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RailStaff Awards: Talent in technology

The UK’s congested railways are becoming increasingly reliant on digital technology, with many rail operators choosing innovative software-based solutions over new infrastructure, which is often costly and disruptive to install. 

With more than 30 years’ experience in the rail sector, telent is at the heart of providing and maintaining mission-critical communications equipment and has acquired key partners along the journey including Network Rail, Transport for London and several train operators to ensure the world’s oldest rail network moves with the times. 

HS1

telent’s reputation was enhanced at the end of last year when it was awarded a £7.6 million communications upgrade contract from HS1. This saw critical transformation work take place across several stations including St Pancras International, Stratford International, Ashford International and Ebbsfleet International stations.

The project covers the replacement of life-expired CCTV cameras – including one of the industry’s largest systems at St Pancras – customer information systems, public address systems and other communications networks, all while keeping the stations open to ensure a seamless switchover. telent is working with Fourway Communications on this upgrade, with work now underway. 

At the time of the announcement, Owen Virrill, HS1 senior project manager, said: “HS1 has undertaken a vigorous process to ensure we have appointed a world-class systems delivery integrator to provide design, build and installation services, while ensuring there is a cultural and behavioural harmony across our values.”  

Leading provider

Every rail network relies on efficient communication between systems and people and telent has an extensive range of products to meet the industry’s demands. 

Andrew Smith, programme director at telent, said: “We are on the front line for creating the stations of the future. From driver-only operation systems and station management systems to control rooms, GSM-R and pulling fibre trackside, we have a track record for the successful delivery of challenging, large-scale projects. If you need data to travel from one place to another, telent has the expertise and the experience to deliver.”

Although telent is heavily involved in technological advancements, like many companies it also relies on its talented workforce, which is a credit to where it is today.

Andrew continued: “From an industry perceptive, finding the correct people for a role is challenging, so it’s all down to our proactive team who will always go the extra-mile. On most projects we are almost the silent partner, we connect and protect without disruption, creating honest, collaborative partnerships with our customers.” 

With telent’s connected and streamlined approach not only in rail, but also in other key sectors including public safety, defence, highways and nuclear, this cross-industry work provides the company with great flexibility to seek new ways to improve performance and create stability. 

Retaining its talented workforce is part of the stability telent aims to create, with a focus on a rewarding work environment. 

Steve Dalton, managing director of transport at telent, said: “telent positions itself as an employer of choice and that’s reflected by the positive, friendly culture across the business. Our specialist workforce is a huge part in success due to our open and rewarding working environment.”  

Longevity

Set to fuel the rail industry for many years to come, telent has returned to sponsor the Lifetime Achievement category at the RailStaff Awards for a second year running, its fifth year supporting the only rail industry-wide people recognition ceremony. 

This award recognises an individual who has made a significant and lasting contribution to the rail industry over the past 20 years, with Graeme Brindle, of Amey, who has lived and breathed the railway over the past 45 years, winning last year.

Steve Dalton said: “It is incredible to see the dedication and commitment of those, not only in telent, who are shaping the future of rail at the RailStaff Awards. When you speak to people about what they do, they genuinely do not realise the extraordinary efforts they put in for the UK rail industry and its passengers. 

“At what could be regarded as a challenging time for the rail industry in terms of criticism of its performance, this year’s RailStaff Awards is really a great opportunity to recognise those individuals and teams who have gone above and beyond to keep our railway running safely, which is why telent is honoured to be one of this year’s sponsors.” 


To nominate one of your colleagues in one of 20 awards categories or to find out more information, head to www.railstaffawards.com

Never standing still

Protective equipment, in some form or another, has been used by rail workers since the 19th century. As industry safety standards and practices have been developed, so has the look, quality and range of these products, even when it comes to work wear. 

One of the industry’s leading protective clothing manufacturers is PULSAR, which continues to innovate and find new ways to drive out risk. 

“Innovation is what drives us as a business. It’s how PULSAR was born,” said Stuart Jukes, managing director of PULSAR. “When we developed the brand in 2006 and positioned ourselves between the budget and high-end parts of the market, the quality of the product in general across the market was going down and down, as was the price, it was a race to the bottom. As a business we have always innovated in whatever sector we’re in.”

PULSAR designs and delivers high performance protective clothing for the highways, utilities, construction and transport and logistics sectors with rail its biggest for high-visibility clothing.

