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Many trades can be started while you are still at school. Ask your careers advisor about schools-based trades and rail traineeships.

Occupation description

The rail industry offers electrical apprenticeships across a range of specialisations depending on its needs and activities. Electrical tradespeople install and maintain electrical components, wiring, equipment and systems. Specialisations include:

  • Signal electrician/technician: Works on the installation and maintenance of electrical and mechanical signalling, point machines, colour light signals, power supplies, track circuits, control systems and multi-core cabling systems.
  • Substation distribution electrician: Works on the installation and maintenance of electrical equipment in high voltage rail substations that may include transformers. It also involves the installation and maintenance of general lighting and power services, electrical appliances and systems on stations and buildings.
  • Rolling stock electrician: Installs and maintains high and low voltage electrical equipment such as train operating computer systems, lighting and power circuits, and transformers. It also involves installing and maintaining low voltage lighting and power services at maintenance depots, stations and offices.
  • Facilities electrician: Installs wiring on the rail stations and is responsible for maintenance of equipment, apparatus and devices contained in rail buildings, offices and suburban stations.
  • Distribution electrician: Installs and maintains apparatus and equipment belonging to the electricity distribution network. This includes equipment in the substations and control centres. Also involved in feeding electricity to the overhead traction power network to distribution work in workshops and switch yards.

Knowledge, skills and attributes

You need to enjoy mathematical and technical activities, be practical and have good hand-eye coordination, good eyesight and normal colour vision. You need excellent diagnostic ability, an aptitude for mechanics and electronics, able to do precise and detailed work, and have good communication skills including literacy skills. You must have a strong regard for safety.

Working conditions

You will be paid while you complete your apprenticeship studies. This is a physically demanding job and you will be mainly working outdoors – sometimes in cramped and confined conditions or at heights. You may have to do shift work.

Entrance requirements and ongoing training and development

  • New Zealand: Electrical trade qualification and post study trade certificate. Entry requirements vary but employers usually require NTEA1 for entrance into a trade course.
  • Australia: Electrical trade qualification such as Certificate III in Electrotechnology Systems or Certificate III Electricity Supply Industry - Distribution and a post study trade certificate, and probably an electrician’s licence. Entry requirements vary, but employers usually require Year 10 and many require Year 12. In Australia, there are related vocational qualifications to advanced diplomas, in areas including: rail signalling, substations, computer systems, video and audio systems, power systems, advanced trade training, renewable energy, and electrical technology.

For more information on trade qualifications in Australia, go to the training.gov.au website.

You will be expected to up-skill as technology changes. Additional tickets, certification, registration or licenses may be required to work in the rail corridor, depending on legislative and organisational requirements.

The value of a career in the rail industry

For even more details on what you might earn, the diversity of companies you could work for and the career opportunities available, visit the following careers and training websites. Careers in Rail by the Australasian Railway Association; About the Rail Industry by Rail Skills Australasia and Rail Training by the Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Council (TLISC).

For more information


The following video is produced by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and provides general information about electrical careers in the Australian rail industry.

Career paths

Typically, you will progress from an entry level position such as an apprentice, through to more senior roles such as a team leader or specialist. Once in the rail industry, to progress your career, you will need to complete additional studies or authorisations which will depend on operational and legislative requirements.

This information is generic.  Job titles and the experience and qualifications needed to move into other jobs may vary, depending on the structure and needs of your organisation, and government rules and regulations.

For more information on related qualifications in Australia

Career Path Flowchart

Typical career path for electrical trades