Education and Training Requirements
Proven mechanical aptitude is very desirable, and a firm knowledge of electricity is a must. Because of the change in signaling technology in the railroad industry, railroads are requiring new job applicants to pass written tests that include AC/DC electronics. Therefore, you should take high school courses in electrical shop and electronics to give you a good background for this work. Take computer classes to familiarize yourself with this technology. Mathematics classes will also give you the skills you need to complete calculations and detailed work. Take English classes to hone your research, writing, and speaking skills. You will need these skills for completing reports.
Signal mechanics must have at least a high school diploma, although some railroads have gone so far as to require applicants to have college degrees in electronics or electrical engineering. Some signal mechanics train for the field by completing an apprenticeship of up to four years. Other railroads will consider applicants who have military experience in electronics, or who possess a two-year degree in electronics from a technical school.
Workers are usually trained both on the job and in the classroom. Some of the biggest railroads have their own schools; the smaller ones often contract to send their employees to those schools. For example, Norfolk Southern sends its signal trainees to its training center in McDonough, Georgia, during which they are paid a training wage and lodging and meals are paid for during the one-week training course.
Subjects studied in the classroom include electrical and electronics theory; mathematics; signal apparatus, protection devices, and circuits; federal railroad administration policies; and procedures related to signaling.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
There are no certification or licensing requirements for signal mechanics.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Aspiring signal mechanics should obtain experience by participating in apprenticeships or by working as helpers to experienced signal mechanics.
Signal mechanics need to be able to climb, stoop, kneel, crouch, and reach, and they should also be agile, with a good sense of balance. They work outdoors in any kind of weather and may have to be active throughout the day, perhaps climbing poles or hand digging with shovels and picks. Good vision, normal hearing, and depth perception are important. Anyone who works with electrical wiring should have good color vision to distinguish color-coded wires. Alertness and quick reflexes are needed for working in potentially dangerous circumstances on ladders, near high-voltage lines, and on moving equipment. Some companies require drug testing of their employees.