A signaling engineer develops systems used to signal and control trains. Controlling railroad traffic requires significant coordination between systems and rail companies to keep trains operating safely and smoothly. Many control utilities have some degree of automation, which requires complex engineering ability. Working in this field usually requires a degree in engineering or a related field along with at least five years of experience in the rail industry. Some positions also require the ability to pass a background check, because signaling engineers typically work on critical infrastructure.
New railway installations require the design and implementation of an appropriate signaling system. Companies can also request retrofits to existing systems to update them, either in response to regulations or in a desire to improve efficiency and performance. The signaling engineer meets with clients to discuss plans and may prepare or request a case study to learn more about the specifics of the installation. It can be important to know what kind of traffic is likely to pass, and how much growth is projected over the coming years.
Engineers work on a system that will meet the need. This includes equipment on the tracks to send messages to trains, along with networked computers to allow signal operators to track trains, control signals, and issue alerts. All of these systems need to integrate smoothly with those in other areas so operators can successfully pass trains to operators in neighboring regions, much like air traffic control does with aircraft. The signaling engineer needs to design a system with room for growth so the company can expand with time.
Failsafes are a key part of the design phase. It is common to work with a team to identify potential problems that may emerge in the system and works on resolutions and safety measures to protect trains, people, and cargo. For example, automation can send a stop signal when the system loses track of a train, to bring all users of the tracks to a halt until the missing train can be located. Likewise, the signaling engineer can design systems that will not allow operators to issue conflicting directions or commands, like a go order to two trains on the same track.
Travel may be required for work to allow engineers to inspect sites and participate in the installation of equipment. If there’s a problem, the signaling engineer can be involved in troubleshooting and repair. In the event of a crash or other catastrophe, engineers may conduct an investigation to find out what happened so they can prevent similar incidents in the future.