employee stories

Signal to success

Signal to success

WORK180Jun 8, 2020

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Trespasser is reported near the tracks, train stopped as a result of a technical failure, station closed due to a security breach, severe delays due to a medical emergency… perhaps we need to call in the superheroes to investigate, diagnose and resolve the problem.

This is just an example of what could happen during the average working day of a signaller. Who would have thought a signaller gets to experience this kind of thrill and excitement?

Hannah Davidson joined Network Rail straight from university, embarking on their graduate scheme for a year.

During the graduate scheme, my boss introduced me to the idea of becoming a signaller.

Having never heard of this job before, Hannah decided to take a leap of faith and undergo the rigorous 3-month training course. She tells her story and sheds some light on what it is to be a signaller.

Hannah graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in Finance Management. Holding a degree is not a prerequisite for many jobs at Network Rail including signalling, however, the skills she acquired, namely problem solving, have definitely helped her to excel in her career.

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Right on track

Hannah thrives in a challenging environment and talks excitedly about her role as a signaller. When asked about her typical day, she stops to think a moment, before brightly saying, “there is no typical day, and that’s what’s so great about it.” Her schedule is shift-based, and she works three 12-hour shifts per week. While there is plenty of overtime work available, Hannah also gets a lot of free time to enjoy with her friends and family.

On the job there is no time for boredom and whatever you are doing could change at a moment’s notice. Hannah says she has to “make snap decisions, all while following a strict set of safety guidelines to try and maintain the service and get the trains back on track as soon as possible, safely and with minimal disruptions.” She finds her job to be very stimulating.

It’s quite exhilarating being in control of something remotely, that is miles and miles away from you, whilst at the touch of your fingers.

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Women are getting ahead

One of Hannah’s most acclaimed achievements is that she went from a grade 4 signaller, to a grade 8 in just 6 months. This leap means that she now has a lot more responsibilities and must be competent across 8 busy panels, which each control different areas of railway. This advancement can sometimes take years, but testament to Hannah’s analytical problem solving skills and diligence, she did it in a fraction of the time. This of course is owed, in part, to Network Rail’s great leadership, and healthy working environment.

Hannah was also featured in a ‘Women in Rail’ campaign, which was distributed to schools across the country. This was a proud moment for Hannah, as she was able to speak for and promote so many women working in male-dominated fields, and encourage and empower those who shy away from it.

Despite the fact that Hannah works alongside 50 or so male signallers at Network Rail, Hannah says “I barely even think about the gender disparity as everyone is treated as equals.” Network Rail has set the goal of increasing their women employees from 16% currently, to 25% by 2025.

Hannah wants to reassure other women “not to be put off by non-traditional fields. Once you settle in and get to know your colleagues, you realise that you’re all on the same team.”

Hannah would like younger people, women in particular, to be more aware of the vast amount of jobs available, particularly in the non-traditional fields such as operations and maintenance. With the world ever evolving, and cultural norms ever changing, now is the time for women to try out new and unconventional roles.

There is so much to learn from working in these fields and it will set you on a more unique career path.

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Keeping Britain moving

Hannah thinks that signallers have garnered an unfavourable reputation of having a mundane job. In actual fact, it’s a challenging and critical job, with plenty of room for growth and development. Without signallers, trains simply wouldn’t run. Frankly speaking, signallers keep Britain moving. They ensure trains run safely and on-time, not only serving individuals, but the country as a whole.

Hannah speaks of a Tesco branded carriage she saw, and it just made her think how crucial her work really is.

Not only do we get people from A to B safely, but we also ensure that people receive their basic necessities like food, and sanitary products. And now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, can we truly appreciate just how important our jobs really are.

Signallers are key workers, which therefore make them extremely safe jobs in terms of economic crises, and other unforeseen events.

“Don’t be afraid to try something different”. Hannah’s advice to female jobseekers is not to be afraid to try something different. She is very happy with her career choice at Network Rail, and urges other women to get out of their comfort zones and “just give it go, because you might actually love it!”

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About the author



WORK180 is an international jobs network that connects smart businesses with talented women. We pre-screen every employer on our jobs board to see where they stand on pay equity, flexible working, paid parental leave, equal opportunities and a range of other criteria. We also take into account diversity initiatives focusing on age, ability, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

The information we uncover is made public on our website, so that everyone knows what to expect from each employer before applying for a job. We continually review and evolve our pre-screening criteria to ensure workplaces are fair and equal for everyone.

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