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Medical Standards & Age Limits...

As with the psychometric tests, the sixth part of your torment, the medical examinations, are not carried out by the Train Operators themselves but at independent Occupational Health Centres such as those run by BUPA. The minimum standards themselves are laid down by Railway Safety & Standards, although in theory there is nothing to prevent TOCs imposing more stringent standards providing the minima are met. Some information on medical standards will be found in the
following document:

Recommendations for Train Movement – Staff Suitability and Fitness Requirements – (3451).

If this document gets moved so that the above link will not work click here and search for the document you want using the number given in brackets above.

General requirements are:

  • Although height limits are not laid down in Railway Group Standards some TOCs will impose their own limits. Ideally, your height should be between 5′ 2″ and 6′ 4″ – so that you fit the cab control desks.
  • You must be generally fit (in the sense of healthy rather than athletic – this isn’t the Royal Marines) and not grossly overweight. Body Mass Index (click here to calculate yours) should not normally exceed 33, however, the doctor may exercise discretion where there is no medical abnormality and mobility is not impaired. BMI should ideally not exceed 28 on entry.
  • You must have normal hearing in both ears with no more than 30dB hearing loss averaged over frequencies 0.5, 1 and 2kHz. This is tested by playing various sound frequencies into headphones in a sound-proof booth. Provided this minimum is met without a hearing aid, a hearing aid may be used to improve hearing further.
  • You must have no history of blackouts, epilepsy (since the age of five), sudden loss of balance, co-ordination or any significant limitation of mobility etc.
  • You will be subject to diabetes (urine), Electroencardiogram (heart) and blood pressure tests. Insulin dependent diabetics will not be considered. Possibly T2 diabetics on things like Metformin will be ok.
  • Be in no doubt that you WILL be screened for evidence of illegal drug use, including cannabis (and it would be a good idea to stay off alcohol the night before, just to be on the safe side).

The Railway Group Standard eyesight requirements are:

Train driving is not permitted by persons who have lost the sight of an eye or have defective colour vision. Colour vision must be assessed ‘normal’ as defined by the requirements of the Ishihara Plates test – right. (You will have to ask your optician what ‘normal’ means in this context as this is outside my competence).Visual Acuity Requirements are:

Distance vision shall be at least 6/9 in the better eye and 6/12 in the other eye with spectacle OR contact lenses if worn. Uncorrected visual acuity


shall be at least 3/60 in each eye (This means that there is a limit as to how bad your eyesight can be even with glasses). Near vision shall be at least N8, with spectacles or contact lenses if worn. No pathological condition of the eyes likely to cause visual impairment shall be present. Bi-focal spectacles are permitted but photo-chromatic and vari-focal lenses are prohibited. Your optician should be able to advise you as to whether you meet these standards. You must not have had laser surgery to correct vision* (see below).


Contact lenses are permitted provided that the wearer has demonstrated that the lenses can be tolerated in place for the duration of the complete turn of duty of the maximum rostered length and that the nature of the work and the working environment is suitable for the wearing of contact lenses. Also a pair of spectacles correcting visual acuity to 6/9, 6/12 must be carried while at work. If contact lenses are worn, assessments of visual acuity shall be made without lenses in place, with them in place and with spectacles of equivalent prescription. It should be noted that some individual TOCs do not allow contact lenses – as I said above, they can impose more stringent criteria than the RGS-specified minimum. I suspect that this is because TOCs have an obligation to check that eyesight correction is being worn periodically and it is hard to check just by looking that contact lenses are being worn.

The foregoing notwithstanding, there is anecdotal evidence that some TOCs will NOT accept you into the driving grade if you wear glasses – though you won’t lose you job if you need them in later years.

Any glasses you are prescribed must be worn on duty and you must carry a spare pair with you at all times. Sunglasses must meet BS EN 1836, shade 2.5 or better. The use of sunglasses other than those provided by your employer may prohibited by your TOC and you will need to enquire.

Please note that medical standards applying on Heritage Railways may be different to the above. As a matter of interest, driving steam locomotives while wearing glasses is now permitted, but goggles must be worn over them.

* In response to a number of e-mails I have received concerning this matter I have made my own enquiries (in mid-2004) about the reasons for this requirement, particularly because some people are of that the opinion that they may be being subject to unjustified discrimination in this matter. I am given to understand that “This kind of surgery may be associated with late complications and deterioration of vision that develop within the intervals set for driver periodic medical examinations. The situation is currently under review in the light of recent advances of surgical technique, as well as new information about the incidence of complications.” I am told that “It is likely that new procedures and control measures will be introduced to permit individuals to satisfy the vision standard for train drivers following certain surgical procedures.”The RSSB issued a document in 2005 (RS/503 – although the document is now defunct) which ‘Gives guidance to help train operators make decisions when applicants for employment, or existing staff, report that they have undergone laser eye surgery’. It also ‘outlines the principle treatment methods currently available and the possible short- and long-term implications of laser surgery’. The document was issued because the draft EU Conventional Rail Technical Standards for Interoperability (TSI) Traffic Operations & Management document will permit laser eye surgery for train drivers, subject to an annual examination or to a periodicity defined by the occupational doctor. It sounds as though the change will mainly be of benefit to new entrants who have already successfully had the surgery.

Since then the RGS document mentioned at the start of this section now gives some guidance on dealing with people with laser eye surgery. I do not know how TOCs are implementing this.

Age Limits…

The minimum age for a train driver on Network Rail lines is 21; 18 on the London Underground or for employment wholly within depot confines. Remember that these are only legal minimums; the way the industry works these days means you will probably be well above these ages before you get a driving job. There is no longer an upper age limit for entry, but training drivers is expensive and TOCs will want to get value for their investment. It is unlikely that many firms will consider you much past fifty, although I have heard of people being accepted as late as fifty-five.

Technically, there is no maximum age for driving provided you continue to pass the medicals. If you are starting as a Conductor the minimum age on entry is 18 because it is a safety critical job and you will be handling cash. Even if your first job on the trains is on the refreshment trolley the minimum age is still 18 because you will be handling cash and selling alcohol!


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