Acknowledgement

Earlier this year at the Professional Clothing Awards – which recognises the international uniform supply chain – PULSAR cemented its position as one of the leading innovators in protective clothing with two significant wins. 

First of all PULSAR was highly commended in the PPE Innovation of the Year category for its waterproof arc flash clothing. Released at the end of 2018, PULSAR believes this product is the lightest electric arc coat that is both breathable and waterproof on the market.

“A lot of fire retardant and electric arc  clothing is heavy because it has to withstand quite a lot of damage,” said Stuart, who explained that if a product is heavy and uncomfortable to wear, the user is less likely to use it when they’re unsupervised, putting them at risk. 

PULSAR has, therefore, designed its clothing to be comfortable, promoting breathability and reducing the product weight at the same time, he added. 

“You’re generally going to be wearing it over the top of one or two other layers of arc clothing,” said Stuart. “So you don’t really need an outer product that’s got a massive arc protection rating because the garments underneath are going to give you that layered system. 

“From our point of view, it’s all about ensuring people wear it when they need to and that they’re comfortable and not restricted to a point they can’t do their job.”

Clean sweep

Moments after picking up the highly commended prize, PULSAR was also announced as the category winner. ‘PPE Innovation of the Year’ was awarded to PULSAR for its LED harness, a cross-sector product that sits on top of clothing and is ideal for undertaking work in poor visibility conditions.

Stuart said tests on the product, which emits its own light and doesn’t rely on light bouncing off it, have shown the harness is visible from at least 800m away – three times the distance of traditional reflective material. 

He added: “It’s a really good product – especially in rail where most of the down time’s at night – to ultimately see where you’re going from section to section. A lot of the main sections of rail work are illuminated quite heavily but then you’ve also got outside of those sections which aren’t illuminated, therefore people have to walk to and from with torches.”

2018

PULSAR products provide vital support for the track workforce, which is why it has once more chosen to sponsor the Rail Civil & Infrastructure Award at the RailStaff Awards. 

Last year’s winner was BTP’s Emergency Intervention Unit. The unit deploys specialist blue-light vehicles that allow engineers, driven by and accompanied by BTP officers, to get to incidents using blue lights and sirens which helps to reduce response times and decreases the length of delays to passengers. During 2017-18, the teams responded to 1,429 incidents, which included dealing with trespassers, suicidal interventions and supporting police operations with providing safe access for searches.

Reflecting on the 2018 ceremony, Stuart said: “The evening was fantastic. It was extremely well organised. All of the guests on our table had a really good time. I think the design, layout and the theme was spot on. I think the entertainment afterwards with all the fun of the dodgems was great. It was very well done, and it was all kept to schedule – those types of events can easily run away with you.” 

Tickets to this year’s ceremony are still available. To find out more or vote for a colleague in one of 20 categories, head to www.railstaffawards.com

RailStaff Awards: A new kingdom

We’ve announced the date, presented the host, revisited last year’s big winner as well as entertainment of yesteryear, and now we’re ready to reveal the theme of the 2019 RailStaff Awards.

Continuing from 2018, it’s a place of mystery and adventure, but it’s no concept of the imagination. 

It’s an oasis of beauty that fuses African and European culture and leaves visitors mesmerised by its rich landscapes.

Fear not if you’re yet to book your summer escape as come November 28 the sights and sounds of Morocco are coming to the RailStaff Awards. 

In for a treat

Imagine the bustling souk and giant archways of Marrakesh. The minarets towering into the sky. The vibrancy of the marketplace with intriguing characters brushing by. It’s all coming to Birmingham’s NEC. 

Gemma King, of event organiser Rail Media, said: “I’m so excited to announce this year’s theme. Although the awards are the night’s main attraction, the new themes and the world class entertainment are always so much fun to plan. I can’t wait to see the vision for 2019 come to life.

“If you were impressed by the enchanted kingdom with its cavernous woodland, acrobatic pixies, imps and goat men and sky of mystical orbs, you’ll be in for a treat when we transport you to the Kingdom of Morroco.”

Free tickets

The clock is now ticking until nominations close for the RailStaff Awards – so don’t miss your chance to put a colleague forward before the deadline on October 4.

The awards are open to everyone in the industry and recognise the achievements of both the most experienced professionals and those at the very start of their careers, including engineers, recruiters, drivers and project managers.

If you do nominate someone, we’ll enter you into a prize draw to win a pair of tickets on one of our VIP tables as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to you too. 

