Train operating companies and rail service providers such as Railtrack must improve their "pitiful" staff training record, the government has said.
Malcolm Wicks, the lifelong learning minister, has called for clear training and skills targets to be built into the franchises of rail industry firms.
The new Learning and Skills Council could help the industry meet the targets, he said.
In a letter to Sir Alistair Morton, chairman of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority, Mr Wicks said he was concerned that few rail employees gain nationally recognised qualifications.
In the four years to June 2000, for instance, only 24 national vocational qualifications were awarded to train drivers.
Mr Wicks told Sir Alistair: "We share a common interest in moving training and skills higher up the agenda for the rail industry. Though many in the industry are trained to high standards, pitifully few employees gain nationally recognised qualifications."
Mr Wicks proposed that a joint working group of representatives from government departments, the Rail Industry Training Council, and the LSC set training targets that the Strategic Rail Authority could take into account when assessing rail franchise bids.
- Railtrack has hired Imperial College researchers to look at track "gauge corner cracking", the suspected cause of the Hatfield rail disaster last month.