Skills Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) Operator - Railway Traffic near Edmonton (AB)

Find out what skills you typically need to work as a centralized traffic control (CTC) operator - railway traffic in Canada. These skills are applicable to all Railway traffic controllers and marine traffic regulators (NOC 2275).


  • Direct and monitor vessel movements
  • Operate and monitor centralized traffic control systems to co-ordinate and follow railway traffic
  • Chart train movements
  • Relay information to next marine traffic control sector
  • Train and supervise staff
  • Calculate and record arrival, departure and traffic information
  • Report accidents, distress signals, navigational hazards and other emergencies
  • Issue instructions to control the movement of passenger and freight train traffic and on-track mobile maintenance equipment
  • Maintain radio and telephone contact with adjacent marine control sectors and with vessels within area of jurisdiction
  • Maintain log of vessel movements, size and structure
  • Receive, record and relay train instructions to train crew by hand or radio telephone
  • Issue clearance instructions to vessels
  • Obtain position, course, speed and estimated arrival time of vessels and monitor vessel progress through traffic zone

Skills and knowledge

The following skills and knowledge are usually required in this occupation.

Essential skills

See how the 9 essential skills apply to this occupation. This section will be updated soon.

  • Read instructions and comments on reporting forms such as natural gas leak forms, derailment and rail accident forms and vessel defect and deficiency reports. (1)
  • Read memos and e-mail about current job tasks, scheduling and other matters from supervisors, co-workers and colleagues. For example, railway traffic controllers may read memos from track maintenance managers about track improvement work planned on corridors over the summer months; marine traffic regulators may read e-mail from bailiffs asking them to watch for vessels that have skipped out on fuel bills. (2)
  • Read operating bulletins and notices to stay abreast of changes in the status of tracks or navigational aids. Railway traffic controllers read bulletins about train operations such as where there are special speed restrictions and areas affected by mud slides or floods. Marine traffic controllers read notices to shipping about changes in navigational aids such as buoys and marine charts. (2)
  • May read articles in industry periodicals to learn about new railway or shipping technologies and practices. For example, marine traffic regulators may read Pacific Yachting magazine to learn about the layout and features of popular ports. (2)
  • Consult operations and safety manuals to check procedures for handling unusual situations. For example, railway traffic controllers may consult the Manual of Railway Traffic Controllers to find instructions for carrying out rare manoeuvres involving more than one train. Marine traffic regulators may refer to the Radio Aids to Marine Navigation manual to learn how and where the LORAN-C system for determining marine coordinates is used. (3)
  • May read reports on subjects such as staff absenteeism and equipment performance testing. They may also check the content and accuracy of various reports and verify acceptance with their signatures. (3)
  • Consult national and international regulations to know how to deal with safety, security and environmental protection issues. For example, railway traffic controllers may read Transport Canada's Canadian Rail Operating Rules to check the protocols for ensuring the safety of conductors who must stop and exit trains to investigate problems on tracks. Marine traffic regulators may refer to the Canadian Shipping Act and American marine traffic laws to know how foreign laws differ from Canadian laws and to be able to carry out international agreements authorizing Canadian agents to help enforce foreign laws. (4)
Document useRailway Traffic Controllers and Marine Traffic Regulators
  • Locate a variety of data in complex lists and tables. Railway traffic controllers locate train numbers, track numbers and arrival and departure times in published train schedules and scan 'daily consists' of trains circulating through their territories to identify unusual or problematic traffic such as trains with extra wide cars. Marine traffic regulators look up tide levels and current speeds at different times to know when grounded vessels can lift off and to anticipate traffic problems in tight passages. (2)
  • Complete a variety of forms to keep a record of activities, events and permissions granted in their territories. They enter codes and brief notes to complete forms such as train emergency separation logs, track occupancy permits, pollution reports, traffic and communication violation reports and marine occurrence reports. (2)
  • Monitor traffic control system screens to determine the status of trains and vessels. They interpret icons, codes, coloured lines and lights, and schematics of track systems and maps of waterways to locate trains and vessels, identify their type, size and cargo, and determine whether they are on schedule. They may examine displays at varying scales to detect more precise information and may monitor displays of traffic in adjacent sectors to coordinate efficient traffic transfers. (4)
Railway traffic controllers
  • Capture a variety of data such as identification numbers, tonnage, lengths, arrival and departure times, minute gains and losses, mileage, siding capacity, speed restrictions and clearances using large tables called 'train sheets.' On un-signalled tracks, railway controllers may have no other visual representation of train and track status. (3)
Marine traffic regulators
    • Take information about distances and bearings from marine charts when planning courses for vessels. They apply specialized knowledge to interpret codes, markings and colours that indicate features such as currents and shallows, separation areas between traffic lanes and military exercise zones. (3)
    • Monitor displays of raw radar data and displays with map overlays which show vessels in relation to topography and specified traffic lanes. They interpret coloured icons and vectors representing vessel types, bearings and speeds when analyzing traffic patterns. Radar information is updated every few seconds and marine traffic regulators scan the whole system many times an hour to stay up to date on vessel movements. (4)
WritingRailway Traffic Controllers and Marine Traffic Regulators
  • Write reminder notes to remember information given to them by train, track and vessel crews. They use the notes when making traffic scheduling decisions and completing reporting documents. (1)
  • Write brief descriptions of incidents that occurred and actions taken on forms such as emergency train separation logs and marine occurrence reports. (2)
  • Transcribe communications with train, track and vessel crews. For example, railway traffic controllers write instructions and train orders that by regulation must be given to crews both verbally and in writing. Marine traffic regulators log communications in message data system logs at a minimum of fifty words per minute. (2)
  • May write e-mail and brief reports to supervisors, co-workers and colleagues. For example, railway traffic controllers may write reports explaining system delays. Marine traffic regulators may write e-mail about special projects such as emergency exercises to be carried out jointly with American coast guard staff. (3)
  • May prepare personal statements concerning serious occurrences under investigation. They may review written records as well as video and audio tapes of interactions so that they can write accurate and concise statements. (3)
Railway traffic controllers
  • Rédiger, au besoin, une description longue et complexe de nouveaux systèmes avioniques de même que d'autres modifications de système pour obtenir l'approbation de Transports Canada. Donner des détails qui expliquent en quoi ces modifications sont conformes à la réglementation sur l'avionique de Transports Canada. (3)
  • Rédiger, s'il y a lieu, des méthodes de réparation et d'entretien pour des systèmes et de l'équipement de bord, lesquelles doivent être explicites et non ambiguës de manière à guider correctement les techniciens. Rédiger, par exemple, des méthodes d'étalonnage en laboratoire pour des appareils d'aéronefs. (4)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

