The Rise of Rail

Many thanks to my colleague Matt Vickers (Careers Consultant for the School of Engineering) for this post on the rail industry.  In it Matt highlights that there are a wealth of opportunities for graduates in the industry and that opportunities are by no means limited to those with an engineering degree, so read on if you want to find out more about fascinating industry – Rebecca.

Back in the early 1980s, a series of television adverts for (what was then) British Rail, proclaimed that “this is the age of the train”.  History may suggest otherwise about the 1980s, but recently things really have started to look up for the UK’s rail industry.  And alongside this renaissance comes job opportunities – and not just for engineers – demonstrated by recent presentations from Babcock Rail and by two representatives of the new Routes into Rail initiative, who in their “day job” work for First Group and ScotRail.

Over the last few years there has been massive investment in rail, with plenty more to come. This is partly to upgrade an ageing network, (the UK has the world’s oldest public railways, dating back to 1825 and London’s Tube is the world’s oldest underground, dating back to 1863) and partly a drive for safety.  But it is also in response to increasing demand: Network Rail’s own website claims that “Britain’s railway is busier now than any time since the 1920s”.  According to the Routes Into Rail representatives, passenger numbers have grown from 976m in 2002-3 to 1.46bn in 2011-12, a higher rate than in any other European country.

Locally we have seen Edinburgh’s Waverley and Haymarket stations modernised and the Borders Railway is on track to be (re)opened in September 2015.  Further afield in Scotland, investment includes:

  • Opening of the Airdrie-Bathgate rail link (December 2010)
  • Glasgow’s Queen Street is set to undergo a major refurbishment, as are Dundee, Gleneagles
  • Electrification of the lines from Edinburgh to Glasgow
  • Upgrading of the Inverness to Aberdeen line
  • For a full list have a look at Transport Scotland’s website.

South of the Border has seen equally massive investment, particularly in the South East where Crossrail (Europe’s largest infrastructure project) will deliver a high frequency, high capacity service to forty stations linking Reading and Heathrow in the west, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east via 21 km of new, twin-bore tunnels under central London.  Currently under consideration is the HS2 project to bring high-speed rail from London to Birmingham (phase1) then Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds (phase 2).  And the London Underground is also in the middle of a huge upgrade programme.

In fact, according to the government’s National Infrastructure Plan 2014, the investment pipeline for UK rail is a staggering £86.9bn, of which £34.8bn is in under construction with a further £52.1bn planned!  This dwarfs investment in other sectors such as automotive or aerospace.  A combination of this massive investment, an ageing workforce and new technology mean that by 2019, ten thousand new recruits will be needed, according to the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSRE).  So now is definitely a good time to consider jobs in rail.

Which begs the question: why don’t more people go into rail?  After all, this is a major industry employing some two-hundred thousand staff.  Perhaps it was the Dr Beeching’s great cuts to the national rail network of the 1960s, or the underinvestment in the 1970s and 1980s, which have left rail with an image problem?

Whatever the reason, new recruits are needed!  In recognition of this the industry set up Routes Into Rail in February 2014  and their new website has a wealth of helpful  information.  This matters because putting image aside, very few of us understand how the UK’s railways operate since privatisation – and consequently who the employers might be.  Routes Into Rail are trying to change this with a page that explains the structure of the industry and information on who some of the key graduate recruiters are.

Aside from the obvious roles for engineers (civil, electrical, electronic and mechanical) there is a need for HR staff to look after the 200,000 employees; managers to plan timetables, schedule work and look after the millions of customers; marketing staff work for the train operating companies and also websites such as The Trainline (keen to recruit people into data analysis and IT roles) as well as roles for in-house lawyers, and for finance/accountants to keep track of all that money… to name but a few careers.

This variety of roles was reflected in the Routes Into Rail speakers:

  1. studied Business/Managerial Economics at Dundee and went on to a graduate training scheme with ScotRail, where amongst other roles he has been Deputy Station Manager at Edinburgh Waverley;
  2. a Glasgow graduate of Politics and Social & Economic History, who had gone onto the management trainee programme with First TransPennine Express and is currently responsible for managing all of their train drivers.

So, engineer or not, what are you waiting for?  Hurry up or you’ll miss the train!

P.S. Some inside info…

  • Apparently train drivers are well paid, earning over £40k but if you can speak French you can earn over £60k driving trains through the Channel Tunnel!
  • But not all jobs (especially train driving) are advertised externally.  The industry is still one or the most unionised in the UK and many vacancies are advertised internally only.  So getting a temporary job in customer service for example can gain you access to these.
  • The Routes Into Rail LinkedIn Group sometimes advertises job vacancies too, so it is well worth joining.
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