But whether you’re nominating or being nominated, make sure to grab your ticket to the rail industry’s greatest night for recognising its people. It’s going to be another night of making memories. 

Women in rail freight

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. 

Research sheds light on why there is a lack of women in the train driver role

Hull Trains train driver Emma Ramsden. Photo: Hull Trains.

In a television news report from 1980, a reporter named John Doyle joined a train driver for a short ride on the West Somerset Railway. The interview, which took place three years after Karen Harrison became the first woman train driver in the UK, was with a woman called Amy, and gender was the big talking point. 

“Amy, I know you’ve got two young boys, what do they think about mum being a train driver?” he asked from inside the driver’s cab. “They think it’s rather super actually,” she replied.

“You’re able to fit it in around all the housework and so forth?” he added. “Oh yes,” she said.

The three-minute report ends with John disembarking to walk down the station platform at Williton for a piece to camera. 

“And so, it seems the traditional male preserves are falling thick and fast to the invasion of the female sex. What’s going to happen now?”

Based on recent findings, not a lot. 

In 2012, a report produced by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) on behalf of the train driver union ASLEF, found that 4.2 per cent of the union’s membership across train (TOC) and freight operating companies (FOC) were women. 

Updated research published in June, which also identified ASLEF members from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and those under the age of 35, revealed that the figure for women has now reached 6.5 per cent. 

Given that 96 per cent of train drivers in England, Scotland and Wales are ASLEF members, these gender diversity figures clearly indicate that women train drivers continue to be vastly underrepresented.

Click above to view the report in full.

The million-dollar question

When it comes to filling a train driver vacancy, the industry is never short of applicants. In one extreme example, highlighted in ASLEF’s 2019 ‘On Track with Diversity’ report, Arriva Rail London received 6,500 applications in response to a single vacancy.

So why are there so few women train drivers? In its findings, IER breaks it down into two key areas. 

The first is the lack of applicants. Historically, the rail industry, let alone the train driver role, has been dominated by men and this stereotype prevails to this day. 

Although perception is changing thanks to the efforts of TOCs and FOCs to paint a more inclusive picture of the role, the report finds “these initiatives have not yet had a sufficient impact on the career choices being made by women” and, therefore, this image problem remains a barrier to attracting a more diverse range of candidates. 

The second area relates to the availability of part-time and flexible working arrangements as women predominantly take on the primary responsibility for children care if they have a family.

In the report it reads: “Historically ASLEF has not sanctioned part-time working because of a concern that this would be misused by employers and have a negative impact on the terms and conditions of its members. However, research from almost every other sector indicates that a requirement to work full-time acts as a deterrent to female applicants.”

Combine the two with the relatively low staff turnover and you start to understand how we’ve got to where we are today. 

A cultural shift

However, things are changing, as Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, explains in the 2019 report.

“Since our last On Track with Diversity report was published in 2012, we have seen something of a cultural shift,” he said. “Old-fashioned gender stereotypes, reinforced by popular children’s television programmes such as Thomas the Tank Engine… have given way, to some extent, to posters, adverts, magazine features and TV documentaries showing positive images of women driving modern locomotives.”

A key challenge, set seven years ago, was to undertake an awareness-raising campaign to “challenge the stereotype” of the train driver role in order to encourage more applicants.

From press material released at the end of 2018, it was apparent this is something certain operators are proactively working on. 

East Midlands Trains revealed it received double the number of female driver applicants for its 2017 recruitment drive as a result of targeted advertising.

Greater Anglia spoke about sessions it had organised for 60 women to find out about a typical day as a train driver as part of an internal recruitment campaign. 

And Southeastern provided a long list to the media detailing how it was doing things differently, including a partnership with WorkingMums, a leading employment website, as it seeks to raise the number of women applying for train driver roles to 40 per cent by 2021. 

IER researchers behind the 2012 report also urged ASLEF to consider revising its charter to promote part-time and job-share working arrangements. ASLEF has since added that it will “actively seek to negotiate with TOC/FOC’s part time contracts but not to the detriment of establishment numbers” to its charter. This has led to an increase in the availability of alternative shift arrangements and an “apparent consequential increase in the recruitment and retention of women drivers”, according to the report.

