Behind the job - Megan Ablott, Assistant Project Engineer, Signalling

  • 4th November 2020

Tell us about you and your job

I’m an assistant project engineer in rail signalling, working for one of the leading rail technology integration companies in the UK. I started in the rail industry four years ago as a signalling and telecoms apprentice and over that time I’ve worked my way up to an assistant project engineer. I’m currently working on the upgrade of a level crossing in the Anglia region, although I’m based in Sheffield. Working in rail isn’t necessarily what people think! 

What key skills do you need as a project engineer in signalling?

Communication is really important. You’re dealing with lots of other people on a job at any point in time. You play a key role in that chain, so you have to communicate what you’re doing, where you’re at in the programme of work and if there are any elements you think will impact on the delivery timeline.

Time management is another vital skill. You are working towards a programme set by Network Rail and if your elements of the job are late, it has a huge impact on delivery times for the whole project.

What does your typical day look like?

I spend the majority of my time in the office planning packages of work and task briefs. 10 percent of my time is spent travelling around the country visiting jobs to do tasks like site surveys. Once we’ve planned the work it goes to Network Rail for approval so we can start the job - or the next phase of it, if it’s a major project over several years. The task briefs ensure that we have safe systems of work - it’s all in the planning and it’s vital so that we can keep everyone safe when they’re on the railway.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about a career as a project engineer in signalling?

Go for it! I took the apprenticeship route and it was the best thing for me. My three sisters are all at university but that didn’t appeal to me. When you do your apprenticeship you work in various roles, as well as attending college, and that gives you lots of experience before you specialise in one area.

I’ve worked in both telecoms and signalling, but I prefer signalling because it’s more complex and there is more to learn. After your apprenticeship, you work your way up the grades. There is so much opportunity to progress in rail. I’ve had two promotions in two years and my salary has more than doubled in the four years I’ve been working and there is a clear line of career progression. There’s lots of scope and also you learn lots of transferable skills, so you can go in another direction within the rail sector, should you choose. 

You’re in the minority as a woman in rail. How do you find it?

I’ve only had a positive experience. People have been very willing to support me, teach me and let me learn from them. I would encourage girls to enter this field of work because it’s really rewarding. There is an organisation called Women in Rail too, and they are very supportive, but in general, everyone is. I don’t think that STEM is explored enough in schools, more of that would be good for boys and girls alike.

Are there any projects that stand out to you?

I have been really lucky in my short career to have worked on some amazing projects. I’ve worked on the Transpennine Upgrade between York and Manchester which is a major rail project and also on the Sheffield Tram Train, which is the first of its kind in terms of signalling. I’ve learnt so much on those projects.

What do you think the future holds for the rail industry?

Technology is changing everything. By the end of my career, I expect driverless trains will be a reality. That has big implications for signalling because the signals will all be contacted by radio - and they’ll all need upgrading for that to happen.

My generation is pretty tech-savvy and I like that I can use those skills because rail is a very technical field, so if you’re that way inclined you can help drive changes and utilise the latest technologies.

Why do you choose Coleman James as your recruitment partner of choice?

Working with Janine and Rachel at Coleman James, they have been very supportive of me. They genuinely cared about me getting this job and helped me with my interview preparation as well as making sure I settled into the role. Everything happened very quickly and smoothly. I’ve been through job application processes before and it can be quite stressful, but with them, there was no stress. I’d work with the team again in the future.