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In New Zealand, the rail industry also carries freight by sea between the North and South Islands. This means additional careers including ferry drivers, forklift drivers and other roles involved in freight handling.and customer service.

Occupation description

Train drivers are in charge of, and responsible for, driving the locomotives, as well as the mechanical operation of the train, train speed and all train handling. They may also inspect trains, report defects and carry out adjustments, shunt rolling stock in marshalling yards and sidings along the line, and refuel diesel trains. In some organisations, they may make announcements and work with on-board staff (including guards) and routinely exchange information with them using radio or other communication systems. Team work is important as you work closely with others including shunters and signalmen.

  • Passenger train: a passenger train is one which includes passenger-carrying vehicles and can often be very long and fast. Passenger trains travel between stations or depots where passengers board and disembark. In most cases, they operate on a fixed schedule and may have superior track occupancy rights over freight trains.
  • Freight train: freight trains may include containers where the trains may measure up to 1.5 km long and weigh 2,500 tons. Freight trains typically have different train forces from passenger trains. There are many different types of freight trains. One of the most common types are container trains, where containers can be lifted on and off the train by cranes and loaded off or onto trucks or ships.

Knowledge, skills and attributes

A train driver needs to be punctual and reliable. Maintaining concentration is of critical importance in this role as is stamina and the ability to work both independently, with little social interaction, and as part of a team. You need good problem-solving and decision-making skills especially in emergencies, good eyesight, quick reflexes, and strong communication skills. You must have a positive customer focus and a very strong regard for safety. Sometimes rules and rail gauges vary between states and the ability to learn and apply new knowledge and rules is critical in succeeding in this career.

Working conditions

Drivers generally work inside confined cabins which can reach speeds of 160 kph. They work in all weather conditions and generally work shifts including weekends, public holidays, late nights and early mornings. Some may drive long-distance which may mean being away from home.  Train drivers, like other rail employees, are randomly tested for alcohol and drugs.

Video

The following video shows Sam, an 18 year old, finding out what it takes to become a train driver at KiwiRail.

Entrance requirements and ongoing training and development

Train driving is a popular career with people already employed in the rail industry. You can become a train driver without formal qualifications, but employers usually require completion of relevant secondary school qualifications. Training differs for electrical, diesel and passenger driving. There are related vocational qualifications such as the Certificate II in Rail Operations (AU) specialising in train driving such as which may be offered as traineeships. Previous experience with shift work would be helpful in this career.

Training takes up to two years so becoming a train driver is a long-term commitment. You will also do ongoing assessments and observations every year and need to be willing to retrain as new technology and safety requirements change. You need to be accredited and undertake ongoing medical and safety checks.  As part of the selection process, applicants are medically assessed including drug and alcohol testing. You may come into the training course from another rail role. The websites below will provide you with more information.

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

Career paths

Typically, you would start as a trainee driver and with further training and experience you may become a driver trainer, principal driver, driver supervisor or even a depot manager. You will need to continually upgrade your skills as safety procedures change and technology advances.

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.

Career Path Flowchart

Typical career path for a train driver (passenger and freight)

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