Recommendations

To help TOCs and FOCs on their journey to establishing a more gender-diverse workforce, the following actions were recently recommended: 

  • Collect specific data on women: The report said “improvements… are more likely to take place where operators used an evidence based approach” to allow them to track change, analyse and focus their efforts. This covers the recruitment process too, to monitor if there are significant drop-off rates for underrepresented groups.
  • Talent development: Efforts to recruit women train drivers from within the rail industry should be made because they already have industry knowledge.
  • Role models: Having employees from underrepresented groups speak about their journey into the train driver role is said to be effective in making a role appear more accessible and helps dispel myths regarding the role.
  • ‘Equality and diversity proofing’ adverts: Operators are being urged to emphasise positive job role benefits, such as potential for part-time work. Time should also be spent ensuring the language (gendered references for example) does not put off potential applicants from underrepresented groups while imagery used must also include those underrepresented groups. Finally, the adverts should be promoted on websites or in publications that will assist in drawing a wider pool of applicant.
  • Senior champions: To serve as a symbol of the organisation’s commitment to the under-represented group and ensure that where difficulties are encountered in moving the agenda forward, they can bring senior decision making and influence to bear.
  • Reverse mentoring: The report recommends that a company’s HR director, head of service, designated champion and chief executive, to name a few roles, should undertake reverse mentoring to better understand the challenges faced by individuals from underrepresented groups.
  • Unconscious bias training: Of particular importance for those involved in recruitment. Helps participants to understand that we all have biases, to help identify what those are and how to mitigate against them.
  • Staff networks: Effective in articulating the challenges faced by under-represented groups in applying for particular or remaining in particular roles, as well as identifying potential solutions.

Influx

Opening the 2019 report, Mick Whelan said: “I have spent 35 years on the railway, and 35 years as an active trade unionist, and I know how many train drivers look just like me. Middle-aged, male, and white.”

He added: “I want to see fewer people who look like me.”

If TOCs and FOCs learn from best practice and implement the recommendations, come ASLEF’s next report there’s every chance we’ll start to see that great influx of women into the train driver role that was spoken about some 40 years ago. 

Reflecting society and shaping the world

Photo: AECOM.

Director Claire Jones and apprentice Imogen Parker talk about career paths, working for AECOM and what they love about engineering


I’m not Isambard Kingdom Brunel,” said Claire Jones, who leads a civil engineering design team of 25 from AECOM’s offices in Swindon. “I’m not going to leave a big legacy, but it’s quite nice when you drive around the country and see things you’ve worked on.”

She might downplay her achievements but, in her 29 years as a structural engineer, Claire has worked on a number of major projects that have shaped surrounding communities. 

After the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, she designed rugby and football stadiums as they changed from standing to all-seater venues – Bristol Rugby Club’s West Stand Stadium, Swansea’s Liberty Stadium and Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets to name but a few. 

Claire has also worked on highways, bridges, hospitals, railway stations and nuclear power stations. Even on a recent trip to Cornwall, she drove over a rather bumpy level crossing that her team is currently working to improve. 

Claire Jones. Photo: AECOM.

Moment of inspiration

It was during her teenage years that Claire was first introduced to engineering. 

“I went to an all girls’ school and when I was about 15 a teacher showed the class a video about civil engineering,” she said. “I had family and friends who were civil engineers too and they took me out on sites to a few projects. I knew I really liked maths, I liked solving problems, but I didn’t want a job that involved sitting at a desk all day. I wanted a chance to get outside and thought civil engineering might be quite good.”

And she was right. With the encouragement of friends and family, Claire would lay the foundations for a successful career by studying civil engineering at Portsmouth Polytechnic.

Fast forward to today and Claire now manages a team of technicians, graduates and fellow engineers who work on a multitude of design projects – from station canopies to HS2’s Old Oak Common station enabling works. 

“I think civil engineering is such a rewarding career. There are a lot of jobs out there that don’t really change anyone’s lives, but, as engineers, we do,” she added.

Gender diversity

For almost her entire career Claire has worked for AECOM, a multinational engineering firm that is keen to improve its gender diversity to create a workforce that better reflects society. 

In its rail, bridges and structures division, AECOM employs 906 people, 155 (17 per cent) of which are women. 

That representation is slightly higher than the rail industry average for women but AECOM is committed to doing better. For example, at the very top of the business, AECOM is aiming for 20 per cent of its management team in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region to consist of women by 2020. 

Turning to new recruits, AECOM understands the importance of early engagement and, as part of its long-term strategy, organises an active outreach programme with its 150 STEM ambassadors.

The company also acknowledges that change is needed internally to ensure women stay in the business once they’re recruited. Flexible working, which is improving productivity, and the creation of a mentoring programme for women, are a part of that solution.

