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Career profile: Railway engineer

Train passing through a field.Railway engineering is a broad and varied area, with opportunities for engineers of all kinds.

What is a rail engineer?

Railway engineers work to design, build and maintain the railway system. This includes tracks, signals, bridges and much more, meaning rail engineering offers opportunities for all kinds of engineers. For example, a civil engineer might work on planning new tracks, while an electrical engineer might work on converting a section of railway to run on electricity instead of diesel engines.

Railway engineering technicians, who do hands-on installation and maintenance work, are sometimes called railway engineers, but these are two different roles.

Working as a rail engineer

Railway engineering is mostly office-based, but there may be site visits involved. The specific day-to-day tasks will vary depending on your engineering specialism.

In the UK, many rail engineers work for Network Rail (for the national railway system) or Tube Lines (for the London Underground), but private consultancy firms also work on railway engineering, both in the UK and around the world.

Salaries start at around £18,000 for a trainee and will rise with experience. You might also get free or subsidised train travel.

Becoming a rail engineer

You'll normally need an HND or degree in engineering to become a rail engineer, although some roles will accept maths, science or computing graduates. Network Rail runs graduate schemes for engineers, and offers support to gain chartered status.

If you're an electrical engineer with experience outside rail, Network Rail offers a conversion programme to help you get the specialist knowledge you need to become a railway electrification engineer.

You may also need a full driving license so that you can get to sites when necessary.

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