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Rail Infrastructure Engineering

The rail industry is a vital part of the countries transport infrastructure, its continued wellbeing and expansion is vital to ensure the economy can continue to operate and grow. The UK rail industry is currently benefitting from an ambitious programme of infrastructure investment with exciting plans and projects reaching well into the next decade. It is vital therefore that the industry gains an understanding of the volume and types of skills that will be required to deliver this level of expansion in a safe and efficient manner.

The National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering (NSARE) was commissioned by the Office of Rail Regulation to produce a long term skills forecast by first establishing the size and employment demographics of the current workforce and then collecting data on all current and proposed future engineering projects involving infrastructure renewals and rolling stock procurements.

A comprehensive skills forecasting model has been developed which uses this data to predict the skills requirements for future projects involving new infrastructure, renewals, and maintenance and predicts the number of additional people needed to both meet and anticipate this growth given the age profile and subsequent industry leavers and retirements.

The objective was to obtain information from major organisations, Network Rail, TfL, Crossrail, HS2 and the light rail companies on planned infrastructure investment from 2013 to 2028. The skills forecasting model analyses workforce requirements based on four essential activities and four skills level requirements within these.


  • Track
  • Signalling and Telecommunications (S&T)
  • Electrification and Plant (E&P)
  • Traction and Rolling Stock (T&RS)

Skills Levels

  • Professional engineer (NQF Levels 6-8)
  • Technical / manager (NQF Levels 4-5)
  • Skilled (NQF Level 3)


Women make up 4.4% of the railway engineering workforce. However there is a wide disparity between the low percentages of women undertaking apprenticeships (3.3%) compared to those joining the industry as graduates (14%). According to the IET’s Engineering and Technology Skills and Demand in Industry 2012 report, some 4% of technicians and 6% of professional engineers nationally are female indicating that while overall numbers in railway engineering are not significantly different to the National Average, the graduate percentage is encouraging and should be commended. The female workforce is not evenly distributed across the four activities with women relatively well represented in S&T and E&P compared to Track and T&RS.

Future Workforce Requirements – to 2019

The NSARE skills forecasting model looks at the number of people needed each year for projects / renewals and maintenance, compares it to previous years requirements and then estimates the ‘gap’ or ‘surplus’. For year 1 the required workforce is compared to the current workforce. The model then adds the additional people required to fill the gaps left by retirees and other leavers to give an overall resource ‘gap’ or ‘surplus’ by skill level and by activity type.


Based on the existing workforce numbers and the forecast requirements there is no gap in the overall numbers in the Track workforce. This is, at least in part, due to the large volume of flexible, part time individuals available at the semi-skilled level. This picture masks an important issue however - the need to replace a number of higher qualified and experienced people that will retire over the coming years.

Signalling and Telecommunications

The modelling indicates a need for 1,600 to 2,000 new people in the next five years with 30% of these being at technician level or above.

Electrification and Plant

The significant increase in E&P activity anticipated in the next few years will underpin the need for around 1,000 new people which is equivalent of almost 30% of the existing workforce. Of these, some 750 will be required as a direct result of major electrification programmes. A number of actions are already in hand by the industry to address this need. It will be important to ensure that:

  • Effort is focussed in the right skills areas
  • Sufficient emphasis is given to ensuring the capacity and capability of training providers and trainers to deliver the required skills
  • There is co-ordination across the supply chain

Traction and Rolling Stock

The absolute gap in terms of numbers is largest in T&RS. This is driven by three key issues:

  • The age profile of this part of the workforce with significant numbers of people over 55yrs
  • The commencement of several rolling stock orders i.e. IEP, Thames link, Cross Rail and TfL
  • The start of the retrofit of European Train Control Systems in line with the introduction of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS)

Critical to meeting the predicted skills requirements for an expanded workforce over the next five years is the availability of suitable apprenticeship frameworks that will address the skills requirements within the track; signals; telecoms; electrification, and plant skill areas.

Apprenticeships in Rail Infrastructure will meet the ongoing skills needs of apprentices who will form the backbone of the new entrants required at Level 2 and Level 3 within the track; signals; telecoms; electrification & plant sub-sectors.


Levy Calculator

Total Payroll (£):

0.5% levy charge: 75000

Less £15,000 allowance: 60000

10% top up to your Levy charge: 6000

If each apprentice costs £15,000 over 3 years (on average), this equals £5,000 per apprentice per year. With the allowance and top up value of £66,000 you would get value for money by hiring 12 apprentices.