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Insights From classroom to control room: your apprenticeship in rail signalling begins here

Hi, I am Nathan, a Lead Testing Engineer at Atkins, operating as AtkinsRéalis. I've been in the rail industry for over 20 years, having started as a signalling apprentice. When I first joined, I didn't know what to expect. What I found was an intelligent and passionate team pulling together in challenging and rewarding roles.

  Photo of Rebecca smiling towards the camera

What does a signalling tester do? 

Have you ever stood on a platform waiting for a train and seen a signal at the end change to green? Or waited at a level crossing for a train to pass? The complexities and varied technologies on how and why that change of state occurs is extensive. Why is it even there in the first place? Who put it there, and how did they do it? 

The railway is a fully integrated system, supported by diverse engineering practices. As part of the Signalling Test team, you will understand how signalling interacts with the overall operational system. Signalling consists of many individual components which contribute to overall system operability providing a safe and reliable network. All alterations large or small require meticulous scrutiny from testers to ensure correct functionality, deploying learned skills and mandated specifications. Only then can it be deemed safe for operational use.

My primary role involves leading large resignalling projects as a Tester in Charge (TIC). I manage planning, staff, budgets, overseeing all testing activities to meet relevant standards ensuring the project's successful completion. 

What made you join Atkins?

In my previous company, I was fortunate to collaborate with employees from Atkins, operating as AtkinsRéalis. The people, the wealth of knowledge, reputation, and career opportunities they have, attracted me to join. <

Congratulations on 10 years with us! What keeps you here?

I can be proud that I've contributed to major projects providing a better and more reliable signalling network. I've continued to grow my career surrounded by a group of fantastic and professional people supported by a company that cares about its staff, its reputation and pushes to be an industry leader.   


"The diverse nature of signalling, from the technologies used to the equipment, location, and complexities of pulling all these together, offers endless opportunities to learn, grow, progress, and diversify on every project."

—Nathan, Lead Testing Engineer 

What have been your favourite projects? 

Since joining I have aspired to become a TIC. East Kent Resignalling was the first project of note where this became a reality. This project marked a significant modernization of a rail system. My role was senior functional tester, beginning to take on more delegated responsibilities from the lead TIC. By the end of this project, I had successfully achieved TIC competence and my TIC Institute of Railway Signal Engineers license. 

>Norwich-Yarmouth-Lowestoft Resignalling was challenging due to the intermixing of new and old technologies but also proved extremely rewarding when complete. This project, significant in scale and complexity, involved modernizing infrastructure that had remained largely unchanged since the late 19th century! 

What was your apprenticeship career journey like?

I really enjoyed my time as a signalling apprentice. I learned, developed new skills, and took on new challenges and responsibilities as I progressed. I started in the maintenance team as an assistant technician and soon moved to project delivery as an assistant installer.

Have you worked on any career-defining projects?

I'm currently working on the Feltham Resignalling Scheme! By replacing outdated infrastructure with state-of-the-art digital signals and advanced control systems, we're making a huge step towards more reliable, efficient, and environmentally friendly rail travel. It will reduce delays and improve connectivity for communities across southwest London and Berkshire, genuinely redefining the future of sustainable transportation. 

"Your career options are always open at here"

I have focused my efforts on becoming a major works TIC. However, there have been multiple opportunities to specialize my career along different signalling paths, such as principles and systems testing. Although I selected the TIC route and managed the testing activities on projects for this phase of my career, the opportunities to continue growth into other areas within "test" or wider parts of project delivery continue to be a possibility for the future.        

What advice do you have for anyone applying to be an Apprentice?

Put yourself out there, be keen and willing to ask questions, listen and learn. The potential opportunities within signalling are vast and diverse. Although often challenging, the role of a tester in signalling is extremely rewarding. The people you work with and the sense of achievement when you complete a project, will turn a job into a career in an industry that you can enjoy being a part of.

How would you rate the rail signalling testing apprenticeship programme?

I see first-hand how our apprentices thrive. It's an exceptional opportunity that stands out for its unique approach to training. You'll enjoy bespoke, high-investment training delivered in focused one-week blocks and then put your new technical skills into practice on the job.

The apprenticeship offers a chance to work with a wide range of technologies, from legacy (Mechanical, Electro- Mechanical and relay based systems) to cutting-edge IP based, digital and ETRMS systems. Every day brings new challenges and the exhilaration of solving complex problems. Apprentices aren't just learning to deliver projects - they're bringing vital systems to life, experiencing the pride of seeing their work in real-world applications.

What truly enhances this programme is the collaborative learning environment. You'll work alongside some of the industry's finest engineers, continually gaining knowledge from them. It's a place where learning never stops, making every day an opportunity to grow and innovate in the exciting world of rail signalling.

What's the culture like? 

The inclusive and supportive culture within Atkins, operating as AtkinsRéalis, is evident throughout the business. The core values you share strengthen the bond between you, the colleagues you work with daily, and those in different teams. Safety, respect, and wellbeing are vital parts of this. Every staff member is empowered and encouraged to challenge, question, and stand up for what is right, call out unsafe practices, and reward achievements. I believe Atkins, operating as AtkinsRéalis, is an industry leader in building a safer, healthier, and more equal workplace in the rail industry.