Approximately 6,860 signal and track switch repairers are employed in the United States. Signal mechanics may be employed by passenger lines or freight lines. They may work for one of the major railroads, such as BNSF Railway Company, Norfolk Southern, or CSX Corporation, or they may work for one of the 500 smaller short-line railroads across the country. Many of the passenger lines today are commuter lines located near large metropolitan areas. Signal mechanics who work for freight lines may work in rural or urban areas and travel more extensively than the shorter, daily commuter routes passenger railroad conductors make.
Prospective signal mechanics can contact the personnel offices of railroad companies for information about job opportunities. Another possibility is to check with the local, state, or national office of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. Because signal mechanic positions are often union positions, they follow structured hiring procedures, such as specific times of the year when applications are accepted. For instance, Norfolk Southern holds recruiting sessions on college campuses and in other settings. Applications are not sent out for union positions; rather, recruiting sessions are advertised in local newspapers, state job services, and schools. At these sessions, supervisors detail the open positions, answer questions, and oversee the application process. Some applicants may be selected for evaluations, which will be used to help determine who is hired.
On the job, beginners often start out in helper positions, doing simple tasks requiring little special skill. Helpers work under the supervision of experienced signal mechanics. Later, they may become assistants and signal maintainers, based on their seniority and how much they have learned.
Workers generally advance from helper positions to become assistant signal mechanics, and from there to positions as signal maintainers. Other advanced positions include signal shop foremen and signal inspectors. These promotions, which are related to workers' seniority, sometimes take a number of years to achieve. Experienced signal mechanics can advance to such supervisory positions as gang foremen, directing and coordinating the activities of other signal mechanics. At one railroad, Norfolk Southern, signal mechanics are designated as assistant signal persons after qualifying as trainees. After completing two phases of training and based on seniority, assistant signal persons can bid for promotion to a signal maintainer position with territorial maintenance responsibilities.
Tips for Entry
Search job listings at http://www.brs.org/?zone=/unionactive/view_page.cfm&page=Employment.
Join the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen to increase your chances of landing a job and receiving fair pay for your work.
Acquire a part-time job or join a community group with an emphasis on electronics and mechanics.