It Isn’t

Dominic Lawson asks the question.

If working on the railways is so awful, how come so many people want to do it?

At the risk of repeating myself, it is an opportunity to enjoy a rewarding career – whether you opt for signalling, driving, traincrew, engineering or S&T. The pay is pretty good compared to other industries and the terms and conditions are pretty good too – albeit, unsocial hours, weekends and nights, but anyone going into the job knows that up front and the pay reflects this.

Okay, there are irritations but that applies to any work in any industry. The main moan seems to be that a lack of pay rises has resulted in a net loss of income. However, compared to the self-employed and other areas in the private sector (rail is still heavily subsidised so I don’t consider it private sector), they are still decently paid. My income has dropped steadily over the past decade, so I’m not exactly sympathetic to that argument.

I enjoyed my career on the railway. I look back on much of it with fondness. I enjoyed a decent standard of living, despite the irritations when I had to commute to London, for example. But it is what it is. On balance, I did well enough with no complaints.

‘There is a bit of a North-South variance but the reality is we are generally flooded with applicants and TOCs normally have to close the ad down after just a few days as they are heavily oversubscribed.

‘For drivers in the South, we would normally see 300 applicants to one vacancy. In the North, this rises to around 750 to 1. On guards, the numbers are on average 120 applicants for each vacancy in the South and 200 to 1 in the North.’

I got a similar response from Network Rail, which recruits signallers: ‘Job offers are often open for less than a week, and we are usually oversubscribed 100 to 1’.

I do not find this remotely surprising. They are good jobs that are well paid and the industry provides a career path for those who wish to pursue it.


  1. A few years ago the railways were recruiting in our area. Myself and my colleague, both of us unhappy in our job, looked into it and considered applying. In the end we both thought that our regular 8:00-16:30 hours suited us better even though it would have been better money.

    On the subject of real world falls in income, it’s difficult for me to judge as I retired 27 months ago and I’m now drawing enough income to stay below the tax threshold. I seem to be getting by OK.

  2. Nicely put LR. I rarely travel on the UK railways so couldn’t comment on them. However i travel on Swiss Railways several times a year and they are fabulous. Trains are rarely late. Always spotless. Staff invariably very smart, polite, and often offer a humourous comment. They are heavily patronised. Employ a lot of people and are very good value for both visitors and Swiss citizens. Most people have a Swiss Pass which gives good discounts. The engineering fears are fantastic. The new Gotthard rail tunnel is 57kms and the new Ceneri tunnel only opened last year. Trains wizz through them. Swiss Railways certainly demonstrate what rail can achieve. Many people don’t bother owning a car because local transport is equally fabulous.

    • A point that is often forgotten. I’ve seen them much maligned in the media, but as you say, different union and not involved in this one. Facts and the media are passing ships.

      • Correct
        AIUI “ALSEF” are well pissed-off with some ot the right-wing meeja types labelling them
        Grant Shapps (Another idiot) has been rambling on about “Driverless Trains” – which DOES NOT HELP

  3. ASLEF (not ALSEF) = Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen.

    My Dad was a Branch Treasurer for many years.

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