Railway Traffic Controllers and Marine Traffic Regulators
  • Monitor, manage and adjust the schedules of trains and vessels in their control sectors to ensure safe and efficient transport. They execute multiple scheduling tasks quickly, especially in busy sectors such as large urban terminals and harbours. They adjust schedules to accommodate delays caused by problems such as engine breakdowns, signal or buoy failures, poor weather and accidents. They analyze numerous factors including the itinerary, speed and manoeuvrability of trains or vessels; the status of tracks or sea lanes; and the needs of controllers in adjacent territories. Railway traffic controllers also consider the trains' assigned priorities and the shifts worked by train crews. Marine traffic regulators need to anticipate movements of opposing, crossing, and overtaking vessels, including those of new vessels unexpectedly entering their systems. (4)
Railway traffic controllers
  • Schedule maintenance work on tracks, calculating time that allow maintenance vehicles and crews sufficient time to do their work without causing unacceptable delays in train service. (2)

Measurement and Calculation Math

Railway Traffic Controllers and Marine Traffic Regulators
  • Take basic weather measurements such as temperatures and wind speeds. (1)
  • Calculate the points at which trains or vessels will converge. They use these speed and distance calculations to anticipate traffic positions and prevent collisions. Marine traffic regulators determine the closest point of approach for converging vessels based on measurements of the vessels' bearings, speeds and separation distances. Railway traffic controllers calculate where two trains traveling in opposite directions on the same track will meet given their speeds and distance apart. They use these calculations to plan which sidings the trains should use for passing to minimize total waiting time. (3)
Railway traffic controllers
  • May calculate weights and other measures needed to assemble trains. For example, they may use power to weight ratios such as one locomotive for seven cars to calculate the number of locomotives needed to pull larger trains. (2)
Marine traffic regulators
  • Use scales on marine charts and radar screens to determine the range and bearings of radio and radar contacts. They may mentally calculate reciprocal bearings for vessels by adding or subtracting 180 degrees from bearings called in from vessels. (2)
Data Analysis Math
  • Compare scheduled with real times of arrival to determine whether the differences are significant enough to require filing cause of delay reports or altering traffic advisories. (1)
  • Calculate basic operational statistics. For example, they calculate statistics such as the average speed of trains through areas with various speed restrictions and the average percent rise in distress calls handled by their control centres. (2)
  • Integrate a variety of data to assess traffic patterns and predict the likelihood of problems. They may analyze the positions, speeds, sizes and trajectories of trains and vessels; the locations and dimensions of rail tracks and marine features; and weather, tide and ocean current data. (3)
Numerical Estimation
  • Estimate how long it will take to carry out manoeuvres or resolve delays. They refer to rules of thumb and past experience to estimate how long it will take to carry out tasks such as coupling rail cars of given types and moving disabled vessels from narrow channels to free up passages. (2)
  • Estimate the times of arrival of trains and vessels according to the speed at which they will likely be able to travel and the distance they have to traverse. They consider numerous factors including train and vessel power and cargoes, topography, speed restrictions, and track, weather and sea conditions. Inaccurate estimates could affect traffic schedules in their own and other control sectors. (2)
Oral communicationRailway Traffic Controllers and Marine Traffic Regulators
  • Communicate by radio with train, track and vessel crews regarding routine matters such as speeds, locations, itineraries, track occupancy permits and clearances for departure. They must communicate according to strict protocols, including identification of both parties, repetition of the messages back and forth and verification that verbal repetitions match instructions entered into traffic control system databases. (2)
