Teenagers could soon be driving trains in and out of London under controversial new proposals

Teenagers could be allowed to drive trains under new plans unveiled by the Government (AP)
Teenagers could be allowed to drive trains under new plans unveiled by the Government (AP)

Teenagers could soon be driving trains in and out of London and other parts of Britain under controversial new proposals.

Ministers have launched a consultation on the idea despite earlier warnings that 18-year-olds “may not be emotionally or cognitively mature enough” to take on the responsibilities and tasks linked with driving trains.

Concerns were raised when the minimum age was set at 20 in 2010 about the fact that among motorists “emotional immaturity” was seen “as a potential cause for collisions”.

Announcing the consultation on lowering the age limit from 20 to 18, rail minister Huw Merriman wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “We’re asking for views on lowering the minimum age requirement to become a train driver in Great Britain from 20 to 18.

“This could open the door to thousands of new opportunities for young people in transport.”

He stressed that the train driving profession is “facing challenges”, partly due to the age profile of these rail staff.

Mr Merriman explained further: “The average train driver today is 48 years old, whilst the overall workforce is projected to shrink over the next five years, owing to existing train drivers taking retirement, or leaving the industry.

“Whilst the demographic profile of train drivers ages, the number of young people entering the industry remains relatively low, with many young people opting for alternative careers or further education.”

He added: “The reasons for this are varied, but one of the reasons identified is the minimum age requirements for entering the licenced train driving profession, which is set in law at 20 years.

“By this age, many young people will already be set on alternate careers.”

He argued that Brexit allowed the minimum age for train drivers in the UK to be changed to 18, even though such a lower age limit exists in Belgium.

The requirements to be a train driver in Britain derive from EU law and were established when the UK was an EU member.

In 2010, Directive 2007/59/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 on the certification of train drivers operating locomotives and trains on the railway system in the Community (“the 2007 Directive”) was given effect in Britain by the Train Driving Licences and Certificates Regulations 2010.

The Directive afforded some flexibility in this requirement, as member states were permitted to issue licences to persons as young as 18 years old, but such licences would only be valid in the territory of the issuing member state.

Countries could therefore set a minimum age between 18 and 20 years for their own territory.

The Rail Delivery Group’s predecessor, the Association of Train Operating Companies - which represented the views of train operators at the time - expressed concerns about the safety risks associated with younger workers when the plans to transpose the 2007 Directive were consulted upon.

The group argued that the age requirement should not be lower than 20.

This view was because of a perception that younger drivers may not be emotionally or cognitively mature enough to take on the responsibilities and tasks linked with driving trains, the Government’s new consultation document explains.

The stance that persons younger than 20 would not be suitable for train driving is based on reasoning set out in the Rail Safety and Standard’s Board’s 2016 Paper Minimum Train Driving Age, which discussed the relationship between adolescent motorists and higher road accident rates, citing emotional immaturity as a potential cause for collisions, it added.

But it stressed that over time that it had been recognised by a wide body of the rail sector that drawing a comparison between the experience of younger motorists and that of train drivers was potentially misleading, given train drivers are subject to a higher degree of regulation and monitoring and are subject to a different set of risks and controls compared to motorists.

However, lowering the age will inevitably raise questions over whether 18-year-olds have enough experience to undertake such a responsible job.

But the Government document says that since the regulations were developed and implemented, new research has been conducted indicating that the age limit for train drivers could be lowered, safely, using existing training, monitoring and testing processes.