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Rail construction and maintenance operatives

What they do

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   • Rail track maintenance workers inspect, maintain and repair railway lines.
   • Their work includes inspecting tracks, bridges, cuttings, embankments, fences and level crossings. They also look out for obstacles, and in bad weather they clear snow or fallen objects which are blocking the line.
   • They may be involved in maintaining track, renewing worn or damaged lengths of track, carrying out repairs and performing lookout and hand signalling duties.

Working 35 hours a week on a shift system, rail track workers usually start work early in the morning or finish late at night. Quite a lot of work on tracks is done at weekends or at night to minimise inconvenience to travellers. They may need to do paid overtime or be on call to deal with emergencies.

The work is done outside in all weathers, usually with a small group of other workers. Protective clothing, including hard hats, overalls and high-visibility jackets, is provided by employers.

Salaries range from around £12,000 to £20,000 a year before overtime payments.

A rail track maintenance worker should:

   • be strong, with plenty of stamina
   • be energetic and healthy, as the work is physically hard
   • have good hearing and colour vision
   • be good with their hands
   • enjoy working outdoors
   • have an interest in railways.

The main employer is Network Rail who own and maintain 21,000 miles of track and over 2,500 stations throughout the UK.

There are no particular academic qualifications needed to become a rail track maintenance worker. Network Rail usually takes on people at 18 or over, with a good general education in reading, writing and using numbers. It helps to have experience of other manual work such as building. Young people aged 17-19 can start through an Apprenticeship if they have GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English, maths and science. There are good opportunities for adults with relevant experience.

Rail track workers train on the job under the supervision of experienced track workers. On an Advanced Apprenticeship, recruits attend a fully residential course in their first year to learn the theoretical aspects of the job.

With experience, rail track workers may progress to a skilled or supervisory role such as leading trackperson or machine operator. They may also become a track inspector or manager, or study for maintenance engineering qualifications, which may lead to promotion or to a career change.

What is the work like?

Rail track maintenance workers inspect, maintain and repair railway lines and associated services.

Their work includes inspecting tracks, bridges, cuttings, embankments, fences and level crossings. They also look out for obstacles, worn areas or anything which could interfere with the smooth running of a train service. In bad weather they clear snow or fallen objects which are blocking the line. If they find a problem they must report it so that it can be put right as quickly as possible.

They may be involved in:

   • maintaining track, checking it regularly and keeping it in good condition
   • renewing worn or damaged lengths of track
   • carrying out repairs
   • performing lookout and hand signalling duties.

Many of a maintenance worker's tasks involve using their hands. They also use tools such as picks, spades and pneumatic drills, together with specialist tools for securing rails. They may work with levelling, lining and tamping machines for settling ballast and they may have to mix and lay concrete.

Some rail track maintenance workers go out, usually in a gang, to work on the track on a regular basis. They may patrol the route carrying out visual checks to make sure everything is in order.

More senior maintenance workers have extra responsibilities:

   • track chargepeople are responsible for a team of gang workers, making sure that all scheduled work is completed safely within the deadlines and budget
   • leading trackpeople are second in command to the track chargeperson, and play an important hands-on role within the team.

Working on railway tracks requires a high level of concentration and the observance of strict safety measures. Rail track maintenance workers have to be prepared to learn these and apply them in their daily work.

The average starting pay for a rail track maintenance worker is around £12,000 a year.

Hours and environment

Rail track maintenance workers work 35 hours a week on a shift system. This means starting work early in the morning or finishing late at night. They should also be prepared to do paid overtime.

Quite a lot of work on tracks is done at weekends or at night to minimise inconvenience to travellers. This means working irregular hours. Rail track workers may work away from home at times and they may have to be on call, ready to go out and deal with emergencies.

The work is done outside in all weathers, usually with a small group of other workers. Protective clothing, including hard hats, overalls and high-visibility jackets, is provided by employers.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

   • The average starting pay for a rail track worker is around £12,000 a year.
   • With some experience they may earn around £15,000 a year.
   • A track worker with some supervisory responsibilities could earn up to £20,000.

These figures are increased by extra pay for overtime and shifts.

Skills and personal qualities

A rail track worker needs to:

   • be strong, with plenty of stamina
   • be energetic and healthy, as the work is physically hard
   • have good hearing and colour vision
   • be good with their hands
   • cope with working in wet, cold, or very hot weather
   • work well as part of a team
   • have a strong sense of responsibility, as the smooth running of the trains and safety of passengers depends on them
   • be able to use tools efficiently
   • cope calmly with emergencies.

Interests

It is important to:

   • enjoy working outdoors
   • have an interest in railways.

Getting in

The main employer is Network Rail who own and maintain 21,000 miles of track and over 2,500 stations throughout the UK. Network Rail has a workforce of over 30,000 employees across the country engaged in track maintenance and replacement.

For jobs in this area, contact Network Rail on their website: www.networkrailcareers.co.uk .

Entry for young people

There are no particular academic qualifications needed to become a rail track maintenance worker. Network Rail looks for people who have the right qualities for the job.

A good general education is important, especially reading, writing and some ability with numbers. In practice, they rarely take on anyone under 18, and people with experience of similar manual work in other industries, such as construction, may get preference.

The recruitment process includes a medical. This includes tests to screen for drug and alcohol abuse, and tests for physical fitness, hearing, eyesight and colour vision.

Young people aged 17-19 may start through an Apprenticeship, where they will need GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English, maths and science.

Apprenticeships which may be available in England are Young Apprenticeships, Pre-Apprenticeships, Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships. To find out which one is most appropriate log onto www.apprenticeships.org.uk or contact your local Connexions Partnership.

It is important to bear in mind that pay rates for Apprenticeships do vary from area to area and between industry sectors.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For further information contact Careers Scotland www.careers-scotland.org.uk, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact COIU www.delni.gov.uk.

Entry for adults

There are good opportunities for adults, especially if they have experience in engineering or construction, but they must be able to cope with the physical demands of the job.

Training

Training is mainly done on the job, working under the supervision of experienced track workers. This is a safety-critical role, so strict regulations apply and regular assessments are carried out.

Training is usually given in personal track safety, basic first aid, lookout and hand signalling duties. This is either done in-house or by an external training provider. Short courses may provide training in operating track-laying machines and it may be possible to work towards qualifications such as NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Railway Engineering Permanent Way (Maintenance/Renewals).

On an Advanced Apprenticeship, recruits attend a fully residential course in their first year to learn the theoretical aspects of the job together with safety training. They may work towards NVQs/SVQs at Levels 2 and 3 in Railway Engineering Permanent Way (Maintenance/Renewals).

Getting on

With experience, rail track workers may progress to a skilled or supervisory role such as leading trackperson or machine operator. They can also apply for a job as a track inspector, supervisor or team leader, and some go on to become managers.

Some workers eventually become track or overhead line inspectors who check for faults and approve tracks or overhead lines for use.

Others may study for maintenance engineering technician qualifications, which may lead to promotion or to a career change.

Further information

Network Rail, 40 Melton Street, London NW1 2EE. 020 7557 8000. Website: www.networkrail.co.uk and www.networkrailcareers.co.uk

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