  • Exchange information about the status of their territories with co-workers during shift changes. They also discuss traffic movements with colleagues managing adjacent territories to coordinate traffic 'hand offs.' (2)
  • Give detailed descriptions of equipment malfunctions to repair crews and technicians. (2)
  • Speak with supervisors to ask for advice and to explain the rationale for traffic control decisions. They must describe the histories of traffic situations to provide the necessary context for subsequent actions. (2)
  • Communicate with multiple parties to execute complex traffic manoeuvres. For example, railway traffic controllers may communicate with train crews, station masters and yard masters when guiding trains through crowded urban corridors during periods of heavy traffic. Marine traffic regulators may facilitate communication among masters of foreign vessels from different non-English speaking countries to ensure they understand each others' intentions when making safe passing arrangements. (3)
  • Respond to calls for emergency assistance. For example, a railway traffic controller may speak to a panicked station master who has found a suspicious package in a refuse container; a marine traffic regulator may respond to a call from a mariner who is experiencing a medical emergency on board. They must elicit all necessary details from people who may be distraught and incoherent, and at the same time provide reassurance and instruction. They also contact appropriate authorities and rescue units. Marine traffic regulators broadcast mayday calls to other vessels in the vicinity and coordinate communication among all parties involved. (3)
Marine traffic regulators
  • Broadcast weather reports to the boating public. To be understood by boaters, they must read weather reports at an appropriate pace, use standard pronunciation and enunciate words clearly. (2)

Problem Solving

Railway traffic controllers and marine traffic regulators
  • Encounter situations such as locomotive and vessel breakdowns, equipment failures and leaks and spills that create delays or bottlenecks to traffic. They take immediate actions as needed, such as to shut off gas supplies. They also arrange for repairs and removal of disabled trains and vessels, reorganize traffic schedules to accommodate delays and communicate changes to all relevant parties. (2)
  • Experience power outages that disable radio and traffic control systems. They try using back-up equipment and, if needed, contact other traffic control centres to pick up the slack. If those solutions are unworkable, they need to think of other resources. For example, marine traffic regulators may request that nearby coast guard vessels take over radio traffic. (2)
  • Encounter train or vessel operators who ignore traffic control instructions. For example, they may deal with train crews who are angry about delays for their passengers, or vessels that continue to travel outside prescribed lanes despite warnings. They explain the logic behind their instructions and the consequences of non-compliance. If necessary, they request that other traffic make accommodations and follow up by filing formal complaints against the non-compliant operators. (3)
  • Encounter emergency situations which disrupt normal traffic schedules and traffic flows. For example, a railway traffic controller may receive a call that a train has collided with a passenger vehicle at a level crossing or a marine traffic regulator may respond to a call from a mariner whose vessel is on fire. In these emergency situations, they must determine the extent of the emergencies, mobilize appropriate authorities and rescue resources, notify and reroute affected traffic, and coordinate communications. (3)
Railway traffic controllers
  • Find that rail operations are incurring overtime costs or penalties. They explore various options to minimize overtime hours. For example, they may move delayed trains to alternate stations or passing tracks where replacement crews can board, or they may reorganize other traffic to give priority to the delayed trains. (2)
Marine traffic regulators
  • Become aware of vessels which are being operated illegally or dangerously. For example, they may find that naval ships are conducting training exercises too close to shipping lanes and are creating potential problems. They must diplomatically inform appropriate naval personnel of traffic requirements and alert surrounding vessels to the hazards posed by the exercises. (2)

