March 11 2022

How to start your career in rail

The rail sector is booming, so there are opportunities to join and build a good career.  We are in a period of almost-unprecedented investment in the industry. Network Rail is currently spending more than £38 billion to upgrade the rail network, and there are lots of jobs available to help deliver the work behind that investment.

This means workers have the chance to establish themselves and build a truly life-long career in the rail industry.  One of the initial requirements is that all workers need their PTS. Once you have this then the rail industry is open to you, but what is a PTS and how do you go about getting one?


PTS Explained

The full name of Personal Track Safety is better known as PTS. This is the first ‘ticket’ i.e. competence or qualification that you have to have to be considered for work near a railway. Network Rail manage most of the UK’s rail network and expect the PTS, but other asset owners like Transport for London (London Underground) also require the PTS ticket.

Getting the PTS tickets usually splits into two parts.  First is the two-day PTS course itself. The main aim is to teach you how to safely be close to the railway lines and how to carry out work near the tracks safely. Safety is essential given the potential to be near live trains. 

Following the PTS course, there is a more intensive eight-day qualification known as Track Induction. This course will teach you how to do work such as track maintenance. Once you have completed this qualification you will be able to work on the surrounding areas and the track itself. It will enable you to change rails, sleepers and generally carry out a variety of track maintenance activities.


Varied roles in rail

The PTS is really a gateway to the world of work that exists on the rail network. People can specialise in areas such as safety-critical, power and electrical works, P-Way or track works or even project and site management. The fact that so many different trades are needed to participate in work on the railways is a very positive thing as it means that if you’re looking for work then your prior skills will be useful and transferable into the industry.   


Getting sponsored

Getting the PTS ticket is the first part of the journey.  In order to ensure the safety and competence of all workers on or near the track, Network Rail also expects all workers to be ‘sponsored’ by an accredited employer or agency.

This is a positive step because it ensures that anyone working in the industry has a depth of knowledge grounding them in the work, and that they are managed by a sponsor company taking responsibility for them. That company will arrange the shifts you are needed on the roster, provide things like PPE (hi-viz clothing etc), book the induction you understand what is required on site, plus keep you up to date with any changes or briefings  

Sponsorship isn’t just a one-way process though – your sponsor will expect you to complete the work set for you, as well as carry out drug and alcohol testing before you start. They will also give you a medical, which will include testing whether your hearing and sight are up to scratch. Failing any of these tests could result in a five-year ban from rail work.

Your sponsor will take you on as Primary sponsor when you first qualify. There is a possibility to be taken on by another company as Secondary sponsor with permission from the Primary sponsor. That means you can have two companies finding you work, as long as you tell them and keep an eye on the hours you work to stay within the fatigue management rules. You should very carefully read the details when you sign the agreement with them.

Once you have achieved your PTS you will typically have to wear a blue hat for several weeks or a few months. This is a sign that you are a new worker in the industry and it allows other workers to mentor you and help with your on-boarding into the industry.


How to get started

There is a real skills shortage currently in the infrastructure sector, so there are great opportunities to get involved. This means it is the right time to get the PTS and find a sponsor.

Another option is to start an apprenticeship programme, which will include the training and structured work during the programme. Many rail contractors take apprentices, and McGinley Support Services can help with this as a recruitment company now also approved as a Flexi-Job Apprenticeship Agency.


Their Rail apprenticeship includes the training to get the PTS as part of the qualification plus extra skills to help you decide in which direction to take your rail career.

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