Profile of an occupation – railway worker specialising in operational train driving and transport

Train drivers steer trains and transport freight or passengers locally or across long distances. They have a major part to play in the implementation of a climate-friendly transport policy. As a consequence, the need for qualified skilled workers is high. This occupational description provides information on the new training regulations, presents figures relating to the proportion of women in the job and states digitalisation trends.

Profile of an occupation – railway worker specialising in operational train driving and transport
A train driver in the cab of an ICE

“DNA” of the railway

7,000 horsepower, 1,500 tonnes, 740 metres ‒ the general profile of a typical freight train operated by engine drivers. Those driving an ICE will have as much as 10,000 horsepower to contend with. There are various reasons why young people opt for this occupation. These include a strong interest in railway technology, the enjoyment of being alone in a cab as varied landscapes pass by, and a particular sense of collegial cohesion. However, not everything is attractive at first glance. Shift work, for example, does not suit everyone, although it allows free days to be taken during the week.

The technical know-how of train drivers extends beyond the mere operation of locomotives. Trainees learn how to check vehicles and also become familiar with the basic principles of transport, human resources and train scheduling. They must also gain an overall understanding of the railway system. In order to do so, they will require specialist knowledge of vehicles and of the infrastructure. The very highest levels of concentration and technical coordination skills are needed when malfunctions occur. Training places are offered by the national rail network Deutsche Bahn, the largest training provider, and by non-state owned companies. Regardless of the choice they make in this respect, trainees also have to decide at the outset whether their future lies in freight or passenger transport.

Reforms from August 2022

There was previously one training programme consisting of two specialisms – “operational train driving and transport” and “railway technology” (the latter being aimed at dispatchers who work in signal boxes to ensure that trains travel safely and punctually). Two individual occupations have been in force since 1 August 2022. These are:

  • “railway worker specialising in operational train driving and transport”, which covers the field of deployment of freight and passenger transport, and
  • “railway worker specialising in train traffic control”.

The similarities between the two occupational profiles are reinforced via cross-cutting learning contents, which are imparted during the first year of training in particular (cf. Figure).

Source: BIBB “Trainee Data System”, survey as of 31 December each year. Status 2022 * Predecessor occupation, since 01/08/2022“Railway worker specialising in operational train driving and transport”

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Digitalisation is already changing and facilitating the work of train drivers and will continue to do so in future via means such as the following.

  • Digital document management – DMS (e.g. carriage lists, brake dockets and timetable announcements transmitted to the control centre) 
  • Driver assistance systems (e.g. recommendations for a way of driving which will deliver the greatest possible energy savings and information on speed restrictions)
  • Sensor technology (e.g. automated route status updates using digital sensors)
  • Language assistants (e.g. in digital communications with the control centre)
  • Virtual training (e.g. on the operation of new train systems) 

Despite these developments, this is an occupation in which physical exertion is occasionally still necessary. For instance, coupling hooks weighing around 20 kilos each need to be inserted or removed when trains are connected up.

Special term – brake docket

The brake docket provides information on the number of axles, weight and braking percentages of a train. Such data is used to calculate the train’s overall braking capacity. This is essential in order to ensure that the train can be brought to a safe halt in line with the topography of the route, even on the very steepest inclines. The brake docket also gives additional information on other matters such as type of brakes and whether the train has any carriages with hazardous goods.

Large demand – very few women

The rail sector is continually growing. According to a study conducted by the German Centre for Rail Traffic Research (DZSF) in 2021, it encompasses 550,000 FTEs. This is a figure which is set to rise further. Train drivers in particular are desperately being sought. In 2019, there was only an average of 25 registered unemployed train drivers for every 100 vacancies.

In 2021, there were 36,230 train drivers in employment and subject to mandatory social insurance contributions. The proportion of women was 5.1 percent at this point, although this figure has been rising on an ongoing basis (2013: 3.3%). It remains the case that few women opt to embark upon training as a train driver. Nevertheless, the proportion of women amongst training entrants is also slowly increasing (from 4.6% of newly concluded contracts in 2015 to 6.9% in 2020, cf. Figure).

Advanced and continuing training

Numerous advanced and continuing training opportunities are open to those who do not wish to remain a driver permanently. The most important advanced training programmes governed by standardised national regulations are Bachelor Professional in Railway Operations, Bachelor Professional in Freight Transport and Logistics, Bachelor Professional in Rail transport and State-certified technician in transport engineering.

At a glance

  • Last updated: 2022
  • Duration of training: 3 years
  • Responsibility: Trade and industry
  • Training structure: Mono-occupation with areas of deployment
  • DQR reference level: 4


Further links


All links: status 20/07/2022

(Compiled by Arne Schambeck)
Sources: FIS Mobilität und Verkehr [Research Information System for Mobility and Transport]; Federal Employment Agency (statistics, berufenet); German Railway Industry Association; Verband Allianz pro Schiene [Pro-Rail Alliance]

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 3/2022): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin