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Independent resettlement & recruitment guide for serving Armed Forces & Veterans

Rail Industry

Rail Industry


06 May, 2024

In response to growing climate crisis awareness, rail transport is recognized as an eco-friendly alternative for moving people and goods across the UK. The rail industry's rapid growth offers diverse career opportunities, driven by the need for innovative solutions to meet future challenges. This demand is encouraging a new wave of professionals eager to contribute to sustainable transport solutions.

Why rail?

In the UK, Train Operating Companies (TOCs) manage the national rail network, handling all aspects of passenger services. They recruit a wide range of personnel, from customer service staff at stations and on trains to drivers for high-speed and metro services. Additionally, they seek skilled technicians to maintain the sophisticated equipment essential for daily operations, ensuring the safety and efficiency of the rail service.

Network Rail is responsible for maintaining the UK’s rail infrastructure, including tracks and signals, ensuring the network operates efficiently. This sector requires skilled personnel in various capacities, from technical maintenance to operational management. The train design and manufacturing segment also engages multinational companies with global expertise. Additionally, there are numerous public-sector opportunities within government departments and agencies that support the rail industry, contributing to its broad scope of employment possibilities.

The UK's rail industry has been a focal point in the media, particularly due to the HS2 high-speed rail project, which forms a significant part of the UK rail system's overhaul. The government's commitment to this project aims to enhance efficiency, reduce congestion, improve environmental outcomes, and lower fares. This transformation is expected to significantly broaden employment opportunities across the industry, making it an appealing sector for those seeking new career paths in a dynamic field.

Transferable skills

Someone leaving the armed forces would bring a robust set of transferable skills to the rail industry, including

  • Logistical Planning: Expertise in coordinating complex logistics under pressure, suitable for managing rail operations and scheduling.
  • Technical Skills: Hands-on technical maintenance and engineering experience, applicable to rail systems management and infrastructure upkeep.
  • Leadership and Teamwork: Proven leadership abilities and experience in collaborative environments, crucial for managing teams within rail companies.
  • Problem-Solving: Ability to quickly identify problems and devise practical solutions, valuable for operational challenges in rail transport.
  • Adaptability and Resilience: Skills in adapting to rapidly changing conditions and overcoming challenging situations, essential for the dynamic nature of rail operations.

These skills are highly valued in the rail industry, which requires precision, efficiency, and strong management to ensure safe and reliable transportation.

How do I qualify to work in the rail industry?

To pursue a career in the rail industry, there are a variety of pathways depending on the job level and role. Basic positions typically require proficiency in mathematics, English, and IT, while advanced roles often necessitate specialized qualifications in fields such as engineering, technical expertise, and business, as well as interpersonal skills.

Network Rail offers several training programs, ranging from maintenance to signalling, with accreditation from universities, colleges, or professional bodies. These programs include:

  • National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs)
  • Higher National Certificates (HNCs)
  • Higher National Diplomas (HNDs)
  • professional diplomas
  • bachelor’s degrees
  • master’s degrees.

Additional qualifications can enhance your employability. The Enhanced Learning Credits (ELC) scheme allows you to fund qualifications at Level 3 and above in rail-related subjects.

The National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) aids in the provision of professional development and training across the UK, working with various institutions, including Network Rail and the Advanced Transport & Infrastructure National College.

Relevant qualifications that can benefit those pursuing careers in the rail industry include:

  • Association for Project Management training, for aspiring rail-related project managers
  • CSCS Certification – many rail projects require construction workers to hold a valid CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) card, which proves they are competent at carrying out specific tasks
  • IRSE (Institution of Railway Signal Engineers) Accredited Technician, for those wishing to work specifically in signalling.

For technical rail professionals, achieving Chartered Engineer (CEng) status is highly advised.

New rail qualifications for ex-Forces personnel

The National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR) has been instrumental in helping former members of the armed forces transition into a second career within the rail sector. This initiative began gaining traction with the Step Into Rail event in 2017, where over 100 ex-Forces personnel were introduced to the opportunities for translating their military experience into valuable skills for the rail industry.

The specialized training programs developed by NTAR focus on equipping Service leavers with the foundational knowledge and hands-on competencies required for the maintenance of traction and rolling stock. These training opportunities leverage the transferable skills that veterans possess, aligning them with the needs of the rail industry.

The qualifications are designed in collaboration with EAL, an awarding organization recognized by employers in the engineering, manufacturing, and building services sectors. These qualifications not only support a seamless transition into rail careers but are also accredited at Level 3 and are eligible for funding through the Enhanced Learning Credits Scheme (ELCAS), providing financial support to those who have served in the armed forces.

For comprehensive information and to access a downloadable brochure detailing the qualifications, interested individuals are encouraged to visit the relevant web pages. Full details on these rail qualifications, including how to apply for ELCAS funding, can be found on EAL's dedicated rail qualifications page. It is important for prospective candidates to verify the currency of this information and the availability of these programs by consulting the latest resources provided by NTAR, EAL, and ELCAS.



Step Into Rail is an annual one-day event held by the NTAR at its purpose-built training facility in Northampton. After a brief hiatus following the Covid pandemic, Step Into Rail returned in 2023, taking place on 11 May. Offering a unique opportunity for those leaving, or due to leave, the military to speak with some of the biggest names in the industry and explore what the rail industry has to offer, the event saw representation from across the rail industry, including train maintenance and telecommunications. In addition, members of the various rail-related recruitment teams were on hand to discuss the transition process as part of the informal networking phase of the day.

If you missed out this year but are interested in attending future events, or require further information, keep an eye on the NTAR events page for updates.

