March 2010 in Network Rail and Suppliers
According to one reporter some signalling managers do not have sufficient experience to adequately advise and manage signallers.
This has been noted in the London north eastern region, but could very well be a nationwide issue.
Until a few years ago, signalling managers had themselves been signallers for many years prior to being made managers, and so had a very good grasp of the complexities of the job.
According to the reporter, more and more managers now come from other areas of the industry, and are simply given the basic eight week training course which all signallers must attend. However, they are not required to train any further or to actually run a signal box on their own. This concerns the reporter, as inexperienced signallers will look to their managers for advice on the job and managers might have less experience than the people they are supposed to advise. This could eventually lead to a signaller receiving and carrying out a bad instruction, resulting in an incident.
The reporter is aware of instances where signallers have questioned advice from managers which proved to be incorrect; however not all signallers are likely to do this.
This issue also applies to other jobs, such as p-way and S&T, according to the reporter. There seems to be a trend of increasingly employing managers who have little practical experience of the job of the people they are supervising.
The reporter would like to see Network Rail make it a requirement of signalling managers to have extensive experience of working as a signaller.
Network Rail would like to thank the reporter for raising their concerns.
It is not a new issue that the recruitment of local operations managers (formally signalling managers) has been from a resource pool of lesser experienced railway staff than what would have been considered normal some years ago. What has not changed though is the sensible level of competence expected of that said line manager when they were deemed competent to take on the role.
Local operations managers are not appointed based soley on signalling experience but a balanced set of criteria incorporating their past experience, attitude, engagement, skill sets, interpersonal skills and aptitude.
Newly appointed local operations managers will have a plan which will consider their current level of underpinning knowledge for the role and be adapted to make certain that at the planned end of their training, they possess the relevant standard of competence. This will be tested by their operations manager and sometimes the area signalling inspector.
It is fair to say that there will always be a difference in underpinning knowledge due to experience. Possible errors administered by the line manager can happen also between signaller and signaller yet what is important is the line manager having the aptitude to think safely, search for the right answers, and use the team‟s knowledge to aid a clear understanding. For example, not making an assumption, asking for assistance from possibly another source, and where relevant, using the Worksafe Procedure to manage the safety of the network.
It is expected of all local operations manager that they do possess the competence to work the signal boxes they manage or a percentage of them. Where they may not possess the competence now, they will be working towards it.