Train Driver Kaitaraiwa Rerewhenua

Train drivers drive passenger or freight trains to destinations. They may also shift (shunt) carriages and wagons using trains or remote controls.

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Train drivers may do some or all the following:

  • drive trains, either in cabs or with remote controls
  • keep to schedules, and stop at stations to pick up or drop off passengers
  • link and unlink carriages and wagons
  • drive a locomotive (train engine) or use remote controls to shunt (push or pull) carriages and wagons to make up new trains
  • check locomotives
  • read about maintenance work happening on the tracks they drive on, and any rule changes
  • operate points (levers that switch tracks)
  • communicate with train control, other drivers and shunters, and passengers
  • prepare documents about wagon loads
  • act promptly and comply with safety rules during emergencies or breakdowns
  • identify and fix or report faults with their equipment.

Physical Requirements

Train drivers need to have:

  • good hearing and eyesight (with or without corrective lenses)
  • accurate colour vision to correctly recognise signals and other instructions
  • good reflexes
  • excellent fitness and health, and good strength as they need to lift train parts that can weigh up to 25 kilograms.

They also need to be comfortable working in confined spaces.

Useful Experience

Useful experience for train drivers includes:

  • physical work in a setting where safety is important
  • work in a shunting yard or other train-related work
  • mechanical or engineering work.

Personal Qualities

Train drivers need to be:

  • safety-conscious
  • able to stay alert for long periods while working alone
  • punctual
  • able to think ahead and anticipate problems
  • able to stay calm under pressure and in emergencies
  • good communicators, in person and by radio.


Train drivers need to have knowledge of:

  • emergency and safety procedures and first aid
  • how to operate a locomotive (train engine) and its mechanics, including air brakes and electrics
  • rail-operating codes and signals
  • safety rules and regulations
  • the correct way to use radio equipment
  • shunting (pushing and pulling carriages and wagons using trains or remote controls).


Train drivers:

  • do shift work, including nights and public holidays
  • work in drivers' cabs, outside in railway yards, and on train tracks in all weather
  • work in confined spaces and conditions that are hazardous (because they work with large machinery), and sometimes stressful (because there is a risk of hitting cars, animals or people on the tracks)
  • travel within or between cities each day.

Subject Recommendations

No specific secondary education is required for this job but maths, English, and construction and mechanical technologies to at least NCEA Level 2 is useful. 

For Year 11 to 13 students, the Gateway programme is a good way to to gain industry experience. This programme may help you gain a job but doesn't reduce the amount of time it takes to complete your training. 

Train Drivers can earn around $23-$36 per hour.

Pay for train drivers varies depending on their experience and role. They usually do shift work and receive overtime, which increases their take-home pay.

Pay for shunters

Shunters shift (shunt) carriages and wagons using trains or remote controls.

  • Trainee shunters earn $24 an hour.
  • Trained shunters can earn up to $33 an hour.

Pay for train drivers

Train drivers drive freight or passenger trains to destinations.

  • Train drivers doing their initial classroom training earn $23 to $24 an hour.
  • Train drivers doing on-the-job training earn $35 to $36 an hour.
  • Qualified train drivers earn $38 to $40 an hour, increasing to $44 an hour for those with over 22 years' experience.
  • Team leaders can earn $48 to $50 an hour.

Sources: KiwiRail and Rail and Maritime Transport Union, 'Multi-Employer Collective Agreement – 1 July 2018-30 June 2020', 2018; and Transdev, October 2018.

Experienced train drivers may move into managerial or training roles. They may also progress to become station managers or train controllers.

Years Of Training

1 year of training usually required.

Becoming a shunter

To become a shunter, who shifts (shunts) carriages and wagons using trains or remote controls, you need to:

  • pass a basic entry test and a medical test, which includes drug testing
  • take training and induction courses run by KiwiRail.

Becoming a train driver

To become a qualified train driver you need to:

  • have a full, clean driver's licence and no criminal convictions
  • pass strict tests to show you are physically and mentally capable of being a train driver
  • pass medical, drug and alcohol tests
  • successfully complete on-the-job theory and practical training 
  • complete a New Zealand Certificate in Rail Operations (Level 4).

  • Competenz website - certificates in rail operations
Train Driver