Photo: Hufton+Crow.

Historically, rail has been a male-dominated industry and it is not an easy challenge to overcome. 

“At school, the girls that are good at science are directed towards medicine and things like that, very few in my daughter’s year at school looked at engineering, which is really sad,” lamented Claire.

“Although the industry could do a lot more to promote engineering, it needs to start earlier. AECOM is quite good at trying to get people to be STEM ambassadors, that’s a really good thing we’re doing. It’s just a case of promoting engineering to both girls and boys.”

A key part of AECOM’s wider diversity drive across the business is its early years programme, which is made up of dedicated graduate and apprenticeship programmes. 

On these schemes, the use of gender-neutral marketing material and the mandatory inclusion of women on recruitment panels has seen a noticeable shift in the number of women joining the company. In 2018, 43 per cent of its 350 new starters on its graduate development programme were women.  

Up-and-comer

Civil engineering apprentice Imogen Parker, who works out of AECOM’s Nottingham office, was among that cohort in 2018 when she joined the company on a degree apprenticeship after completing her A-Levels.

Similar to Claire, Imogen’s route into engineering was affected by influencers around her. 

She said: “I’ve always had an interest in maths and science, so, I thought I’d quite like to go down that route because there is a lot to it and lots of different things you can do under that one title of engineering. 

Imogen Parker. Photo: AECOM.

“I know quite a lot of people that went straight to uni and the idea of it didn’t intrigue me. I had a friend that did the apprentice route and he works for Bombardier. He told me about it, and I liked how it works. You get looked after quite well and you are guaranteed a job at the end. I would rather go straight into working than go into education full-time for another few years. So, I just decided to do that.”

She added: “School and college just pushed uni. I went back to my college after not going to uni and they were still trying to tell me I could go to uni. They pushed that so much. 

“It was mainly mine and my parents’ research that led me to engineering and AECOM.”

Since joining last year, Imogen has worked across the highways and rail divisions as part of her training, working on track bed and geophysics en route. 

She’s only in the first year of the job, but she’s already been identified by rail director Joan Heery as “up and coming”. 

She has a bright future ahead of her and, by drawing on a wider talent pool, so does AECOM. 

A tale of two transformers

Michèle Dix. Photo: TfL.

As the government prepares to make a decision on what could be her biggest achievement yet, Stewart Thorpe takes a look at how veteran transport planner Michèle Dix, and the mega project she now oversees, have both progressed since the 1970s


When Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid announced the autumn spending review would be pushed back until 2020, it marked the latest in a long list of delayed decisions on Crossrail 2. Former rail minister Andrew Jones previously said the Department for Transport (DfT) would consider the next steps for the proposed railway at the spending review.

The need to prepare for the looming Brexit deadline has changed those plans.

Nevertheless, after submitting its fifth business case in as many years, next year Crossrail 2 should receive the clearest indication yet of its future. Should the project get the go ahead, it will become the latest, and perhaps greatest, transformational transport project on the résumé of its managing director Dr Michèle Dix CBE, whose working life began around the same time the mega project was first mooted. 


What is Crossrail 2?

A proposed railway that will increase London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent by linking the national rail networks in Surrey and Hertfordshire via a tunnel through the capital. Crossrail 2, estimated to cost £30 billion in 2014, will enable the development of 200,000 new homes and support 200,000 jobs once it’s completed. 


Origins

The trajectory of Michèle’s career and the development of Crossrail 2 can both be traced back to the 1970s.

Michèle, whose dad was a master navigator in the RAF and her mum a teacher, joined Leeds University in 1973. Under the guidance of a careers advisor at her all-girls school, she combined her love for the arts, maths and science to enrol on a civil engineering course.

While Michèle was getting to grips with university life, in 1974 the London Rail Study was published. Backed by British Railways and London Transport, it identified Crossrail as well as the Chelsea-Hackney line – which later became Crossrail 2 – as possible schemes to serve future demand. 

After completing her civil engineering degree, Michèle returned to complete a PhD in transport and land use planning with the aim of becoming an academic. She decided that “a good lecturer is one that’s done some work” and successfully applied to join Greater London Council’s (GLC) transport planning graduate scheme in 1979.

GLC was the highest level of local government for Greater London and its planning department introduced Michèle to many major projects that have since come to fruition.

