Bankers, teachers and chemists are leaving their professions to become train drivers, research has found.
Tough training has replaced apprenticeships for drivers
Flexible hours and a salary which can top £35,000 a year were among the main attractions, drivers union Aslef said.
A life in the cab traditionally drew applications only from those already working on the railway.
The on-the-job apprenticeships of the past have been replaced by tough training in simulators as well as psychological and psychometric tests.
The Aslef study follows stories of highly paid professionals ditching their careers to become plumbers and teachers.
Aslef said many new drivers were still drawn to the career by a fascination for the railways and came from existing train company staff.
But with most drivers now on a 34-hour week and "competitive" salaries, the positions also attracted people looking to maintain a work-life balance.
Maddy Corper was a research chemist for ICI but always harboured an ambition to be a train driver.
She had to pester firms for a job before being taken on by Connex.
"Some of the other drivers call us 'boil in the bag' drivers because we don't come up by the normal route," said Ms Corper, who now drives freight trains in London.
"But eventually you get accepted."
Former London Evening Standard crime reporter Patrick McGowan said he wanted to get back to the "real world, dealing with normal people" at the age of 52.
He is now earning less money but believes working for South West Trains has enabled him to have a better family life.
Among the other new drivers is former Southend United footballer Tony Hadley, who joined C2C after his career in the sport came to an end.
The new breed of drivers come to the job with a "suitcase full of qualifications", Aslef said.
"I find it fascinating that people who 10 years ago wouldn't have considered train driving are drawn to our profession," said Aslef general secretary Keith Norman.
"Train drivers used to emerge from a set pattern - they were technically rather than academically gifted men, often from 'railway families', who came to the job after working in other capacities in the industry."