Railway Engineering: Getting Your Career on Track

Written by Calvin Bowers

Railway engineering is one of the critical ways of keeping the country running during difficult times. Train freight moves an incredible amount of goods around the country every single year, and being able to keep this going is an incredible achievement. 

Railway engineering involves the placement, repair and maintenance of train tracks and signalling apparatus and can also include the installation of overhead electrical wires that can help to power electric trains and drive a cleaner, lower carbon emission rail future.

As a result of Brexit and the “Great Resignation”, which saw a considerable number of people leave their jobs between 2020 and 2021, there is now predicted to be a critical “skills gap” in our railways before 2025 so becoming involved now would provide an excellent chance to both help avert this and to build a successful career in an industry where career advancement may be easier than before.

Railway Engineering Apprenticeships

There are currently nine approved railway engineering apprenticeship standards, and they range from Level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeships, all the way up to Degree Apprenticeships at Level 7. We have listed the apprenticeships below, broken down by apprenticeship level. All apprenticeship durations given are exclusive of the time taken to complete End Point Assessments.

Rail Engineering Operative – Level 2

When you take up a rail engineering operative apprenticeship you will learn how to assist with the construction and maintenance of railway tracks and also how to evaluate the rail system and identify any faults that may need to be repaired. 

To be successful in this role, you must take a highly professional approach and be extremely risk-aware. You must be able to listen to your supervisors and line managers and follow instructions precisely. This apprenticeship should take around 12 months to complete. 

Rail Infrastructure Operator – Level 2

An apprenticeship as a rail infrastructure operator will show you how to operate the signals that keep the trains travelling around the system of tracks that wind around the UK. You will learn how to prioritise certain services which routinely travel faster and will cause a backlog if stuck behind slower trains. 

You will learn a strict adherence to all of the safety guidelines as one of your primary functions is to keep the public safe. You may be based in a large control room or at the trackside, but the imperative is always public safety. This apprenticeship typically takes 12 months to complete.

Railway Engineering Design Technician – Level 3

An apprenticeship as a railway engineering design technician will see you step up to the role of consulting on any changes to the rail service. You will be able to familiarise yourself with drawings and planning diagrams that show changes to the track layout or where new stations are earmarked to be placed. 

You will need to be able to work well with others and also examine the project from a number of different angles, including commercial and environmental. This apprenticeship should take around 36 months to complete.  

Rail Engineering Advanced Technician – Level 4

Initially coming in as a support role, the Rail Engineering Advanced Technician is there to support the more senior engineering work that is happening on the railway infrastructure.

This is primarily office-based work which is involved in designing and planning the next job. 

You will need to be a highly-motivated self-starter to do as well as you can in this environment and reach your full potential within the job. It is clear that not everyone has the correct temperament for this apprenticeship. The duration of the apprenticeship is 36 months.

High Speed Rail and Infrastructure Technician – Level 4

Anyone who ever said that they saw their career beginning as a high speed rail and infrastructure technician must have had some definite ideas about what they wanted to do with their lives. This is a highly skilled profession, and a growing one as more and more of the UK rail infrastructure makes a move to high-speed electric train travel. 

On this apprenticeship, you will learn how to provide support for the complex engineering tasks that are part of the high-speed rail systems. Apprentices will have the chance to specialise in one of eight different areas, and this will allow them to hone their skills in a particular direction of interest. The duration of the apprenticeship is 36 months.  

Rail and Rail Systems Engineer – Level 5

The duties of a rail and rail systems engineer include ensuring that the tracks and systems are in good working order. The level 5 apprenticeship confers a lot of responsibility on the apprentice to work collaboratively with others within the railway system to ensure public safety and the smooth running of the trains. 

Key skills that are expected to be gained are the ability to plan and schedule repair projects. You will be expected to be able to do these repairs and lead teams of engineers in undertaking them. This apprenticeship is 24 months in duration.

Rail and Rail Systems Senior Engineer (Degree) – Level 6

Those undertaking the rail and rail systems senior engineer level 6 degree course will be expected to manage the work that is necessary to keep the nation’s railways in good repair. You will need to develop a good understanding of the internal workings of the rail system and how everything integrates. 

Your responsibility will be to liaise with the principal engineers and ensure that your teams are able to implement the plans as safely and seamlessly as possible while sticking to the targets that are set for the work to be completed. There is a significant focus on leadership in this role. This is a degree-level apprenticeship and should last 36 months.

Rail and Rail Systems Principal Engineer (Degree) – Level 7

The role of the rail and rail systems principal engineer is to develop plans to maintain and expand the railway system in the UK. These can include things like replacing worn-out rail bridges and putting in place plans for new railway stations and stops. This is a senior leadership role, and you will be expected to work well with the engineering team and delegate appropriately to them. 

It is essential that the railway is kept operational as far as possible due to the freight and passenger numbers that depend on it on a day-to-day basis. This apprenticeship is a Level 7 Degree Level apprenticeship and will typically last for 48 months. 

Choose a Railway Engineering Apprenticeship Today

If you have digested all of the reasons to start an apprenticeship already and realise that railway engineering is for you, take the time to peruse our dedicated apprenticeship jobs board to find relevant opportunities near where you live.

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Last Updated: Tuesday April 30 2024
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