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Career Advice

Advancing your career in the UK Rail Industry: Exploring Key Competencies

Written by

Eric Smith

Date posted

6 September, 2023

Wanting to further your career in the rail industry? Staff competence plays a significant role in the decision making of employers and can be a great tool in progressing your professional career.

With a focus on safety, efficiency, and reliability, the industry relies on professionals who possess specific competencies and qualifications to ensure the smooth operation of the rail network. While a Personal Track Safety (PTS) certificate is a required qualification for anyone who works on or near a Network Rail line, there are many other valuable competencies worth possessing.

Here are a few of the most in demand rail competencies that can enhance your CV and career prospects. Ready for your next role in rail? View Coyle Personnel’s latest job listings.


Personal Track Safety (PTS)

To legally work on Network Rail in the UK, workers require a valid Personal Track Safety (PTS) card. As previously mentioned, it’s a fundamental competence required for anyone working near the railway tracks. The qualification helps to ensure that individuals understand the hazards associated with working in this environment and have the necessary skills to maintain their own personal safety.

A PTS card is not, however, available to the public and so securing an allocated sponsor is crucial if you want to achieve the qualification and work on the network. Sponsors must be approved railway companies who have been audited and certificated to supply workers to the Railway industry. To confirm their intent to sponsor you and supply their linkup site ID number the Sentinel co-ordinator of this sponsoring company will need to sign the course booking form.

Once you have obtained a PTS certificate, you’ll be eligible to work in a number of roles in the rail industry, for example as a Rail Track Maintenance Worker. Learn more about obtaining a PTS certificate by reading our blog article: Starting your Career in the Rail Industry: How to get your PTS.


Controller of Site Safety (COSS)

A Controller of Site Safety (COSS) is responsible for ensuring a Safe System of Work (SSOW) for their respective rail workers to avoid them being struck by passing trains. They are qualified by Network Rail to ensure safe practice and can be subject to prosecution should anyone be harmed due to their negligence. 

As with a PTS certificate, individuals must be nominated by their line manager/sponsor to enable them to attain the COSS competence. It should, however, be held by anyone responsible for setting up a SSOW on or near the line for a group of workers. COSS card holders are also eligible to carry out the duties of an Individual Working Alone (IWA).

To obtain COSS competence, workers must complete a 7-day training course that covers everything from the general duties of a controller of site safety to setting up safe systems of work within possessions. Once completed, workers will hold COSS competency for two years with additional interim assessments having to be carried out every 9-15 months. You’ll then be required to attend a COSS recertification course leading up to expiry.

Rail recruitment agencies such as Coyle Rail are always on the lookout for COSS workers to manage and supervise groups alongside the Network Rail Safety Guidelines. All that’s required is an in-date PTS with COSS competency, a valid Sentinel Card and a full UK driving license. Explore our latest COSS vacancies.


Overhead Line Equipment Construction (OLEC)

As well as the track itself, maintaining the UK’s rail industry also involves the upkeep of overhead line equipment (OLE) such as overhead wires and supporting infrastructure. OLEC personnel are authorised individuals who place earths on the overhead lines, which carry up to 25,000 volts of electricity to power trains, in specific places along the track.

To obtain an OLEC 1 competency, rail workers above the age of 16 and whose work involves accessing OLE Construction sites can undertake a half-day course dedicated to providing the basic knowledge required to work on OLE. Once completed, the competency will be immediately added onto your sentinel card and last for 50 years.

Whilst an OLEC 1 competency is the first step to working on an OLE Construction site, completing an OLEC 2 course is what will enable rail workers to undertake basic OLE construction activities safely and effectively under direct supervision. As with both the PTS and COSS competencies, it is the Sponsors responsibility to ensure candidates booked onto the course. Candidates must also hold a valid Sentinel card endorsed with PTS AC and OLEC 1 competency.


