Railway Fitter/Electrician

The Job and What's Involved

Railway fitters and electricians carry out the practical work needed to keep railway machinery and equipment running smoothly and safely. They carry out repairs and routine maintenance.

The work is varied, but can include:

  • Servicing and repairing the electric and diesel multiple units and traction units that pull trains.
  • Servicing and repairing carriages and other rolling stock.
  • Looking after machinery and plant used in stations, such as cranes and lifts.
  • Installing and maintaining electricity supply wiring.
  • Constructing new traction units and carriages in railway workshops.
  • Replacing parts, and checking, oiling and cleaning machinery as part of a maintenance programme.
  • Checking and calibrating instruments to make sure they are accurate.

Fitters and electricians may be involved in constructing new railway rolling stock or new electrification systems.

They may follow instructions from a senior technician or engineer, and may also have to refer to technical drawings and manuals. They use a range of hand and power tools and need to learn and observe all the safety regulations for track working.

Railway fitters and electricians may work with other craftspeople such as carpenters, painters, upholsterers and sheet metal workers, as well as senior technical staff and engineers.

Railway fitters and electricians usually work 37 hours a week, but may have to work early, late and night shifts. They might also be needed on some weekends and bank holidays, and could be on call for emergencies.

Most of the work is done in depots or workshops, which are usually enclosed and heated. Sometimes they work outdoors on sidings or on the track, where conditions can be cold and wet, and where they may need to work in the dark.

Overalls and protective boots, headgear, goggles and ear defenders are provided. The work involves standing, kneeling, bending and lifting. It can be oily, dirty and noisy.

Starting salaries may be around £12,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 8,000 railway fitters and electricians in the UK. Employers include train operating companies, London Underground, light rail and metro companies in big cities, freight companies and leasing companies.

There are also jobs with specialist maintenance companies that carry out work for the operating companies, and with engineering companies that make new traction units and carriages. Specialist construction companies also carry out regular maintenance work, repairing and renewing the railway infrastructure.

Jobs are advertised by the individual companies. Job vacancies may also be advertised on websites such as www.railnews.co.uk/jobs.

Education and Training

It is possible to start work as a trainee fitter straight from school and train on the job as a craftsperson.

Many companies offer Apprenticeships leading to NVQ's/SVQ's in railway engineering, plant maintenance, or traction and rolling stock maintenance.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

Employers usually ask for three to five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and may prefer English, maths and science, though alternatives - such as a BTEC first diploma - are possible too. GCSE's in areas such as engineering and technology can also be useful.

The selection process usually includes a medical examination for physical fitness, eyesight and hearing, and alcohol and drug screening. There is a rigid policy on drugs and alcohol abuse, and random tests may be conducted at any time. An aptitude test or assessment of existing knowledge and skills may also be involved.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There are also many full and part-time college courses, which could be a starting point before specialising in railway engineering work. These include:

  • BTEC First Certificate in Engineering.
  • BTEC First Diploma in Operations and Maintenance Engineering.
  • BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in Operations and Maintenance Engineering.

A Diploma will help you make a more informed choice about the type of learning that best suits you and about what kind of work or further study you may want to do afterwards.

Apprentices and trainees usually begin by learning basic engineering craft skills in a workshop. They then spend time in different workshops or on site, working alongside experienced craftspeople on maintenance tasks. They may go to a college on day release to learn the theoretical aspects of their work.

If they specialise as fitters only or electricians only, they may be given extra training in electrical or fitting skills.

Apprentices work towards NVQ/SVQ Level 2. Advanced Apprentices work up to NVQ/SVQ Level 3, plus City & Guilds, BTEC or SQA qualifications in engineering.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Railway fitters and electricians should:

  • Be able to use hand and machine tools, welding equipment, measuring and test equipment, hoists and lifting gear.
  • Have good hearing, good eyesight and normal colour vision.
  • Be prepared to work shifts and outside normal hours.
  • Understand manuals and technical drawings.
  • Be computer literate.
  • Know how to trace the reasons for faults.
  • Be patient and logical.
  • Be safety-conscious.
  • Work well in a team, but be able to take responsibility when working alone.
  • Be physically fit, as some work may be strenuous.

Your Long Term Prospects

With their skills and experience, railway fitters and electricians can progress to senior technical-level jobs or supervisory or managerial roles. Highly experienced people may be eligible to apply for professional registration as an engineering technician (EngTech).

Further study for engineering technician or degree qualifications can lead to other opportunities for promotion.

Get Further Information

Careers in Rail
Website: www.careersinrail.org

Engineering and Technology Board
Website: www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk

GoSkills, Concorde House, Trinity Park,
Solihull B37 7UQ
Tel: 0121 635 5520
Website: www.goskills.org

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