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How to become a UK railway signaller

Updated on February 13, 2013

How to become part of the Network Rail signalling team

Are you interested in trains, railways or railway history? Do you have an eye for detail or an ability to maintain concentration for long periods of time? Then railway signalling could be the job for you. I will show you how to look for signalling jobs and give you an insight into how to become a railway signaller. As a signaller myself I can testify that it is a very rewarding job. Sometimes it's fast paced and exciting, whereas other times it can be boring and monotonous. No two shifts are quite the same.

Finding Signalling jobs

Railway signalling is a very competitive section of the railway industry with approximately 900 new signallers being recruited and trained every year. You will be responsible for ensuring all trains have a safe path to travel and will be in charge of operating signals and setting routes for trains. The selection process for new signallers and the 13 week training course often puts any would be signallers off. it can be an easy job at times, but it is not a job for the faint hearted. As a signaller you will often be required to deal with emergency situations such as fatalities/suicides in order to get the rail network moving smoothly again with very little delays. Due to the fact you might be dealing with such situations, the selection process can be a bit of an ordeal. From my own personal experience though i can guarantee it is well worth it. There are a number of ways in which to find signalling jobs. Sometimes jobs get advertised in local newspapers or recruitment websites. Maybe you know someone who already works on the railway who can lend a helping hand? The next place to look is on the careers section of the network rail website. If you're not already familiar with the railway then it might be best to apply for a track workers job first. That way you can gain some vital experience before taking the plunge to becoming a signaller. Another recommendation would be to apply for a lower graded signallers job ie Grade 2 or 3 and work your way up through the ranks. There are other rail related magazines such as Railnews which often advertise such jobs.

Lever frame signal box

Application, Interview and Selection day

Once you've finally found a signalling job worth applying for and requested an application form, you're ready to start selling yourself as a trustworthy responsible person. When filling out your application form you'll be required to give details of times when you coped well under pressure and had to respond to unforeseen circumstances which could have turned nasty. You will also have to describe times when you have maintained high levels of concentration whilst not much was happening. You will also have to list previous employment, education and experience. In addition you will need to provide two character references.

If you make it through to the interview stage you will have to make sure you are properly prepared. Interviews can be daunting and if you're unprepared you will stumble at this hurdle. Make sure you have a smart suit/dress and are well groomed for the interview. If you've not already sent a copy of your CV with your application form then now would be a good time to print one off. It is also good practice to have a couple of questions ready for after your interview just to show you really are keen. Be polite, confident and respectful and you won't go wrong. Often when we get nervous we tend to speak more quickly. Try to speak a little slower if you feel your speech speeding up.

If you are successful at the interview stage you will be asked to attend a medical to assess whether you are healthy or not. Blood pressure, eyesight and hearing will be checked. Any illnesses or medication will be investigated here. Most railway medicals are held at approved BUPA clinics around the UK.

Provided you have passed your medical you will the be asked to attend an assessment day. The purpose of this day is to determine whether you have the aptitude for railway signalling. During the course of the day you will be assessed on your maths and English ability. You will also be tested on memory retention, distractibility and concentration. This is quite a tough day but believe me, if you don't pass this part of the process then you won't be able to pass signalling school anyway as signalling school requires a substantial amount of effort.

If you manage to get through all that then Congratulations! However you're just about to start the most difficult part of becoming a signaller.

Signalling School

Signalling school is where you will get into the nitty gritty of railway operations. During the 13 week training process you will spend 9 weeks away from home and 4 weeks in your chosen signal box/signalling centre. For me this was quite tough, leaving my wife and newly born son to do this course was a bit unpleasant. Although I did manage to skip out on quite a few night feeds. During the course you will learn all the rules and regulations which govern railway signalling as well as get hands on experience of running a signal box. State of the art signalling simulators are used to teach you exactly what to do in every signalling situations. The course is both fun and demanding concluding in 5 written exams and various practical assessments. On completion of the course you then have to pass a further passing out assessment in your signal box in order to be a fully qualified signaller.

Life as a newly qualified signaller

So that's it. You've passed all your exams and you're now a fully qualified signaller. The signalling inspector has driven off in his van and you're on your own in your new signal box. This can be quite a scary feeling. Knowing that you're in charge of the trains and making sure everything in your section runs smoothly and safely. No one to help you if you get stuck or forget what to do. Within a few days this fear turns into satisfaction. Satisfaction that you are carrying out an extremely responsible job and that you are managing to keep the railway running smoothly.

So good luck for the future!


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    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image

      Kimberly Vaughn 5 years ago from Midwest

      Welcome to HubPages Edward! This is a great hub! I have never heard of a Railway Signaller job before. I would love to read more specifics about your day to day responsibilities and pictures on the job.