Rail traffic controller

A rail traffic controller


Rail traffic controllers operate signals and points that help make sure trains run safely and on time. They operate from a signal box in order to control the order and movement of trains and ensure safety at all times. They are responsible for maintaining safety standards when trains are running normally and also in degraded or emergency operational situations.

The duties of a rail traffic controller include, but are not limited to:

  • Controlling train traffic by communicating with railroad dispatchers and signal operators to ensure that trains are routed safely through the most efficient route for their cargo
  • Monitor rail traffic to ensure the safe flow of trains and to identify any hazardous situations that may arise
  • Monitor the status of trains, including their location, speed, and direction of travel, to ensure that they are running according to schedule
  • Provide information about train locations to other railroad staff, including conductors, engineers, station agents, maintenance workers, dispatchers, and signal operators
  • Maintain communications with other rail traffic control centers across the network to notify them of changes in schedules or other important information
  • Identify problems with tracks or other physical aspects of the rail infrastructure that could affect train travel
  • Operate computerized dispatching equipment to track trains and alert dispatchers of any potential problems
  • Analyze data to identify potential problem areas and suggest solutions to improve efficiency and safety of rail operations
  • Communicate with other railroad staff to coordinate train schedules and track usage with other transportation modes such as buses or airplanes

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to rail traffic controller:

rail traffic signaller
controller of rail traffic
railway signal operator
signal box operator
signal box controller
train controller

Working conditions

Rail traffic controllers work in a rail traffic control center, which is usually located near the rail yards. They work in shifts, with each shift lasting 8 hours. There are three shifts: day, evening, and night. The day shift is from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the evening shift is from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., and the night shift is from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. There is also a weekend shift, which is from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Rail traffic controllers may work overtime, especially during peak periods of rail traffic. The work can be stressful, and rail traffic controllers must be able to make quick and accurate decisions.

Minimum qualifications

A high school diploma or equivalent is often a minimum requirement for a rail traffic controller position. However, many employers prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in transportation, logistics or a related field.

Many rail traffic controllers begin their careers as train dispatchers or conductors. These positions require candidates to have a minimum of two years of experience working in a railroad-related field.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Rail traffic controller is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Rail traffic controller career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to rail traffic controller.

train dispatcher
level crossing signalperson
chief conductor
train driver
train conductor

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of rail traffic controller. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of rail traffic controller with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

deck officer
aeronautical information service officer
aviation data communications manager
case administrator
fire inspector

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of rail traffic controller.

  • Modern power signalling systems: Understand traditional and modern signalling systems; operate railway signalling systems.
  • Signal boxes: The different kinds of signal boxes, such as older signal boxes utilising levers and manual equipment, LED-based panel signal boxes, and integrated electronic systems.
  • Signal box parts: Know and understand the structures located besides railway tracks known as signal boxes, interlocking towers, signal posts, and signal cabins, from which signals, points, and other equipment are controlled.
  • Mechanics of trains: Possess basic knowledge of the mechanics involved in trains, understand the technicalities and participate in discussions on related topics in order to solve problems related to the mechanics.
  • Train routes: Know principal train routes and quickly search for relevant information to respond to customer questions. Provide advice on potential shortcuts and itinerary options.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of rail traffic controller.

  • Write signalling reports: Write accurate communications and reports about signalling operations and safety procedures. Perform record keeping and event recording.
  • Mark differences in colours: Identify differences between colours, such as shades of colour.
  • Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
  • React calmly in stressful situations: React quickly, calmly, and safely to unexpected situations. Provide a solution that solves the problem or diminishes its impact.
  • Oversee the daily train operations plan: Check the daily train plan and oversee operations according to the trains running in a specific area; be aware of any timetable changes or speed limitations and any line or electrical malfunctions.
  • Operate train signalling equipment: Operate train signals to indicate whether or not train drivers may proceed; manipulate light signals or barriers; control direction of trains by moving points.
  • Operate train integrated electronic control centre: Operate integrated electronic control centres where signallers apply modern-day technological operating systems and equipment to control train progression over long stretches of railway track.
  • Handle stressful situations: Deal with and manage highly stressful situations in the workplace by following adequate procedures, communicating in a quiet and effective manner, and remaining level-headed when taking decisions.
  • Operate railway communication systems: Operate railway communication systems; make announcements over the public address system or communicate with central train administration.
  • Oversee operational safety on trains: Oversee all operations in a defined area, as part of a team that manages operational safety and train services for a specific geographical location.
  • Maintain railway signal equipment: Test, operate, and maintain railway signalling equipment such as power switches and grade crossing warning devices.
  • Manage train working timetable: Manage the train working timetable that shows every movement on the railway network. Prepare for the arrival and departure of every train, intermediate points, and appropriate passing points.
  • Test railway signalling equipment: Test signalling equipment (signal lights and communication devices) utilised in railways and train yards, such as train instrument panel lights, the lights along each track, flashing red signal lights, and/or the alarms at each crossing.
  • Operate LED-based panel signal boxes: Work with high tech LED-based signal boxes; a signaller flips switches and pushes buttons to manipulate train movements on stretches of track up to 50 miles long.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of rail traffic controller. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Train planning: Thoroughly understand the techniques, procedures, and tools used to compose a train timetable; know various types of train plans; identify possible constraints to be considered in planning activities.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of rail traffic controller. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Show responsibility: Accept responsibility and be accountable for professional decisions of yourself or others as part of a job or one’s role.
  • Monitor train schedules: Ensure train schedules are followed; trains should not leave the station too late or too early. Monitor and regulate train dispatch and arrival in order to avoid trains arriving either too late or too early.
  • Determine train operational safety actions: Decide on train operational safety actions after having received information on the facts of a situation. Analyse the information, make sound judgements, create feasible scenarios using logic. Take the best possible decision within given situation.

ISCO group and title

4323 – Transport clerks

  1. Rail traffic controller – ESCO
  2. Rail Traffic Controller Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More – Climb the Ladder
  3. Rail Traffic Controller – RAC
  4. Featured image: By Geof Sheppard – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Last updated on December 5, 2022

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