Her department worked on the Fleet line, which became the Jubilee line, and East London river crossings, numerous studies of which have resulted in the Silvertown Road tunnel project. It also considered how to unlock development opportunities at Battersea, a question which was eventually answered with the Northern line extension from Kennington. 

After her working day at the GLC, Michèle would travel to Thames Polytechnica, Woolwich, to teach civil engineering part-time, such was her determination to pursue a career in academia.

Through the GLC’s graduate scheme, she became a chartered civil engineer and realised she loved her transport planning work more than lecturing.

1980s

After six years at the GLC, Michèle left shortly before it was abolished and its powers dissolved to the London boroughs and government office for London.

“When I was at the GLC, lots of people complained about consultants and how they just took money off you,” said Michèle. “I thought, if I’m leaving, I might as well see what consultancy is like. So, I joined Halcrow Fox.”

Halcrow Fox was part of Halcrow Group, one of the UK’s biggest engineering consultancies before it was taken over by CH2M (which has since itself been taken over by Jacobs).

For 15 years, she worked on all manner of transport schemes, from river crossings and bus priority schemes to airport strategies and regional transport studies. She also undertook work abroad on the understanding she would be home in time for tea and eventually become a board director for urban transport.

While she recalls Halcrow Fox working on early proposals for Crossrail, one project she doesn’t remember passing across her desk is the Chelsea-Hackney line.

In 1989, against the backdrop of overcrowding on the London Underground, the government commissioned the Central London Rail Study, which once more identified this line, as well as East-West Crossrail and Thameslink, as solutions to meeting a forecast increase in passenger numbers.

Transport secretary Paul Shannon called on estimates from the report to be refined before moving ahead. At that time, the Chelsea-Hackney line was estimated at £1.3 billion, with funding expected to come from passengers and developers benefitting from the project.

Two years later, the route for the proposed Chelsea-Hackney line, from Parsons Green to Leytonstone, Grosvenor Road to Ebury Bridge and at Wimbledon and Putney Bridge, was legally safeguarded to ensure it was protected from conflicting developments in the future. 

The millennium 

The year 2000 saw further backing for the Chelsea-Hackney line, this time in the form of the London East-West study. Published by the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority (sSRA), it recommended that a joint feasibility study be launched by the sSRA and Transport for London (TfL) to allow construction to start “as soon as possible” after Crossrail. 

TfL was created months earlier when the Greater London Authority was established, marking the return of devolved governance for Greater London which was lost following the demise of the GLC. Ken Livingstone, who had been the leader of the GLC, was elected as the Mayor of London.

At TfL, Michèle was recruited for the role of director of congestion charging, which she shared with friend and former GLC graduate Malcolm Murray-Clark. 

While she was at Halcrow, Michèle worked on the Road Charging Options for London study (ROCOL), to decide what powers mayors and local authority heads should have to implement road usage charging, which influenced her decision to join TfL. 

“It was because I did that work for ROCOL that I was very keen when Ken Livingstone became mayor and wanted to introduce the congestion charging schemes to come to TfL to implement it,” she said.

“When I was at Halcrow and I had my first child, I said to my boss that I’d come back after maternity but only if I could do four days a week and they said yes. It meant I could better balance my work and home life. 

“Then, when I saw the job for congestion charging, I really wanted it but it wasn’t a job I could do part-time. It would be full-on in terms of the media, stakeholders and the time that would be required. So, I persuaded Malcolm Murray-Clark, who was then at Westminster City Council, and who had also worked on ROCOL, to do it as well.”

The position wasn’t advertised as a job share but Michèle and Malcolm submitted a joint application.

Michèle admits their working arrangement was “quite unique” at the time. She added: “When we were interviewed, each time they asked one of us a question, even if they asked us a follow-on question, the other one would answer. So we answered alternatively, showing that we could be one person. 

“I think they realised they were getting more skills and experience than they could get from one person. And because it was such a full-on job, getting two people to do it turned out good.”

Working three days each – they would overlap on Wednesdays, when all the key management and stakeholder meetings would take place – the pair devised, developed, obtained powers for and then implemented congestion charging in London in 2003 – one of the biggest schemes in the world. 

“We had worked together all of those years so we totally trusted each other and our work ethic was the same,” she added.

Promotion

In 2007, Michèle and Malcolm were promoted to the position of managing director of planning and were tasked with leading TfL’s strategic thinking on the city’s future transport needs.