Decision Making

Railway traffic controllers and marine traffic controllers
  • Select the most appropriate trains or vessels to carry out tasks such as to pick up railcars waiting on passing tracks or to check the functioning of navigational aids. They consider the locations, types, priorities and accumulated delays of various trains and vessels. (2)
  • Make clearance and transit decisions in normal traffic situations. For example, railway traffic controllers may give clearance to passenger trains before freight trains based on general company policy to avoid delaying passengers if at all possible. Marine traffic regulators clear vessels going with the tide flow in narrow channels while recommending that vessels in the opposing direction delay their transits. (2)
  • Decide to operate traffic control devices manually. For example, when railway traffic controllers judge there is not sufficient margin of time for safety, they block switch control devices to prevent trains from reaching certain points rather than sending orders to crews in the usual manner. Marine traffic controllers activate fog horns when automatic sensors fail to function. (2)
  • Decide which of several tasks to perform first in emergency situations. For example, they may choose to mobilize assistance to disabled trains and vessels before issuing severe weather warnings or calling to clarify the status of uninvolved trains and vessels. They consider the effects of their actions on individuals and overall traffic safety and efficiency. (2)
  • Make multiple decisions rapidly regarding train and vessel movements to ensure traffic efficiency and safety. They consider numerous factors including traffic locations, weather conditions, cargo specifications and priority levels and the punctuality of trains and vessels. Postponing decisions to see how situations will evolve may seriously limit options. Poor decision making can result in congestion or collisions, monetary losses for companies whose trains and vessels fail to meet schedules and damage to the reputations of traffic control service providers. (3)
Railway traffic controllers
  • Decide when service work should take place on tracks. They consider the urgency of the repairs and the safety of repair crews. For example, they rarely schedule repairs during busy periods when heavy traffic should not be interrupted and when any disruption is likely to increase the likelihood of accidents. (2)
Marine traffic regulators
  • Decide the level of distress to communicate according to their assessment of need. For example, after assessing weather and sea conditions, they may raise the level of vessel distress calls from "pan pan" to "mayday" when forwarding information to rescuers. (3)
Critical Thinking
  • Assess the accuracy of information they receive. For example, they compare position data called in by train and vessel operators and corresponding data provided on control system screens and readouts. Railway traffic controllers and marine traffic regulators may also call operators to clarify their positions and verify that traffic control equipment is operating correctly. (1)
  • Assess the safety of train, track and vessel crews when issuing clearances and track occupancy permits. They consider where crews are located, what activities are proposed, when and how long they will be in proposed locations, restrictions or shipping notices in effect, and the status of other traffic. They assess safety to determine what precautions and restrictions they should include in clearances and permits. (2)
  • Evaluate the risk of collisions between trains or vessels. They analyze the trajectories, speeds, sizes and manoeuvrability of trains and vessels, and consider topography, weather and rail and sea lane status. They also draw on knowledge of how certain trains or vessels are likely to function. For example, a railway traffic controller knows that trains whose crews are nearing shift end may increase speed to reach their destinations. Marine traffic regulators know that fishermen may be asleep on their boats at night and therefore miss seeing fast approaching cruise ships. They must continually review and adjust assessments according to changing vessel activities. (3)
Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Railway traffic controllers and marine traffic regulators plan and organize their own tasks to ensure that traffic moves through their control sectors safely and efficiently. Their tasks are generally dictated by the scheduled movements of trains and the proposed itineraries of vessels. A major part of their job, however, is to adjust these schedules and itineraries in response to delays and problems. Their tasks vary according to the volume and complexity of traffic and the seriousness of problems that arise. In managing traffic and responding to emergencies, they must closely integrate their tasks with the tasks of train, track, vessel and rescue unit crews. (3)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Railway traffic controllers are responsible for scheduling the work of track maintenance crews. They play a significant role in their companies' operational efficiency through their work of directing the movements of trains and scheduling maintenance work on tracks.

