About to become a conductor, questions and advice (Northern)

Discussion in 'Railway Jobs & Careers' started by The_Man_Who, 23 Aug 2015.

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  1. The_Man_Who

    The_Man_Who New Member

    23 Aug 2015
    Hi all, and first can i just say a big thanks for the wealth of information you guys have deposited on this forum (some of it utterly terrifying but also some useful and informative)
    In just over a month i'll be joining Northern Rail as a trainee conductor but before i do i'm stuck with a few things my research hasn't been able to answer so i'm hoping you guys can help.

    Firstly My Background (feel free to skip to the questions)

    I'm 28 and i've worked in retail for a major supermarket for 12 years in a variety of roles, for about 7 years i worked during the day and evenings (this included being at school, college and university) mostly dealing with customers, some friendly, some not so friendly as i'm sure is the case with being a conductor/guard but at least they were all different. For the last 5 years i've worked on nightshift between 21:00 and 7:00, replenishing shelves as a supervisor, during most of this time there are no customers and we simply trudge along filling shelves. Over the last few years hours cutbacks and crazy expectations have made the job almost impossible (for perspective we have a computer that says how long the work should take and then a schedule of how long we have and typically the required hours are 20% - 30% greater than what we have) as a result of this i've become increasingly disillusioned and now genuinely dread going to work every night (though we do only work 4 nights in 7 which is a plus) the fact that my role (which isn't bottom rung) only earns £20k doesn't exactly help either
    With this in mind i decided to apply for a conductors role at Northern and i won't lie i was initially attracted by the pay rise to £26k, however i've always enjoyed trains and believe that customer service is probably more my thing as i genuinely miss the customers (yes even the ones that want to punch you or threaten to stab you when you won't allow them to steal or buy alcohol) it's the customers that add a little diversity to your day in my opinion and that again attracted me to this new role
    however there are a few things i'm unsure of or just require advice on and that's where i'm hoping you guys come in

    My Questions To You

    1) Basically what do you think of my decision? am i an idiot leaving retail or are the railways a great new home? I am slightly concerned about no longer working with a team you can get on with and instead working solo on a train

    2) I hear a lot about job security due to the arrival of conductorless trains, obviously the incentive here is to save the company money but just how much of a threat is this? is it more of an issue than in other industries? (once upon a time my retail background would have been considered as safe as houses but look at all the redundancies and closures these days including my company getting rid of more than half its night shifts a few months ago)

    3) Commuting to work, my base will be Leeds station and i'm aware that shifts can be early, midday or late. At the minute my nearest station (horsforth) is about a 20 minute drive but obviously the trains don't run untill around 6ish so for a 4am start that's not practical, neither is the bus, likewise for late finishes. i've heard rumors that Northern will refund parking costs for Leeds station car park but i'm not sure about the terms of this. do you guys have any experience or suggestions that may be useful here?

    4) Shift patterns, i know this is very variable and luckily for me even the worst shifts on trains are better than my night shifts at the minute (at least my bodyclock is already broken in preparation and it doesn't get more antisocial than 21:00-7:00) but what's the general thing, i know its an average of 35 hours a week but would that normally be 4 or 5 shifts? would they all typically be earlies one week, lates the next? and what about unpaid overtime which i saw mentioned on my contract? are we talking a few hours for delays? or 10 hours unpaid work every week? it all get's very confusing the more i try to figure it out so i'm hoping some insiders such as yourselves can help

    5) Progression, I can't be a driver due to an existing medical condition but does that mean my railway career would end at conductor? what else is there, after all i'm 28 and the retirement age is only going to get further away

    i think that's everything, thanks in advance guys i really appreciate any help and advice you can give and i apologize for the ridiculous length of this post

    Last edited: 23 Aug 2015
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  3. LowLevel

    LowLevel Established Member

    26 Oct 2013
    It's a great job and all being even hopefully you've made the right move - I've never been happier. Working alone isn't as bad as it seems - you'll always have your driver about and you work very much as a team with them.

