Become a Tube Driver

Driving a train car for the underground transit system of Transport for London (TfL) sounds like a dream job for many. Not only do the salaries for train operators start at around £50,000, but if you were to get this position, you'd also get to look forward to 43 days of vacation every year and a shorter than average work week.[1] However, those who are seriously interested should prepare for an uphill battle. Becoming a train operator is no easy task.


Joining TfL

  1. Recognize the forces working against you. You'll need to overcome a few factors on your way to becoming a train operator, but the biggest obstacle in your path is a union agreement made in 2008.[2] According to this agreement, the TfL is not allowed to advertise externally and, instead, hires mostly from within the organization.[3]
    • Other positions with the TfL, like Customer Service Assistant, are open to the general public. The application process varies according to position, so you should research your options on the TfL website.
    • Apprenticed youth (ages 16 - 18) may also be accepted into training as a train operator for the TfL.[4] More information can be found in the "Getting an Apprenticeship" portion of this article.
  2. Find a job with the TfL. This might require some research on your part, as not all jobs with the TfL may be suitable for you and your goals. Once you gain a job with the TfL, you will be able to apply as a train operator.
    • Some researchers have found that it is an effective strategy to first get a job with the TfL as a Customer Service Assistant and then apply for train operator when the position becomes available.[5]
  3. Pursue the job tenaciously. Due to the cyclic nature of the hiring process, you may have to wait some time before the TfL begins hiring for the position you desire. If you apply for your position and are not contacted to continue the hiring process, don't give up hope! You should:
    • Research desired traits of the position you apply for.
    • Take related certification and safety courses.
    • Volunteer in positions similar to the one you are pursuing to show your competence.
  4. Apply as a train operator when the position becomes available. The approximate number of new train operators, per year, is about 150.[6] This means there will likely be considerable competition for the position. For you to stand the best chance possible, you'll need to take the application process seriously.

Applying for Train Operator of the LU

  1. Prepare your patience. This is a trait that is especially important while applying to be a train operator. After the application process, which can take a considerable time itself, training to be a train operator can take up to six months before you are ready to do the job on your own.[7]
  2. Contemplate working conditions honestly. The temptation of a great salary, higher than average vacation days, privacy, and a shorter than average work week can make it easy to gloss over the difficult points of this position. As a train operator, you'll need to be able to bear:
    • Long stretches of time on your own.
    • Extreme hot and cold conditions.
    • Small, dark spaces.
    • Repetitive, accuracy dependent work.[8]
  3. Send in your application.[9] Ask your superior for an application form for the position of underground train operator and fill it out as directed. Once it is finished, you can send it to the address listed on the form or, if directed by your superior to do so, return the form to him or the colleague he indicates.
    • The length of time it takes for the TfL to process the initial application response can be quite long.
  4. Take any online assessments.[10] Now that your application has been received and processed, an online multiple choice aptitude test should have been made available to you. This test is timed for 30 minutes and is intended to evaluate your potential ability as a train operator.
    • Prior to your test, you should look over any provided materials. The TfL gives sample questions for the purpose of preparing for this test.
    • As the TfL is constantly improving its training procedures, there may be additional assessments required of you at the time of your test.

Passing Candidate Assessments

  1. Receive further testing at an assessment centre.[11] If your multiple choice test and application are sufficient, you will receive a notification asking you to attend an assessment center for more comprehensive testing.[12] The test generally takes between three and a half to four hours and is broken in to several sections. These sections serve to measure:
    • Psychological stability
    • On-the-job aptitude
    • Personality evaluation
  2. Tighten up your spelling and grammar. The English portion of the assessment centre test is aimed at determining how skillfully receive and express information in written word. Spelling, clarity, and accuracy should be made a priority during this portion of the test.[13]
  3. Practice your enunciation. As an operator of a train in the London underground, you'll have to use the Public Address (PA) system on your train to communicate with its passengers. Due to the fact that many PA systems are less than adequate, clear speaking is particularly important. You will be tested on your PA skills by:
    • Receiving practice information to relay to passengers.
    • Writing out your announcement as you intend on making it.
    • Recording it into an audio tape.[14]
  4. Reacquaint yourself with simple machines and mechanics. Levers, pulleys, and ramps might not seem like something you need to review, but the assessment centre test will also evaluate your mechanical comprehension. This will involve you looking at mechanical diagrams and then predicting the result of the mechanism in question. [15]
    • The second part of the mechanical portion of the test will require you to evaluate systems that affect each other.[16] You will have to find all errors in these that might cause the system to breakdown.
  5. Pass any remaining assessments. The final leg of your assessment centre testing will likely involve two computer tests intended to gauge your abilities of concentration and reflex. The concentration activity involves picking out specified groupings of dots within a time limit, and the reflex test utilizes external prompts, like lights and sounds, which you will respond to with a special keyboard.[17] To improve these two areas, you may want to:
    • Run through woodlands
    • Play dodgeball
    • Play reaction based video games
    • Play puzzle/response based games[18]
  6. Beat the interview. This is the final step assessing your competence as a potential train operator for the London underground. During this test, TfL staff will ask you questions pertaining to the job and you will be expected to answer to the best of your ability. These questions may also include inquiry about:
    • Why you want to be a train operator.
    • How you would respond in a certain situation.
    • Line/depot suitability.[19]
  7. Complete your training. The training process for becoming a train operator for the tube can take anywhere from 6 - 12 months depending on individual factors. Once your training is complete, you will begin working on your own as a train operator. Generally, over the course of your training, you will:
    • Receive an introduction to general information about the London underground.
    • Familiarize yourself with Operational Procedures Training.
    • Tour the depot and examine roster/duty sheet information.
    • Learn about basic train knowledge.[20]

Getting an Apprenticeship

  1. Investigate apprenticeship requirements. Though union agreements make it all but impossible for a non-union member to get a job as a train operator for the tube, a loophole in the agreements does allow for apprenticeships.[21] The general requirements to become an apprentice include:
    • Being between 16 and 18 years of age.
    • Having no less than four GCSEs
    • Physical ability
  2. Evaluate your desire to apprentice honestly. Though well salaried and seemingly straightforward, the job of a train operator has many difficult points as well. If you are uncomfortable in confined spaces for long periods of time, dislike the dark or early/late shifts, are sensitive to extreme weather conditions, or find concentrating on repetitive tasks difficult, a job as a train operator for the tube might not be for you.[22]
  3. Be persistent. The hiring process usually follows a predictable pattern, which enables organizations like TfL to schedule application submissions. The next open enrollment for apprenticeships begins January 7, 2016.[23] For more information or to read the 2016 apprenticeship brochure, visit:
  4. Complete the application process. Once you have been accepted into the apprenticeship program, you'll be allowed to continue in the evaluation portion of the assessment process.[24] This may be similar to the assessments given to regular workers of TfL who are applying to become a train operator, and may include:
    • Multiple choice tests
    • English testing
    • Enunciation testing
    • Mechanical knowledge testing
    • Concentration tests
    • Reflex response tests[25]


  • Patience and persistence are key if being a train operator for the London underground is your dream job. The pool of candidates is typically very large and the number of accepted applications, comparable, is quite small.[26]

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