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The Fascinating Job of a Train Driver: Everything Under Control?

The Fascinating Job of a Train Driver: Everything Under Control?
photo: Gerry Balding / Flickr/Passing trains
18 / 12 / 2023

A train is a form of railway transport used for carrying goods, animals, and passengers. In the past, trains were drawn by horses, then dominated by steam engines, and later by diesel and electric ones. But how does a train actually run?

To answer the question of how a train is driven, it's important to understand who a train driver is and what their job entails. A driver is responsible for operating the train. They check the technical condition of the locomotive before departure, ensuring it's ready for transporting people or goods. Their role also includes controlling the prescribed speed, stopping trains, and parking railway vehicles.

Les Fisher / Flickr

Each train comprises a locomotive and carriages. Today, diesel engines with their own fuel tanks and electric locomotives powered by overhead lines are most common. In the past, steam-powered trains utilized water in a steam boiler. Each train is operated by a driver, who controls the direction of travel using a direction changer. In the cabin, there's a control controller to command the locomotive to drive, and a brake to command the train to stop.

The cabin also houses numerous controls, indicators, lights, and control panels. In diesel engines, controllers regulate the speed by controlling the amount of fuel supplied to the engine. In electric locomotives, the controller regulates the amount of electric energy supplied to the motors. To stop the train, the driver uses the brake, which operates by changing the air pressure in the brake system.

The rolling stock is connected to the engine via a thick rubber pipe. To stop or slow down the train, air is released from the brake pipe, reducing pressure and initiating the braking process. Train drivers also rely on signals located next to the track. These signals inform about the train's speed and function as semaphores, indicating with red, green, and orange lights whether the train must stop or can continue.

Each dispatcher must be identifiable by a red cap. You may encounter them during the preparation of passenger trains. Their main task is to oversee aspects of the journey that passengers don't see. The dispatcher controls switches and signals, determining the train's route and ensuring safe travel. They also give commands to adjust the switches, which are controlled by a switch operator who ensures the correct positioning of the movable parts of the switch. The driver is informed about safe driving conditions.