How much do train drivers earn?

As rail staff prepare to strike, we ask how much do train drivers earn?

A train driver and conductor talking through the window of a train from a bird's eye view
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Train drivers and other rail staff are staging strikes across the summer. We've answered some of the questions around the job, including how much do train drivers earn?

2022 has become known as 'the summer of discontent', with the railways grinding to a halt, London tube strikes (opens in new tab) and flight cancellations in the wake of the cost of living crisis. The industrial action is causing chaos for travellers, who are eager to know when is the next train strike (opens in new tab) and how to get a refund for disrupted travel (opens in new tab).

Previously, strikes across the railways involved members of National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). However, on 30 July the union Aslef - which represents train drivers - will also be staging two days of strikes owing to pay disputes, leaving many wondering how much do train drivers earn. 

How much do train drivers earn?

The amount a train driver earns depends on the company they work for and their experience, but according to Glassdoor (opens in new tab) the average pay for a train driver is £54,000 per year. The National Careers Service (opens in new tab) lists £24,000 per year as a starting salary, going up to £65,000 for the most experienced.

However, some train operators have reported higher salaries for their most experienced drivers. The Express (opens in new tab) reported in June 2022 that train drivers with East Midlands Railway, Crosscountry and Southwestern can earn up to £70,000 per year.

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How much do London train drivers get paid?

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a train driver in London is £58,795. 

For tube drivers, this figure is slightly lower. In response to a Freedom of Information request made in 2019, Transport for London said that the average salary received by its 3,996 underground train operators was £52,329.

How much does a local train driver earn?

  • Scotrail: £50,659 to £56,245.
  • Northern Rail: £40,104 to £57,546.
  • East Midlands Railway: £54,403 to £61,467.
  • Great Western Railway: £49,807 to £67,304.
  • Merseyrail: £50,572 to £55,415.
  • Southeastern Railway: £37,261 to £58,503.

Train drivers salaries depend on the area they operate, which company they work for and their experience, but these figures from recruitment specialist Reed (opens in new tab) offer a good indication.

A close up of the Great Western Railway logo on the side of a train

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What qualifications do you need to be a train driver?

According to the National Careers Service, there are three routes to becoming a train driver: an apprenticeship, working towards the role and applying directly.

They explain "You can start as a rail passenger assistant or train conductor, then apply for a trainee driver post. This is also a common way to become a London Underground driver."

When applying directly to a train operating company to become a trainee driver, training can last between 12 and 24 months.

The National Careers Service also says that applicants must: be over 20 years old, live within one hour of the depot they apply to, pass enhanced background checks and pass a medical check. Employers usually expect GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) in English and maths, or equivalent qualifications.

Do train drivers get free travel?

Train drivers may get free travel, but only with the operating company they work for. For example, Southeastern says its drivers and eligible family members can enjoy free travel on their company's services.

However, the Rail Delivery Group offers Staff Travel Cards which can be used to get heavily discounted national rail tickets.

The inside of the drivers compartment in a train

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How many hours does a train driver work?

Train drivers work between 35 and 40 hours a week, according to the National Careers Service. Train drivers work in shifts, which include evenings, weekends and public holidays, and overtime is common.

According to Train Driver Academy (opens in new tab), a 35 hour week is generally averaged out over the whole year or shift cycle. For example, week one might be 32 hours, week two 39 hours and week three 34 hours, creating a 35 hour average. Shifts, or 'turns', usually range from around 6 hours to 11 hours.

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Ellie Hutchings
Ellie Hutchings

Ellie joined Goodto as a Junior Features Writer in 2022 after finishing her Master’s in Magazine Journalism at Nottingham Trent University. Previously, she completed successful work experience placements with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue and the Nottingham Post, and freelanced as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. In 2021, Ellie graduated from Cardiff University with a first-class degree in Journalism.