Emergency First Aid (EFA)

Safety is paramount in the UK rail industry, where thousands of passengers and employees rely on the network daily. One of the cornerstones of ensuring safety when working on the railway network is possessing an Emergency First Aid (EFA) competency. Not only does it empower railway staff to provide immediate assistance in case of accidents, medical emergencies, or incidents involving colleagues, but it also encourages a quick and appropriate response during those crucial first moments, which can often make the difference between life and death.

It's very common for rail workers to undertake an EFA course early into their rail career as it gives them the practice and information required to safely perform the duties of a first aider in the workplace. With the help of your sponsor, it’s easy for one to enrol themselves onto an EFA course and cover important elements such as CPR, administering emergency first aid and dealing with burns, scalds, and bleeds.


Basic Signalling One (BS1)

The Basic Signalling One (BS1) competency is suitable for rail workers who need to know the basics of signal engineering, who may be looking to progress their career and become signal engineers. The five-day course aims to teach the delegates about the following topics:

Diagrams & Symbols – To define signalling language, showcase how it can be portrayed diagrammatically and explain the purpose of different types of diagrams.

History of Signalling – Understand the evolution of railway signalling systems to the present-day use of colour light signalling.

Block Working – Understand how and where the different types of block working are used is an important part of the BS1 competency.

Power Supplies – Be aware of the various methods of obtaining the different power supplies used across the rail network, how they’re distributed and the means of by which this is done.

Relays – Why they are used, what are the current standard types and where are they used.

Candidates can expect to participate in hands on activities in a safe environment as they look to improve their performance in several signal engineering activities. Once a candidate completes the BS1 competency course, they will have gained a foundational understanding of signal engineering, equipping them with the essential knowledge to contribute effectively to the rail industry's signalling systems.


Level Crossing Attendant (LXA)

Another crucial role within the rail industry is that of a Level Crossing Attendant (LXA), often colloquially referred to as a "barrier man." LXAs play a pivotal role in ensuring the safe passage of both vehicles and pedestrians through level crossings. They are responsible for communicating with drivers, pedestrians, and train operators to coordinate the opening and closing of barriers when it is safe to do so.

The role of an LXA requires strong communication skills, a keen sense of awareness, and the ability to make quick and sound decisions in high-pressure situations. LXAs are essential for maintaining the flow of both road and rail traffic, making them integral to the safe operation of the rail network.

To become an LXA, individuals must undergo specialised training that covers the responsibilities, safety protocols, and communication techniques necessary for the role. Possessing an LXA competency showcases one's commitment to safety and their contribution to the overall efficiency of rail operations.


London Underground (LU)

Alongside working on Network Rail infrastructure, Coyle Personnel supply staff to London Underground. This can be an easier route into working on the Railway, especially if you live in and around London. The work can involve heavy lifting & digging to change rail tracks, sleepers and other parts of the London Underground network. The majority of the work is carried out at weekends - day & night. We are always keen to hear from people who would be interested in working weekends only, perhaps to supplement their income from a different job they do Monday to Friday.

We can offer the training to access the London Underground network, provide consistent weekend work at excellent pay rates. The London Underground (LU) safety training unit delivers fire and track training to Category 1 Standards. If this is something that is of interest, please get in touch. All applicants would need to be physically fit, willing to work weekends (day or night) and able to pass a drug & alcohol test and medical.



Possessing the right competencies can be the key to unlocking a successful and fulfilling career journey in the UK rail industry. From the foundational requirements of a Personal Track Safety (PTS) certificate to the specialised roles of Overhead Line Equipment Construction (OLEC) and Basic Signalling One (BS1), each competency contributes to the industry's seamless functioning.

These competencies not only enhance your CV but also reflect your dedication to safety, efficiency, and professionalism within the rail sector. Whether you're just starting or aiming to progress within the industry, investing in the right training and qualifications will not only benefit your career but also contribute to the overall success of the rail network.

At Coyle Personnel, we understand the significance of these competencies and their role in career advancement within the rail industry. Our commitment to connecting skilled professionals with reputable rail employers helps ensure that the industry continues to thrive with capable and competent individuals. Explore our latest job listings and take the next step towards a rewarding career in the UK rail sector.

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