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Women in rail freight

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Railways have been used to transport vital goods since the early 19th century and, with an increasing focus on reducing the UK’s environmental impact, it looks as though the nation’s dependence on rail will continue for decades to come.

The responsibility of keeping the UK plc running comes with its rewards. At Freightliner, this means employees are offered competitive pay, a final salary pension scheme, a range of working hours to suit their personal circumstances, and an extensive benefit scheme which is reviewed annually to incorporate feedback from employees.

The company has a highly respected and experienced team within the UK rail industry, from drivers to ground staff, and from planning, rostering and control team colleagues to maintenance engineers. Whilst many colleagues joined the rail industry at a young age, surprisingly, a large number boast varied careers outside of rail or logistics. 

Jaye Dry, corporate communications executive, said: “Over the last year I have been supported and encouraged by my managers and colleagues – so much so, I’ve been on training courses for leadership, technical development and women in the workplace. I was even nominated for a Women in Rail award for my promotion of diversity and gender equality. 

“I was new to the transportation industry before joining Freightliner and many thought it was a left-field choice, but, with the career opportunities, good pay and great pension, it was an easy decision to make.”

Despite the industry receiving the highest levels of investment since the Victorian era, recruitment is still a challenge facing many operators. For most companies, a high priority is to increase and promote diversity and inclusion through recruitment, and, in the process, harness the potential of this new talent for the future of rail.

It is no secret the industry has a gender imbalance. A report by Women in Rail revealed 16.4 per cent of the UK rail workforce is made up of women. Of those, an even smaller percentage work in frontline roles such as train driving or shunting. 

Heather Waugh, an intermodal train driver at Freightliner, worked as a passenger train driver for 12 years and then made the switch to rail freight. Before she became a train driver, Heather had never worked in the industry, and was more accustomed to being behind a desk, or managing an office-based team. She explained her perceptions of the rail industry before joining were not all positive, especially the rail freight sector.

“I was certainly guilty of being very ignorant,” she said. “Perhaps this is a result of misinformation being passed on, or the stigma of it being a dirty, unprofessional working place. The thing is, this just isn’t true. My Freightliner colleagues are every bit as professional as their passenger train counterparts.”

So what attracted Heather to working in rail? For many train driver applicants, the starting salary of more than £53,000 in heavy haul, is a strong incentive. For Heather, it was about the freedom and variety that being a train driver offered her, along with the work-life balance.

She added: “I’m so pleased I made the switch from passenger to freight. I have more time off than I’ve had at any other stage in my career which means I have the time and energy to follow up on interests, hobbies, friends and family. This was always such a struggle before. Even better, my time at work is filled with more routes and more traction – this variety keeps things fresh and interesting.” 

Freightliner works on the understanding that it is only as good as its employees, which is why the company supports colleagues to progress, not only professionally, but personally. Its dedicated training and development team works tirelessly to bring opportunities for individual and team growth, including offering apprenticeships, work placements and trainee schemes.

Freightliner’s focus on breaking down the barriers and obstacles which prevent women and minority groups from considering a career in rail means it can harness the skillset of this extensive talent pool and help new and existing employees to flourish.