Marine traffic regulators do not organize the work of others within their traffic control organizations. (3)

Significant Use of Memory
  • Memorize codes and abbreviations such as identification codes for trains and vessels, computer codes for entering clearance and track occupancy instructions and abbreviations used in operating bulletins and weather reports.
  • Remember numerous regulations concerning radio communication and safe passing procedures.
  • Remember the schedules of trains or vessels that regularly travel through their control areas.
  • Remember the positions and itineraries of trains and vessels within their systems at any given time to be able to anticipate and avoid traffic problems.

Finding Information

Railway traffic controllers and marine traffic controllers
  • Find information about expected traffic by consulting published schedules and traffic control system databases and by calling train or vessel crews, controllers in other sectors and train company communications centres. (1)
  • Find information about the locations of signals, buoys, level crossings and calling-in-points by consulting various lists, tables, diagrams, navigational charts and maps. (2)
Marine traffic regulators
  • Find the names, locations and phone numbers for a variety of emergency responders and service providers by consulting references such as telephone directories and gazeteers. (2)
  • Find vessel specifics such as engine types and cruising speeds by searching online registries of organizations such as the International Telecommunications Union and Lloyds of London Insurance. (2)
Digital technology
  • Use word processing software. For example, they may write personal statements for occurrence reports. (2)
  • Use databases. For example, they look up and enter information about trains and vessels in traffic control system databases. Marine traffic regulators refer to databases to find out when vessels are scheduled, view information about vessels and determine when they should appear on radar. (2)
  • May use spreadsheets. For example, railway traffic controllers may use Excel to create and edit train schedules. (2)
  • Use communications software. For example, they receive bulletins and notices by e-mail and exchange e-mail with co-workers and colleagues about traffic problems or special projects. They may sometimes attach files such as photographs. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they use intranet systems to obtain information about trains and vessels and may use the Internet to access a variety of information such as weather reports, ferry schedules and train and vessel specifications. (2)
  • Use other computer and software applications. For example, they use centralized traffic control systems to monitor traffic, assess the status of tracks and sea lanes and issue communications. Marine traffic regulators use computer generated displays of real-time radar information to monitor vessel movements, ranges and bearings. Railway traffic controllers use computer-controlled equipment to change switches and signals. (2)
Additional informationOther Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Railway traffic controllers and marine traffic regulators work as teams with other traffic controllers in their own work units and in adjacent control areas. They regularly exchange information to coordinate traffic transfers and to improve overall traffic flow. They occasionally collaborate to solve complex traffic problems. Railway traffic controllers perform some tasks independently, but most of their work involves communicating and coordinating job tasks with teams of co-workers and colleagues. They monitor and adjust train schedules and coordinate the work of train and track crews to maximize traffic efficiency and safety while minimizing train crew overtime hours. To accomplish this, they must closely integrate their tasks with the schedules of the crews.

Marine traffic regulators work independently to provide traffic safety and control services to the boating public. They are in continuous contact by radio or telephone with vessel crews to provide traffic information and direction. They also coordinate communications among rescue parties during emergency rescues. (3)

Continuous Learning

Most continuing education and training for railway traffic controllers and marine traffic regulators is mandatory and provided by their employers. They are expected to maintain current knowledge of railway and navigation rules and regulations and administrative policies and procedures. Reading updates and modifications to rules and regulations is an essential part of the work of railway traffic controllers and marine traffic regulators. They may also read industry periodicals to learn about new railway or shipping technologies and practices. Employers provide training for new technologies such as micro-computers and new radar systems and mandatory courses such as first aid and emergency communications.

To maintain certification railway traffic controllers are required to pass recertification exams every two to three years. Marine traffic regulators are required to perform one floor shift every ninety days to maintain certification. (2)

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