Malcolm retired three years later but Michèle continued in the role. It was this same year that she first started working on plans for Crossrail 2, when, after years of limited feasibility work, planning was becoming more extensive to determine the route that best addressed transport and growth challenges. 

Michèle explained the Chelsea-Hackney line had been safeguarded in 1991 but had to be regularly reviewed and was looked at for the mayor’s 2010 transport strategy, to establish if there was still a need for a south-west north-east rail scheme through central London. 

“We concluded that a regional scheme that went from Wimbledon to Tottenham Hale, with branches up to New Southgate and up to Broxbourne and branches beyond Wimbledon was a better scheme,” she said. “We consulted on that, along with another option, and the public came back saying yes they supported the regional scheme and that was preferred over other alignments.”

It wasn’t the only major scheme being looked at to support growth, but it became the most important.

She added: “Crossrail 2 was the priority scheme to get implemented because of the needs, not only to relieve problems that exist at present, particularly on the south west rail into London, but also problems that would accrue over time, because of increased congestion on the Tube network in central London and opening up of areas that aren’t very accessible in north east London.”

A breakthrough moment came in 2014, when the project’s first business case was submitted to the DfT. In 2015, after being named CBE in the New Year’s Honours list for services to transport, Michèle was tasked with turning plans for Crossrail 2 into reality as she became the project’s managing director. It was at that point that she went up to four days a week.

Although the project is yet to receive the go ahead, it has progressed considerably with Michèle at the helm:

2015: A full strategic outline business case was submitted to DfT while the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was set up with the remit to review Crossrail 2.

2016: NIC published its first report – Transport for a World City – which stressed that Crossrail 2 should be taken forward as a priority. It recommended that a bill should be introduced to parliament by 2019 to allow the line to open by 2033. In response, the government gave the green light for Crossrail 2 to proceed to the next stage, supported by £80 million match funding by the mayor to help support the drafting of a hybrid bill.

2017: A revised strategic business case was submitted to DfT, taking into account NIC recommendations, but a snap general election was called in April, delaying a response to it.

2018: Transport secretary Chris Grayling announced that an Independent Affordability Review is being established for Crossrail 2 to ensure it demonstrates value for money. He also announced that progress on the Transpennine Route Upgrade and Crossrail 2 are to “advance in lockstep”. A delay to the opening of Crossrail caused money that was earmarked for Crossrail 2 to be diverted.

2019: Ongoing work to revise and submit the project’s fifth business case, taking into account the Independent Affordability Review.

A career of success

In her 40 years as a transport planner, Michèle has seen a shift in culture, with many more women entering the engineering profession – “but not enough”, she said.

During her early career, she would often be the only woman in meetings. Previously she has also spoken about being asked to make coffee when she attended meetings with Malcolm Murray-Clark, others assuming she was his personal assistant. 

“It’s changed enormously,” she said. “And I think it’s changed because businesses have recognised the importance of having a diverse workforce. It leads to better decisions, it leads to a better business and it’s important where there is a skills shortage.”

What makes Michèle’s story stand out is the number of projects she has been involved with that have transformed London’s transport infrastructure. 

Her proudest? “Seeing the congestion charge go live, it working and the whole world going ‘wow’ because everyone expected it to fail,” said Michèle.

“The [Emirates Air Line] cable car too. The cable car was probably the quickest thing we’ve ever got powers for and built and it is paid for through sponsorship and doesn’t cost us to operate, it generates an income that covers its operating costs. 

“The Northern line extension because that has undone the stalemate that existed in terms of how you took that development forward and it was unique in terms of how it was funded – i.e. the developers needed it in and helped to pay for it.

“And my next proudest thing will be getting Crossrail 2 over the line, hopefully!” 

A talented team

L-R: Lynne Garner, Anouchka Valaydon and Michaela Silver-Woods. Photos: Stobart Rail & Civils.

Stobart Rail & Civils has gained a reputation as a business that invests in new solutions to drive safety and efficiency. Ballast undercutters, self-propelled jack & tamper units and tunnel vacuum cleaners are just a few examples.

The success of these innovations is down to Stobart’s people, and it is keen to increase the gender diversity of its workforce, particularly in managerial and technical roles, to help further meet the challenges ahead. 

Women occupy a number of key positions at Stobart. This includes Rachel Burnett who leads the safety team behind Stobart’s Think Safety: Act Safely campaign. 

Newly qualified quantity surveyor Abby Garcia, who now holds a leading role in the project delivery team, is one of a number of women in Stobart’s head office commercial team – 70 per cent of which are female. 

