So you want to be a train driver on the London Underground?

Recently travelling to London on a train from Manchester I overheard two passengers discussing a recent medical they had taken a few day previously. Interestingly, from their conversation I became to realise that they were both off duty Train Drivers from the London underground.

The medical they had taken was a requirement written into their contract and as they were both over the age of 50 years they had to re take the medical every 4 years!

With interest I opened my I-Pad and started to look into the medical criteria for a train driver. The results were pretty interesting and I had to Google a few times to check that I had the right job ‘train driver’ in my sights and not that of an astronaut!

It is only after passing a number of ’entry’ assessments that the candidate is then directed to the medical!

Medical Standard for a Train Driver 

After you have had an Assessment the next stage to becoming a Train Driver is to go for a Medical.

These are usually carried out by a private Health Physician for a company such as BUPA.  All Train Drivers must meet the high standards for fitness as well as visual and hearing standards.

Eye Test

The first thing you’ll do is an eye test. The required standard is 6/9, 6/12 distant vision and N8 near vision or better if you wear glasses.  If you do wear spectacles your unaided vision must not be worse than 6/12, 6/18.  This standard may be varied, yet uncorrected vision must not be below 3/60 in each eye.

Contact lenses are not permitted and if you’ve had laser eye surgery to correct vision that rules you out for driving trains too. The next stage is to test your colour vision, this is done using the Ishihara Plates Test.

Hearing Test 

You’ll be sat in a small sound-proof cubicle with a pair of headphones on and they’ll play really quiet ‘beeps’ of varying frequencies.  You are not allowed to wear a hearing aid.  The standard is, hearing loss must not exceed 30dB averaged over frequencies of 0.5, 1 and 2kHz and you shouldn’t suffer from any condition that will cause unpredictable fluctuations in hearing levels.


The chances are that you’ll get hooked up to an ECG machine where they’ll stick loads of little patches over your body and wire you in to measure your heart.

General Health

You must not be suffering or receiving any medical treatment that will cause sudden loss of consciousness, sudden incapacity, impairment of balance, co-ordination, awareness or concentration.  Visual impairment, or a significant loss of mobility. There is also height and weight restrictions that apply, normally between 5’4″ and 6’4′ and your weight shouldn’t exceed 28 on the Body Mass Index (BMI) when entering service.

If the delegate has been accepted for the job of Train Driver then there is the rigorous training schedule which includes Health and Safety Training, Fire Safety Awareness, Manual Handling Training and First Aid at Work Training.   

Drug and Alcohol Test

Finally you’ll be asked to dispense a sample into a plastic beaker!

If you are taking ANY medication, even hay fever remedies or cough medicine take it along with you in the original packaging.  This is a normal part of railway life when working in ‘Safety Critical’ jobs and you will be randomly screened throughout your career.  All Railway companies have a ‘Drugs and Alcohol Policy‘.

There are very strict guidelines on how these samples are taken and stored (known as a ‘Chain of Custody’) to make sure the samples don’t get mixed up! The Tests are very accurate and measure illegal drugs, prescription medicines and alcohol. The company will normally get the results within 2 days.  If you test positive for illegal drugs or alcohol you won’t be employed.

However, ‘positive’ samples are kept for a period of time and you have the right to have them re-tested (at your own expense) if you believe that the ‘positive’ result is in error.

Age Limits

The minimum age for a train driver on Network Rail lines is 21; 18 on the London Underground or for employment wholly within depot confines. Remember that these are only legal minimums; the way the industry works these days means you will probably be well above these ages before you get a driving job. There is no longer an upper age limit for entry, but training drivers is expensive and TOCs will want to get value for their investment. It is unlikely that many firms will consider you much past fifty.

So the next time your heading to the airport (by underground of course) to be flown to your destination by the shiny airline pilots who deliver us safely to our holiday destinations. Please spare a thought for your Train Driver, driving 3.5 million people across the capital each day, who don’t have a fancy cap saying “to fly, to serve” on it and who know that round any corner someone who has had enough of life may be waiting to leap into the hereafter.