A day in the life of a signaller

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1 A day in the life of a signaller

2 An introduction to Network Rail Network Rail is the custodian of the national rail infrastructure everything the trains travel on, over, through, across, to and from. We own and run thousands of miles of track, numerous level crossings, tunnels, stations, viaducts and bridges and all associated signalling equipment. In a nutshell we are the heart of the railway. We provide access to our tracks, stations, manage timetables and operate signalling and have the responsibility for managing safety on the network and maintaining, renewing and upgrading the rail infrastructure. We are a very large organisation and are investing in major schemes that will deliver a railway that meets the growing needs of our customers. At the operational day-to-day level, multiple signal boxes and control centres handle access to our tracks across the country. They range from manual lever frame boxes, some of which were built between 80 and 100 years ago; panel boxes, built until the late 1980s and our most advanced signalling centres these are Visual Display Unit (VDU) computer based workstations using the most modern technology with built in supporting systems. Career opportunities Safety and performance are critical to our success. Signallers play a large part in achieving this success. Due to this, all signallers share a common programme of continuous training, assessment and development to provide opportunity for promotion and meet developmental needs. The programme allows you to take control of your career and work towards your career goals. Signal boxes are graded at different levels based on their complexity and the number of trains per hour signalled through the area. Most signallers start in a lower graded signal box, once experience is gained you can apply for promotion to other signalling locations. Many signallers go on to supervisory and management posts. Network Rail has an internal vacancy system that all employees can access. This gives the opportunity to apply for signalling and non-signalling jobs all over the country. Equal opportunities policy We are committed to offering our employees a fulfilling and challenging career in which we share equal opportunities in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, victimisation and bullying. We aim to ensure that all our employees are valued as individuals and treated fairly and with respect, regardless of age, disability, employment status, gender, health, marital status, membership or nonmembership of a trade union, nationality, race, religion, sexual preference or social class. About the booklet This booklet gives an insight into the work of a signaller and a realistic picture of the job.

3 A realistic picture of the job A realistic picture of the job I ve worked as a signaller for about eight years now and I have always enjoyed the work I do. We are very focussed on safety and delivering a train service that Britain can be proud of. So we have had to become a lot more business-orientated too, in order to reduce as far as possible the impact of poor train performance on the train operators and the travelling public. I signed on at 6am at Liverpool Street station today. It s an IECC (Integrated Electronic Control Centre) signal box, which means that it has all the latest technology in place to control signals. I ve been working here a couple of months so I know most of the people I m working with. It took a bit of getting used to because the boxes I ve worked in before have been much smaller with less advanced technology and with fewer people in them. Still, the main purpose of the signaller is to regulate the movement of trains on the railway and provide safe arrangements when access is required for staff to work on the infrastructure. Getting started I first saw an advert for a signaller in my local newspaper eight years ago when I was working as a fitter in a car factory. I phoned for an application form and was directed to apply online. A few weeks later I was selected for an assessment centre, I was required to complete a pre-learning exercise in preparation for assessment. With the pre-learning came a practice booklet to help me gain a better understanding of what the assessment centre was all about and the tests I would be doing. I went through the example questions and asked friends and family for help about anything I did not understand. I went to the assessment centre and passed the tests at the required level. The tests are designed to make sure applicants have the right non-technical skills and behaviours to be a signaller. The role of the signaller can be quite diverse due to the different types of locations. Anyone looking to be a signaller needs to be able to demonstrate that they can work alone yet also, when required, work as part of a team. Assessments and training Network Rail has defined a set of core nontechnical skills for the signallers role. These include being conscientious, the ability to work diligently with a positive attitude and be willing to take responsibility for your own actions. This is important as a lot of what a signaller does carries with it safety responsibilities and the need to follow safety rules and procedures. Another key nontechnical skill is multi tasking, which is the ability to carry out more than one task at a time. For example, there are occasions when you are required to be talking to a driver on the telephone whilst at the same time continuing to signal trains in your area. The full list of behaviours and non-technical skills associated with a signallers role are described in the practice booklet you receive when you are selected for assessment. After passing the selection assessment, I was sent for a medical assessment. This included a drugs and alcohol screening as the railway has a very stringent drugs and alcohol policy and random screening on the job to make sure that railway staff are not under the influence when on duty. This is fully explained to everyone. Having passed this I was then sent on an initial signaller training course for 11 weeks. The training was very intense as you have to spend most of it in a classroom learning all about the rules and regulations on the railway, with a couple of weeks in a signal box on and off. This can seem like a long time when all you want to do is to get into a signal box and start working, but you d be surprised at how much you have to know. I had to pass the exams at signalling school before I was allowed into a signalling box. It was hard work and you have to spend a lot of time going over what you have learnt in class and in your own time at the end of each day. As well as teaching you and testing your knowledge of the technical parts of the job you are continually monitored during your training to make sure that you are demonstrating the associated non-technical skills and behaviours and that you will actually be able to do the job when you get into the signal box.