    No one can say what the future holds at present - my personal belief is there will be jobs but not necessarily what you signed up for originally. We are trying to fight driver only operated trains but it's not an easy battle.

    You can do a lot worse than joining a union. Usually it's the RMT for guards but there are others about. People will be out to get you from time to time and having someone to get your back is worth it's weight in gold.

    Progression is always there on the railway. Management, control etc - you can always work your way into other roles, the railway is nice and varied.

    Do be prepared for the shifts to hit you for six though - you're on steady nights which your body will get on OK with eventually. Swinging shifts can be a total killer - finishing work at 0100 Sunday morning to be back at 0400 Monday is no fun.

    Leeds have some varied work and I'm sure you'll love it. I tend to let my militant side out on here but I'm much steady in real life and there's nothing I'd rather do more.
  4. trentside

    trentside Established Member Senior Fares Advisor

    14 Aug 2010
    The back cab
    Nope, you've made the best decision you could've made. I know several people who have arrived from retail and none of them have ever looked back. One of the most frequent comments is that you work to a set roster, and you can know what you'll be working on an exact day a year from now - which isn't something you often get in retail. Don't worry about losing a team, as you're gaining a family. It's a cliche but the railway really is a family that look after their own - you get the odd few in it for themselves, but you'll soon find out who they are.

    It's an issue, I'm not going to lie. Make sure you join the union when you start, it's normally the RMT for the guards grade. One thing I can say, is that while there are guards the job is yours to lose - so long as you don't do anything stupid, you're not going anywhere.

    Can't help with this one. Normally parking permits are supplied, but Leeds may be a different kettle of fish. I also don't work for Northern, so their policies may be different.

    I believe with Northern it's four days, but I'm not sure whether Sundays are inside that - as it varies between TOCs. Typically it would be one week of earlies followed by a week of lates. If you're like me, you might find that doesn't suit you and your body-clock and you can always see if it's possible to arrange a permanent swap to your preferred shift, with the other person taking the shifts you don't like. On the overtime thing, I'd have to leave that to a Northern person to answer, as we get paid for delays etc.

    Absolutely not - it's a shame that driving isn't an opportunity you can take but there may be other roles that appeal. After a few years you could consider mentoring or instructing in your conductor role. There are always management programmes or roles if you're that way inclined. For the time being, focus on your new job and enjoy that! :)

    Hope this helps, and congratulations on your new role! :D
  5. munster732

    munster732 Member

    1 Mar 2015
    At Leeds, until you get a car pass (which could take absolutely ages) you pay for your parking, keep your tickets and then fill a disbursements form in. Once its signed by a CTM, you take the form and the tickets to the OTAP office in Leeds station and they give you the cash back. No problems...but its £18 a day in the car park so it soon mounts up!
  6. The_Man_Who

    The_Man_Who New Member

    23 Aug 2015
    Big thanks to everyone for giving me lots of great information, especially trentside for breaking it all down, so thanks, it's great to know i'm joining an industry where people seem to feel connected somehow

    hmmm Munster at £18 a time that's pretty extreme, maybe i'd be better off getting a season ticket for another car park, i know it won't get refunded like the other will but £18 is a lot to be racking up each day, any idea how often people typically claim it back? we talking a weeks worth of tickets or a month?

    also in other excellent news i passed my medical, and the Dr agreed my epilepsy is well managed and so isn't a problem, so yay!

    thanks again for your help everyone
  7. muz379

    muz379 Established Member

    23 Jan 2014
    I think you are far from an idiot . I too came from retail and know about half a dozen other guards at my depot who also came from retail , I was a manager for a nationwide food retailer and whilst I miss some of the people I worked with in my last job I would never go back there . As you said there are far too many unrealistic expectations and targets to meet . In this job as long as you keep your revenue within 10-15% of depot average, dont swear at / assault or otherwise do anything inappropriate to a customer and you dont breach any of the safety procedures you will be trained upon you wont get any hassle . I see my manager every 6 months for a ride out and in passing at my depot but beyond that I am left to do my work. You dont work as a team as much as you would have done in retail granted but you still have a good laugh and a joke with workmates in the mess room and if you are that way inclined im sure a big depot like leeds will have nights out and other social functions you can go to .

