Q&A with a trainee train driver

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Always wondered what it takes to become a train driver with ScotRail? We chatted to trainee driver, Andy, to find out.

Andy’s worked in the railway for over 10 years. Previously he worked as a conductor and dispatcher, before joining ScotRail in October 2019 as a trainee driver. He lives in Dalgety Bay and is based at Edinburgh Waverley. Read on to discover all about life on the rails.

Becoming a train driver

Have you always wanted to be a train driver?

I have always wanted to be a driver and it was a dream come true when I got my letter to say I got the job! I remember my first ever train journey when I was 4. The driver waved to me as he pulled into the station and I knew from then that I wanted to be a driver.

What do you love most about your job?

I am a chatterbox and I like speaking to the friendly people at the stations when we start and end our journeys. I like to help people with their questions as well as speak with my colleagues and friends. My most favourite part of the job is waving back at all people who stop beside the tracks to wave at me.

What skills do you need to be a train driver?

To be a train driver, you need to be able to concentrate for a long time. You need to be good at helping people and have good communication skills as we have to speak with lots of people every day. You need to be able to use both hands at the same time too. Why not practice by bouncing two balls at the same time?

What should you study at school if you want to be a train driver?

It doesn’t matter what you choose to study but you must stick in at school. Train drivers need to show that they are committed to succeed through their training and beyond. A lot of drivers are quite technologically minded. Why not take a look down that route?

How long does the training take to be a train driver?

It takes about a year and a half to train to be a train driver. You have to work very hard as the training course is very intense and there is lots to learn in the time.

All about the trains

How fast can a train go?

Our trains at ScotRail do 100mph which is much faster than you can go in a car. On special lines elsewhere in the UK, some trains get to travel at 140mph and the fastest train in the world is in China. These are called ‘Maglev’ trains and can travel at nearly 270mph!

How long does it take for a train to stop?

It takes a very long time to stop a train and we have to plan far ahead where we are going to put the brakes on to smoothly and safely stop at stations, red stop lights or to change our speeds. Remember, the railway is dangerous and this is one of the reasons you should never play on it. By the time the driver spots people on the track, it’s too late to stop.

Where do all the trains go at night?

At night time, the trains all go to places called depots. In the depot, the trains get taken care of by a special team who do maintenance checks, fuel and cleaning to start work the next day. You may have seen these on your travels with some of the biggest in Scotland being around Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen.

How do you switch the train on to make it go?

Before we make the train go, we have a list of checks that we must do. Drivers carry a special key which is used to start the trains before we drive them. On Diesel trains we start the engines whereas on Electric trains we use buttons to connect the trains to the electrical wires.

How do you drive a train?

Trains have different controls in the driver’s compartments. These allow us to move the train forwards and backwards, choose how much power to give to control the speed and also to decide how much brake we want to use to slow the train down. There are lots of buttons to use different things on the train and newer trains have a touch screen computer system like your tablet.

Are the new electric trains better for the environment?

Have you ever noticed that some trains make more noise than others? On diesel trains, we carry our fuel with us and the engine burns this fuel to turn the trains wheels. This is very noisy and the engine creates a gas called carbon-dioxide which is harmful to the planet. Our new trains take electricity from wires which are above the train and this is used to move the train. In Scotland, up to 90% of our electricity comes from sources like wind, the sun and moving water as well as our new train which creates electricity when slowing down. This is called renewable energy and makes our new electric train very good for looking after the environment.

What is your favourite route to drive?

My favourite route to drive is the route from Edinburgh towards Inverkeithing. I enjoy this because I get to drive over the Forth Bridge and from there I can see my house. It is also the route that you get to see most people as you travel along by the sea. This is where everyone gives their friendly wave!

Do you ever get bored?

To drive a train, you have to concentrate for long periods of time whilst repeating the same tasks over and over again. Driving on lots of different routes and different types of trains help you maintain concentration and stop you getting bored.

What’s in your orange bag?

We have lots of things we have to carry to do our job safely. We have information about trains, maps, different keys, a torch as well as special safety clothing which is brightly coloured that we have to wear if we need to leave the train when not in stations. In my bag, I keep a bottle of water and something to eat. These help you if you begin to feel tired or when you need a little boost in energy.

We hope you enjoyed learning about how you become a trainee train driver. If you still have a question you'd love answered, please drop our social media team a message and they'll be able to try and get an answer for you.