Bryan Lai

"It never occurred to me that I could get a job that would keep me interested for life."
Man in front of train tracks
Man in front of train tracks

Interface and Integration Manager, Downer

Background: Signalling Engineer

“Railways have always fascinated me but I didn’t know there was such a big industry within rail. That you could get a job and work for life.

I work at Downer building rail systems infrastructure. My job is to bring all the different signalling and communications systems and subsystems together, integrating them so trains run safely and seamlessly. I look at look at how we communicate from the train to the trackside and from trackside to train control.

After studying electrical and computer system engineering at Monash, I started my career as a Signalling Engineer at Connex (Melbourne’s train operator from 2004 to 2008).

Generally, Signalling Engineers upkeep, maintain and review assets already in operation. But the role is a whole lot bigger than that and involves design and installation. Everything has to be done well if operations are to work smoothly.

Over the last five to six years there’s been major investment across Australia as advanced technology is introduced. We’re learning from the experiences of networks in Asia and Europe where they’ve managed to bring very complex systems together with multiple subsystems and ensure they’re reliable.

At the same time, it’s important to maintain and have a level of expertise around the more conventional trackside signalling which is not yet obsolete.

Designers need to understand these traditional systems before they begin to design more advanced technology. The conventional systems inform the basis of what railway signalling is. If you try to jump into high tech work without an understanding of the foundation issues, you can fail. It’s an evolutionary process.

What I love about my role is the ability to do a lot of different things. I’m integrating systems but I also have an opportunity to look at tenders and bidding for work. The best part is that I don’t just work with people like me. I get to interact with other disciplines, with the operations people, and people working on the track and substations and overhead systems.

This interaction, or cross pollination, is important to understanding why systems have to operate in a certain way.

If I were to name the three best things about rail it would the opportunity to work with different people from different disciplines, the chance to travel and work on jobs in fairly remote locations and the very competitive salary.”

To find out more about how to become a Signalling Engineer check out our training pathways.