    The ultimate judge of how good the decision is will be you when you start doing the job . Its not for everyone I appreciate that some people dont enjoy being a conductor and get wait to get driving or whatever else they end up doing but I really enjoy it and whilst I myself will be looking to make the driver grade one day I enjoy my current role a great deal

    This is something that is very hot topic at the moment among conductors at Northern . The DFT franchise spec has specified DCO (driver controlled operation ) on 50% of northern services by 2020 . This means that the next franchise holder will have to enable the driver to control the doors on the train on half of northern services by 2020 . Its unclear on if this is by number of services or by mileage which could make a big difference . However one thing is for certain there are some lines and some rolling stock that wont be able to go DCO straight away or at any point without significant investment which there is no case for in some cases .This means that there will still be a requirement for conductors in their current form beyond 2020 , and I think looking at some of the lines for the foreseeable future after that ,

    Even on the lines that are going DCO because of the rural nature of a lot of the routes northern operate there is still going to be a requirement for a second member of staff on board the train to sell tickets , there is no way every station northern calls at is going to get ticket gates ever . This will mean that on the lines that go DCO by 2020 the conductor job will most likely change to a customer service and revenue only job . Rest assured though whatever changes take place the RMT will vigorously defend your pay and working conditions and whilst I think its safe to say they wont win the DCO/DOO battle overall I think that they are still going to secure a good settlement for their members .

    Taking into account natural wastage there is still going to be jobs for people to go to but I think those jobs are going to change significantly in some cases

    This is one of the downsides of the job , you have to have your own independent mode of transport because some/a lot of the shifts you work will mean you coming in or going home after or before public transport is running . For me that means all of the associated costs of keeping a car running ,there are some who use motorbikes or cycle in
    For the first few months you should be okay as your hours at training school will be roughly 9 till 4 and whilst route learning you should also be on fairly regular working hours like that too .

    As for leeds parking I believe someone above has answered that in depth .
    You might find when you do eventually go into the link the shift pattern knocks you for six , you've been working regular nights whereas you will now have to go from extreme early to extreme late which your body clock wont be used to . There is the chance to swap to one or the other if you can find another person who wants to swap . As a rule of thumb a swap to permanent lates is easier to get because most people want to do perma earlies .

    Your shifts will all be either earlies or lates in one week and there is a minimum of 12 hours between shifts .

    Unpaid overtime means if you are out working a train say from Man Vic to leeds and there is a signal failure at bradford and your are caught up in it you will be expected to work the first hour unpaid to get the train back to leeds any extra time after that will be paid at your hourly rate. Its far from a regular thing ,although it is quite regular to be booking of 3 or 4 minutes late just because of smaller delays to services .

    Any other overtime and rest days will be paid at your basic rate apart from Sundays which is paid at time and a quarter .There is a good potential to boost the £26k basic if you work rest days and Sundays in addition to your commission from revenue . This is however down to yourself and at a depot as big as leeds you will find a variety of people from those with kids and a family who dont do any rest days to those who grab as many rest days as they can . There is no norm with regards to RDW and sundays .
    At first everyone will tell you that the only promotion from guarding is driving . This isnt true although a lot of people do make that move there are other things that you can go and do , as others have mentioned operational experience makes you an ideal candidate for working in control or planning . I also anticipate that as the Customer service and revenue side of the role opens up there will be more scope to go into management and training on that side of things which with your retail experience you will have the necessary skills and experience to involve yourself in . Once you are in you are eligible to apply for internal vacancies .
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