4 My role as a signaller My first job as a signaller was in a manual box at a station. The signals were controlled by big old fashioned levers that needed a bit of strength to push and pull them one aspect of the job I hadn t expected. On top of the classroom based training we also have an on the job training period in the box before we can work as signallers. I had to spend several weeks with another signaller to get an understanding of the box and the rules of the route. Looking back, it was very different to Liverpool Street. It was at a small station and I could see the trains from the window, which was good because I could see what was happening on my piece of track. Although I was alone in the box, I had to work as part of a team with a larger box on one side and a level crossing on the other. The level crossing was controlled by a crossing keeper who, under my instruction, was responsible for closing the barriers to stop cars crossing the road when a train is approaching. Network Rail has lots of different types of level crossings sometimes the barriers are controlled in the signal box or a crossing can work automatically operated by the passage of trains. As well as having the crossing operated by the crossing keeper, I also controlled the crossing a couple of miles down the track. This crossing didn t have anyone manning it, so I had complete responsibility for watching the crossing and controlling the barrier using a CCTV screen. This showed the crossing equipment and the traffic, so that I could make sure that the crossing operated correctly and that members of the public could use the crossing safely. I remember when I first started working at the manual box I was surprised at some other parts of my job apart from the physical effort needed. Getting used to the shift pattern of early, late, and night shifts, including some weekends, took a little time but I soon began to appreciate the extra free time this gave me. Finishing work at two in the afternoon when I was on an early shift gave me plenty of time to spend in the garden. There were a few of us based at that signal box but only one of us worked in the box during a shift, although there would be people coming in and out at various points throughout the day, like engineers and the manager. Most of the time though you certainly had to enjoy your own company if you worked there, particularly at 3am in the morning when only two trains an hour came through the station. Most of us enjoyed the responsibility that came with working on our own, and it is particularly satisfying when you deal with a problem effectively. It s a job that wouldn t suit somebody who doesn t enjoy his or her own company. Career progression After the manual box I applied for promotion through the internal vacancy list. As well as passing the assessment tests at the required level for higher grade duties, I had also, through the continuous competency process, demonstrated that I had the technical knowledge and the right behaviours for the higher graded position. I then started work in a panel box. This time there were no levers to push and pull just buttons to press to change signals. It was quite a different kettle of fish to the manual box. In the manual box I was responsible for a few miles of track, whereas in the panel box I took on responsibility for about 50 miles of track. In this panel box there was a group of signallers on duty together. We covered 150 miles between us, which were represented on a big diagram that covered two walls. It was a huge diagram of the entire track that we controlled and looked impressive. I had to get used to working with a group of people, and also to working in a room that had few windows. The windows that were there didn t actually look over the track, so I couldn t see the trains I was controlling.

