

Here are the levels of apprenticeships available:

Level 2 or Intermediate apprenticeships: Equivalent to GCSE level and typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete

Level 3 or Advanced apprenticeships: Equivalent to 2 A Levels and usually lasts for two years

Level 4 and 5 or Higher apprenticeships: Equal to a foundation degree and HNDs and normally take around 3 to 6 years to complete

Level 6 and 7 or Degree apprenticeships: Equal to a Bachelor or Master’s degree and typically lasts around 3 to 6 years

Rail Apprenticeships You Could Work In

No matter what area of rail you work in, you’ll be at the heart of ensuring the country’s railways run smoothly and on time. Here are some of the different rail apprenticeships available to you:


You’ll typically specialise in a particular area of engineering as a rail apprentice. This includes:

Track: As a track apprentice, you’ll be at the forefront of keeping the track networks safe and efficient. This means you will be maintaining, inspecting and repairing the track network. This is also referred to as the Permanent Way or P-Way). You will be required to work in all types of weather conditions and different times.

Overhead lines: If wires are brought down the trains can not operate. As an overhead lines person, you will work to maintain, troubleshoot and fix to get trains up and running as quickly and safely as possible. You will also work with high voltage systems so it’s a big responsibility!

Electric trains are better for the planet. You could play a huge part in electrifying railway lines helping to make the environment a greener place to live in.

Signalling: Signallers are a vital part of the railway system. From mechanical and electrical to computer-based systems and performance enhancements. The systems of the railway are what ensure trains get from A to B in a safe way. They ensure that trains are safely spaced apart and switch from one track to another. These systems also alert signallers to train movements, warn the train driver and can automatically stop trains if needed. 

Every day these are checked, tested, cleaned and fixed. To do this you will need to take and record the electrical and mechanical values on the equipment. From working on major signalling repairs to large engineering projects, this job role guarantees variety.

Plant and Distribution: You’ll be the one to keep power flowing through the electrified rails safely and efficiently. You’ll be involved with maintaining, fault-finding and restoring equipment 

Alternative Pathways

Train Drivers: As a train driver you will be responsible for driving trains in a safe and economic manner, ensuring that you are punctual and act in accordance with the rail rules, regulations and procedures.

IT, Business, Train Planning, Finance, Customer Service: Think a career in rail just means engineering and on track? This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, it’s true that this does make up a wide range of roles but there is so much more to it than what meets the eye. You could be at the heart of helping people reach their destination with a career in train planning and customer service. 

Alternatively, a career in finance will see you supporting projections, budgets and analysis. Or an IT apprenticeship where you could have a wide range of responsibilities from digital railway traffic management to accident prevention. We mean it when we say the rail services aren’t just a place for engineers!

Which Employers Offer Rail Apprenticeships?

There are a wide variety of employers offering rail apprenticeships. These include but certainly aren’t limited to:

Companies that run the railway lines: Network Rail, Transport for London or Transport for the North

Train companies: First, Great Western, Northern Rail, Colas

Big rail projects: Crossrail in London or HS2 (High Speed 2) which is connecting North to South

Train manufacturers: Siemens, Bombardier

Skills Employers Look For

Depending on the role you’re looking for skills may vary, however, these will typically be outlined on the job description so make sure to bear this in mind when applying. Here is a brief guide to some of the skills employers look for:

  • Responsible attitude to work
  • Good problem solving
  • Able to work as part of a team and independently
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Good eyesight, normal colour vision and hearing
  • Flexible and adaptable
  • Good English, Maths and Science skills

Remember, you might not necessarily possess these now but working as an apprentice will help you to build these. 

How to Apply For Rail Apprenticeships?

With so much to choose from, there is bound to be something for you! If you’re ready to take the leap, click the button below to apply. Alternatively, you can find out what it’s like to be a rail apprentice at Network Rail from Marisa Bajerski here. 

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