Tram Driver

The Job and What's Involved

Nottingham TramTram drivers operate trams along rails providing a transport service for passengers on specific routes within a town or city. They are responsible for the safety and comfort of their passengers.

Trams do not have a steering wheel as the route is fixed, with the power coming from overhead cables that link to the tram roof by cables or rigid rods. The driver sits in the cab and drives by controlling the tram's speed and motion with a lever called the traction brake controller (TBC). Drivers are responsible for operating the tram within speed limits, usually 30mph on public highways, but up to 70mph in some areas where trams operate away from other traffic. They must also obey signals, such as stop, wait and go. In built-up areas, these are often combined with the traffic signals for other motor vehicles.

Tram drivers also:

  • Check the tram, working from a safety checklist, to make sure it is in good working order.
  • Stop at tram stops to pick up and set down passengers, checking that they are safe before opening or shutting the doors.
  • Keep to the timetable, arriving at each stop on schedule.
  • Keep in touch with the tram operations control room by radio.
  • If needed, make passenger announcements at every stop through a dashboard microphone.
  • Where a tram is fitted with CCTV for security purposes, observe what is happening both inside and outside the tram.
  • Deal with emergencies, such as obstructions on the track, breakdowns and accidents.

In some tram fleets, drivers can also be responsible for taking fares or checking passes as passengers board the tram.

Currently there are seven tram systems that require drivers. These are based in major towns and cities around the UK: Blackpool, Croydon, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Tyne and Wear, and the West Midlands.

Most modern trams are single deckers. Some are articulated (divided into carriages, with a flexible bend in the middle) and some are coupled in a similar way to trains, with carriages linked up to each other. Blackpool is slightly different, in that it operates vintage trams and uses both single and double-decker trams.

Most companies operate their tram services every day of the week, including public holidays. They usually run for about 18 hours a day, from 6am until midnight, meaning that shift work is necessary.

A tram driver sits in the cab for the duration of the working day. Blackpool trams do not usually have driver cab seats, so the driver stands. Some cabs have heating and air conditioning.

Drivers may have to wear a uniform provided by their company and may also be required to wear high-visibility clothing when they are in and around the tram depot.

Trainee tram drivers may start on around £14,500 a year. Overtime and shift work may increase wages. Some companies offer free or concessionary travel.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Around 1,400 people currently work in the tram or light rail industry in the UK. Two of the larger bus operating companies, Stagecoach and National Express, are among the largest operators in the industry.

In some companies, staff are initially recruited as conductors or as passenger services staff, and apply for driver positions after they have gained experience. In other companies, the role of on-tram passenger support and driver are combined.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements to become a tram driver, although most employers expect applicants to have GCSE passes, usually at grades A*-C, in English and maths.

Applicants must have held a full UK car driving licence for at least a year and be at least 18 years old (for some companies this is 21). Some companies insist on two years' driving experience.

Most companies require successful applicants to pass a medical examination and to undergo checks for alcohol and drugs use.

Jobs may be advertised in the local press, in Jobcentre Plus offices and on the websites of tram companies.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most companies have their own training programmes for entrants. Training combines theory (studied in a classroom environment) and practical driving. Depending on the company, entrants train from six to 12 weeks.

The topics covered can include:

  • Route knowledge and signalling.
  • Customer service.
  • Safety awareness.
  • Procedures.
  • Cash security.
  • Understanding tram technology, power supply and the operation of track-side equipment.

A number of operators currently offer their tram drivers the opportunity to work towards industry-recognised qualifications.

These include:

- EDI Level 2 Certificate in road passenger transport
- EDI NVQ Level 2 in road passenger transport operations
- EDI NVQ Level 3 in road passenger transport operations

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Tram drivers need:

  • An awareness of safety and security.
  • Quick reactions, as trams have longer stopping distances than cars.
  • Strong observation skills.
  • Good concentration and the ability to remain alert over long periods.
  • Good health and normal eyesight.
  • To be clear and confident communicators.
  • Good customer service skills.
  • Assertiveness for coping with difficult or rowdy passengers.
  • To be able to remain calm under pressure.
  • To be punctual and able to keep to timetables.

Your Long Term Prospects

An experienced driver could progress to become a duty manager, services controller or trainer. There may also be opportunities abroad, especially in areas where trams are more established. In some cities, eg Helsinki and Amsterdam, trams are the main system of public transport.

Some tram drivers take additional training and gain a PCV licence to become bus or coach drivers. Others may become train drivers.

Get Further Information

Confederation of Passenger Transport UK,
Drury House, 34-43 Russell Street,
London WC2B 5HA
Tel: 020 7240 3131

Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA),
c/o 8 Berwick Place, Welwyn Garden City,
Hertfordshire AL7 4TU
Tel: 01179 517785

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