5 Having said that, despite these changes in the work environment, I did enjoy working in the panel box because it was busier with more trains per hour and there was a lot more variety. I had responsibility for more track than in the manual box, and I came to enjoy working with other people, although I was still responsible for my section of the track. I ve always enjoyed that responsibility, and when I have a day when I ve solved a difficult situation with the minimum delay for passengers I get a great sense of achievement. As a signaller most of the time things work fine, however there are times when various types of incidents occur. These can be failures of equipment out on the track, trains running late, or incidents such as trespassers on the lines. When these happen I use the rules and regulations and make sure trains can still run safely. I also have to advise Network Rail Control and clearly communicate the problem so that the right people can be called to respond and that we can make customers aware of the problem. The other big difference was that I now had to deal with overhead lines as this section of the railway is electrified. This meant I had to learn new procedures for controlling overhead lines during normal running and when maintenance work needed the power to be switched off. My day now starts pretty much the same as it did in my previous boxes. I ll come on duty and talk with the signaller on duty, who informs me of any incidents that came up during their shift. I will also look at any notices that affect the running of the trains or the working of the signals. Today there is an extra train running and some engineering work that may affect some services. I then test the various equipment to make sure that it is all working. In my present job in the IECC we trained on a special simulator to get us used to the equipment and technology. You need to be comfortable with technology so you can work effectively. You do get to a point where it becomes second nature to know how to cope with situations experience certainly builds up your confidence! You have to use the rules and regulations all the time and in an emergency put them into practice quickly. This will involve dealing with lots of information at once whilst under pressure, which can be daunting. I can now see the importance of undertaking good training, of knowing the rules and having the right behaviours so that I perform in a way that keeps everyone safe. At the end of the day we are responsible for passengers safety so we need to know what to do and how to execute the rules appropriately.

6 Ongoing skills training Once we have qualified as signallers our competence is continuously assessed by managers to make sure we have the knowledge and skills we need to do the job. The process involves assessing our technical knowledge and understanding as well as testing us on the application of certain rule based procedures. It also involves being monitored as we do the job so that we can maintain and demonstrate the key nontechnical skills and behaviours needed to be a signaller. Throughout the process we have the opportunity to discuss our development needs with our manager. As I said earlier, the IECC box is up to date with modern technology. In this box I sit down all the time as the miles of track that I control are shown on computer screens in front of me. This means that again I had to get used to working in a different environment. Here we work with shift supervisors who support us, although we still have the responsibility for our sections of track. In this box I have a lot more information to deal with as there are more trains and more equipment. As a result of this there is more chance of incidents occurring. As the IECC is a VDU based signalling work station, there are no levers like my first location and no buttons like the panel box. This work station is operated by a tracker ball which is really like a large mouse similar to the one you use on a home computer. On some of the work stations I work on there are up to 7 different VDUs (screens) with lots of details and information on each screen. It was quite daunting at first and I have to discipline myself to make sure I monitor the whole of the area I cover using all of the screens. Varied shifts The good thing about working in this sort of box is that because of the busy nature of the job, each shift can be different. I also get to work in different areas as we move around the workstations from day to day. One day I can be on a fairly quiet workstation and the next I can be on the busiest workstation in the signalling centre. This keeps the job enjoyable and interesting. The people that work here are a great bunch and someone s always got an interesting story to tell. I m still on shift work, working night shifts from 10pm to 6am the next morning, but fortunately we don t work nights as often as other shifts. Some signallers here like that shift, because if they ve got kids they get to see them more than when they re on the 2pm to 10pm shift. People here are pretty flexible so if one of us needs to change a shift there s usually someone willing to swap. When an incident does arise in my area, I have to write a report giving details of exactly what happened. This enables the incident to be fully investigated and allows Network Rail to take action to reduce the chances of a repeat incident. I finish today s shift at 2pm. I ll pass over to the next signaller then make my way home. I ve got time to go shopping and do some jobs around the house before most people have finished work. I reckon I ve done pretty well during my time as a signaller and I m still learning things about the job which is satisfying.

7 Understanding the signaller role A self assessment questionnaire This questionnaire is for you only: you do not need to send it in. It asks you questions about the signaller job and if you work through it, it will help you to think about whether or not you are suited to the signaller job in some important areas. If you find you are answering no to any of the questions you should think carefully about whether you really want to take your application further, because it may mean you will not be happy with some aspects of the job. 1. I understand that I will be required to work all kinds of shifts... YES NO 2. I understand that there is a stringent drugs and alcohol policy and I will take part in pre-employment and on the job drugs screening in addition to a medical assessment including a colour blindness test... YES NO 3. I know that I could be working with computers... YES NO 4. I understand that the training may be residential, lasts for several weeks and that I will need to learn a lot of rules and procedures... YES NO 5. I accept that I will have responsibility for ensuring the safety of other rail industry employees and the general public... YES NO 6. I am aware that I may be either working on my own for long periods of time or closely with others in a box... YES NO 7. I understand that I will need to take a series of tests as part of the selection process... YES NO 8. I am aware that incidents involving physical injuries or fatalities may occur on the railway, and if they do that I will be required to play a role... YES NO

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