The day is designed specifically for ex-Forces personnel and aims to illustrate how valuable military skills and experiences can be translated to roles within the rail industry. Although the main focus is engineering, telecoms and signalling, the NTAR is also able to showcase other roles that require a range of skill sets, suitable for recruits from all ranks.

With attendance completely free of charge, Step Into Rail offers a full agenda, with great networking opportunities, case studies of how others have made the journey into industry, and the chance to explore how military-gained knowledge can be applied to careers within rail. It’s a day not to be missed. Watch out for its return in 2024!

Use your ELC

Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELCAS website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on the Quest website.

Both Network Rail and the Rail Delivery Group offer a range of rail-related apprenticeships. Click on those links to find out more and stay up to date with the latest opportunities. Alternatively, use your favourite search engine to discover more options. Or browse the government’s apprenticeship website (check out the ‘Transport and logistics’ section) or Find Apprenticeships, both of which allow you to search for apprenticeship opportunities by area of interest and location.

Finding a job 

The overall perspective that the rail industry represents a stable and growing sector remains valid. Rail transportation is indeed poised to grow due to increasing traffic congestion and environmental concerns that favour mass transit over individual car usage. However, specific predictions about passenger and freight transportation demand should be checked against the latest data, as external factors such as economic conditions, technological advancements, and policy changes can influence these trends.

The commitment of Network Rail to recruit ex-Forces personnel is in line with many industries that value the skills and experiences that military veterans bring to civilian jobs. The appreciation for military attributes such as discipline, teamwork, leadership, and decision-making in high-pressure situations is consistent with the needs of safety-critical roles within the railway industry.
Network Rail has historically had specific programs aimed at helping ex-Forces personnel transition to railway careers, and this policy is likely to continue given the alignment of skills and the ongoing need for high-caliber staff as the rail network grows and modernizes.

For those interested in opportunities for ex-Armed Forces personnel at Network Rail, here are some updated steps and considerations:

1. Visit the Network Rail Careers Website: The official Network Rail careers page is the most reliable source for current job listings and information on their recruitment initiatives, including those for ex-Forces personnel.

2. Consider Transferable Skills: When applying, ex-Forces candidates should highlight how their military skills and experiences transfer to the roles they are interested in within the rail industry.

3. Utilize Support Programs: There may be specific support programs designed to help veterans transition into the rail industry. Job seekers should research and take advantage of these if available.

4. Engage with Veterans' Networks: Networking with other veterans who have successfully made the transition can provide valuable insights and potentially lead to job opportunities.

5. Keep Updated on Industry Trends: The rail industry is subject to technological advancements and regulatory changes. Staying informed about these trends can make candidates more competitive.

6. Explore Apprenticeships and Training: Network Rail and other organizations may offer apprenticeships or training programs tailored to veterans, which can be an excellent entry point into the industry.


You may be used to a field-based environment working with big kit in all weathers. Or you may have been desk based, involved in planning and analysis, strategic design, systems or electrical engineering. Dependent on your skills and experience, you may be suited to one of our engineering functions:

  • maintenance
  • asset information
  • track
  • buildings and civils
  • construction
  • signalling, power and communication.

Just like the Forces, we rely on a number of support functions. If you don’t feel engineering is for you, we have plenty of other areas that you may be better suited to, such as:

  • commercial management
  • finance
  • HR
  • legal
  • project management.

Join us and we’ll give you every opportunity to develop a highly rewarding and long-term career, offering training and development that will make the most of your potential.

Source: Network Rail



For detailed information about the kinds of career opportunities offered by the rail industry, visit

The general trends regarding the demand for staff in the UK rail sector and the types of positions available remain relatively consistent, but it's important to update and fact-check the information provided to ensure accuracy. Here's an updated version of the provided text with new information added where relevant:

The UK rail sector continues to evolve, with ongoing development projects generating a need for new staff. Recruitment challenges persist, particularly for specialist engineering roles, which remain in high demand. Network Rail and other rail industry organizations have been focusing on creating more in-house skilled engineering jobs to deliver essential infrastructure projects, a trend that is likely to continue as the rail network expands and modernizes.

Train driver positions are highly sought after, and competition is strong. The role is critical for safety and requires a comprehensive selection process, including aptitude tests and training programs. While specific qualifications may not be as critical, the ability to concentrate and make clear decisions is essential. Salaries for train drivers can be competitive, reflecting the importance of the role, though the mentioned salary range should be verified with current industry standards as they may have increased due to inflation or changes in the market.

Customer service roles, both at stations and on trains, are challenging to fill despite requiring fewer formal qualifications. These roles demand strong communication skills and the ability to handle diverse situations with the public. Network Rail has historically faced challenges in recruiting signallers, and it is likely that this need persists, with an emphasis on attention to detail over formal qualifications.

Infrastructure maintenance organizations employ a mix of technical staff and track maintainers. Technical staff typically have engineering experience and qualifications, while track maintainers require physical strength and the ability to work in various weather conditions. Specialist agencies continue to play a role in providing flexible labour to the industry, offering entry points for those seeking to join the rail sector.

Management and engineering opportunities in the rail industry remain robust, with a continuous need for experienced customer service managers and logistics professionals. Academic qualifications and practical experience are beneficial for securing higher-paid management positions. The scarcity of engineering skills remains a persistent issue, reinforcing the importance of Network Rail's commitment to creating more skilled engineering jobs.

For job seekers, the best approach to finding vacancies in the rail sector is to search online. Many train operating companies (TOCs) list job opportunities on their websites, and some may be accessible through a centralized portal. Network Rail maintains its own career page with a job search feature detailing the types of roles available.

It can be more challenging to find vacancies with subcontractors, as they often rely on agency staff. Job seekers can explore the websites of various agencies that specialize in maintenance roles and other contract work within the rail industry.