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UK train drivers: Teenagers could be recruited to help railway staffing crisis

Simon Calder’s Travel

A new proposal from the Department for Transport aims to attract younger train drivers into the cab to tackle the UK’s railway staffing crisis.

Plans to lower the minimum age of train driver recruits from 20 to 18 could allow school leavers to qualify as drivers from as soon as summer.

The move to reduce network wide reliance on voluntary overtime hours is a bid backed by train operators and drivers’ union Aslef.

Last year, Aslef secretary general Mick Whelan said: “More impetus should be given to reducing the minimum driver age requirements to improve diversity and increase the numbers of new entrants.”

Pending the consultation to “build resilience” across the railway network, all prospective train drivers would need to pass mandatory medical, psychological, fitness and competence examinations as usual to complete the 12 to 18 month training.

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 average mainline train driver is currently 48 years old, and over 5,000 of those qualified are predicted to retire in the next five years.

On London Underground trains, the minimum driver age to operate is already 18 but ministers say that the number of young people entering the industry “remains relatively low”.

“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,” said Andy Bagnall, chief executive for Rail Partners.

According to Avanti recruitment, a typical train driver salary “of circa £70,000” without overtime pay, can be reached “within just a few years”.

Mr Bagnall added: “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.”

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