Thousands of opportunities could open up for young people, securing the skills we need to improve our railways in the long term.

  • consultation on lowering the minimum age to become a train driver in Great Britain from 20 to 18
  • thousands of opportunities could open up for younger people as early as this summer
  • measure could help future-proof the workforce and support reliability of services

Efforts to open up more careers in the rail sector to young people could improve the reliability of rail services under a new proposal being put forward today (16 March 2024).

If agreed, new regulations lowering the minimum age for train drivers from 20 to 18 could be in place as early as the summer, helping set thousands of young people on track to a career in transport upon leaving school.

The proposal would build resilience across the railway by creating a new pathway for school leavers to take up apprenticeships and train to join the profession. With many train drivers set to retire in the next 5 years and the average age of a train driver being 48 years old, the workforce is projected to shrink without opening up more opportunities for new recruits. 

Attracting more drivers would help the industry deliver better for customers by providing a more reliable service when staff are off sick or on annual leave. Opening up the sector to young people could therefore be a positive step and benefit passengers directly through the better reliability of services.

This is part of wider government plans to create more opportunities for young people to gain the skills they need to succeed while generating more jobs leading to a productive, high-skilled economy.

Rail Minister, Huw Merriman, said:

We want to open the door for young people considering transport as a career, and this proposal could give school-leavers a clear path into the sector.

By boosting age diversity in the sector and attracting more drivers, we can help support reliable services while creating opportunities for more young people

The number of young people entering the industry remains relatively low. Lowering the minimum age for people to start their train driving careers from 20 to 18 would give more choices to people leaving school or college and looking for their next step, as well as encouraging more diversity in the workforce.

Jaqueline Starr, Chief Executive Officer at Rail Delivery Group, said:

Our railways play a vital role connecting people and communities. Working as a train driver is an incredible career opportunity, and we want to open the door to encourage a wider pool of young people to apply.

These proposed changes will help us to recruit the next generation of drivers, lowering the average age of the workforce, and helping to ensure a resilient railway for our customers

Andy Bagnall, Chief Executive for Rail Partners, said:

Taking forward these proposals would meet a long-standing aspiration for the industry which would have a positive impact on getting more young people into the railway.

With driver shortages and an ageing workforce, it is critical to secure the skills we need for the long-term to help improve reliability for the customer. By lowering minimum age requirements for train drivers, working on the railways should be seen as a more attractive career choice for school leaders, including those from diverse backgrounds.

If the proposals are introduced, all prospective train drivers will continue to be held to the same stringent training requirements as before to ensure the safe use of our railways for everyone. To become a licensed train driver, trainees must pass mandatory medical, psychological, fitness and general professional competence examinations and be trained by their employer on the infrastructure and rolling stock they will be deployed on.

All train drivers are subject to continuous training, monitoring and supervision as part of meeting their licence and certificate conditions, and the consultation will seek views on how the processes for selecting, training, monitoring and supervising younger train drivers could be adapted to support a potential change in the minimum age.

The department will continue to work closely with industry and the Office of Rail and Road to improve recruitment, resilience and passenger experience. 

This proposal comes as part of government’s move to reform our laws following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, using powers under the Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation) Act 2023, to support the country’s rail industry.

The lowering the minimum age requirement for train drivers from 20 to 18 consultation opens today (16 May 2024) and closes on 13 June 2024.

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Published 16 May 2024