Passengers boarding a Heathrow Express train this New Year will have had a better chance than most of seeing a female driver behind the controls. Around 45 per cent of its drivers are women compared to the UK industry average of 5.4 per cent, according to figures from the train drivers union ASLEF. While many companies are working to address gender imbalance, Heathrow Express is looking for ways to build on its success.
Heathrow Express (HEx) has been operating the fastest route from the UK’s biggest airport into central London for 18 years. Running a fleet of 14 electric trains, HEx operates 150 services every day and has carried more than 60 million people since its launch in June 1998.
In a bid to fill 10 driver vacancies, the operator is now recruiting for part-time as well as full-time drivers – a move which is a first for the industry and one the company believes will further benefit the diversity of its workforce.
Like train drivers, the majority of commercial pilots are male. But the train driving and pilot job markets are starkly different to other professions. In law, for instance, around 49 per cent of solicitors are women, while 51 per cent of doctors are female. Heathrow Express is proud of its history of employing women and supporting them through their careers. For example, Kirsty Sando, a customer service representative at HEx, decided to change career track and became a driver, qualifying at 24. By 27, she had become a driver manager – one of the youngest in the industry – and last year she won an Association of Women Travel Executives award for the positive contribution and impact she had made to the business.
Kirsty was recognised for integrating drivers into the commercial and customer service side of the business and introducing a mentor mapping scheme for the driving team. Kirsty also won an Everywoman award for driver of the year in 2015.
She says, ‘Any suggestion that being a train driver is a man’s domain is as laughable as claiming girls all grow up wanting to be hairdressers.’
Says Lewis Yourdi, head of drivers for Heathrow Express, ‘We are rightly very proud of having the highest proportion of female train drivers in the UK rail industry. However, we work hard to make Heathrow Express a great place to work for everyone, therefore we are proud to be the first train operating company to actively recruit part-time train drivers.
‘We welcome all applicants, and also aspire to perhaps tempt some out of retirement. We have a great family friendly culture here which is driven by the diversity of all our employees.’
Heathrow Express scored 91 per cent overall satisfaction in the spring 2016 National Rail Passenger Survey, outperforming every train company in London and the South East.
Heathrow Express prides itself as a progressive and innovative company. It was the first UK train company to launch e-ticketing, allowing customers to buy tickets online then receive a barcode directly to a mobile phone that can then be scanned on the train. It was also the first UK train company to launch a fully functional train ticket app, allowing customers to purchase and receive tickets direct to their iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Java-enabled phones.
The HEx technology team also devised a web application for Heathrow Express colleagues, which has proven popular during its first 12 months. The HEx app aims to update different teams – including drivers, duty service managers and head office staff – immediately of any changes in service. It provides instant information on any disruption, so that passengers can be told as soon as possible of any issues affecting the service, and helps to provide details of when the next train will be running.
Heathrow Express recently gave all 90 drivers smartphones to use for digital distribution of briefing material. This saves paper and makes distribution quicker, which greatly improves internal communications.
Drivers have also been set up to use Yammer – a corporate social networking platform – sometimes dubbed ‘Facebook for business’. This provides colleagues with the ability to communicate quickly and easily and so, for example, drivers can swap shifts via Yammer if they need to. This has proven to be extremely popular and helps facilitate internal communications.
First published in RailStaff January 2017 issue