As women are often underrepresented in engineering, Stobart was delighted to appoint Lynne Garner as engineering manager earlier this year. Lynne most recently worked as a senior engineer for Network Rail, creating bespoke maintenance regimes for track assets to optimise inspection and repair strategies. She previously managed rolling contact fatigue for the Liverpool & North Wales area following the Hatfield tragedy, which was caused by a metal fatigue-induced derailment. This led Lynne, who began her career as a project manager at Jarvis Rail, into managing the area’s ultrasonic testing teams and studying part-time at university to attain a degree in civil engineering. She now leads Stobart’s team of engineering specialists, ensuring excellence in project delivery. 

Lynne said: “I’m an engineer primarily and being female is not something I’m usually conscious of. 

“I believe having a gender mix brings good balance to teams, as women do bring different strengths. Being comfortable admitting your limitations means male colleagues are more confident to do this, and this leads to both a safer working environment and one in which people are more likely to support each other and develop.”

A partnership with Strathclyde

In Scotland, Stobart is building a new team to support its project work.

Regional manager Keith Robertson said: “Our key focus is to bring new talent into the rail industry through apprenticeships and our graduate training programmes. We have an ongoing relationship with Strathclyde University and we’re seeing some really impressive students – both male and female – so we’re working together to encourage them to consider starting their careers in rail.”

Michaela Silver-Woods is one of those students. She is currently on a summer placement with Stobart while studying for a master’s in civil and environmental engineering, despite initially considering a career in offshore renewables. 

She said: “Keith Robertson came to Strathclyde to hold a workshop with the students and I enjoyed the work he showed us so I decided to ask him about summer placements.”

Stobart also offered a placement to Anouchka Valaydon, who is on the same course as Michaela and is keen to work in design. 

Anouchka said: “Rail is not taught at most universities in Scotland, so a lot of new civil engineers are oblivious to the fact that rail is an option. I like the way that rail in the UK is constantly developing, such as the HS2 project. Hopefully in years to come there will be more women on site and people from all sorts of backgrounds.”

Michaela and Anouchka are getting valuable experience on site and in the office and have impressed staff with their contributions. 

Michaela added: “I’m really enjoying the experience. Everyone’s been really positive, although sometimes there’s a bit of a double take if they weren’t expecting to see a woman. There are always going to be people who think women can’t do certain things and I’ve found that a lot of women engineers are overachievers because of it.”

Kirk Taylor, Stobart Rail & Civils’ managing director, added: “Michaela and Anouchka return to university in the autumn to complete their studies but we’ll keep in touch and we do hope to see them with us again in the future. We’ve always been a forward-thinking business that seeks out the best talent, no matter whether male or female, so I’m not surprised we already have so many women in key roles. 

“Like many businesses, we still have some work to do to achieve complete gender equality, but we’re well on the way and team members like Lynne, Rachel, Abby and everyone else are great role models who clearly show that women can have rewarding careers in rail.” 

Breaking the mould: Leaders from adjacent sectors detail their plans to boost diversity

Photo: iStock.

Construction

Forecasts from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) predict the sector will need an extra 168,500 workers by 2023 as a result of continued growth, bringing its total workforce to 2.79 million.

Like rail, the construction workforce has traditionally been a male-dominated one and, to meet the need for new recruits, it’s looking to draw on talent from previously underrepresented areas. This includes women, and people from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic), who currently make up 16 per cent and seven per cent of the construction workforce, respectively.

 “The rail sector might be similar to us in terms of how we’ve recruited for many years; it’s been very heavily weighted on word of mouth, very often ‘my dad was in the construction industry and so will I,’” said Sarah Beale, chief executive of CITB. “When you’re looking at the size of the need and the fact we’re are only fishing in half the pool for our talent, we’re never going to attract that many people if we’re literally only looking at stereotypical white men from certain backgrounds and, at the moment, certain ages.”

CITB, which has a similar remit to the National Skills Academy for Rail, leads its sector’s efforts when it comes to the promotion of careers in construction. Over the last few years it has planned and is now starting to introduce what Sarah describes as “the whole infrastructure” for attracting the next generation of talent. This begins with inspiring children from an early age, leads to encouraging them to find out more about the sector and then giving them constructive work experience placements before connecting them to jobs. 

This work can be broken down into a number of schemes: 

  • Construction Ambassadors – 850 trained ambassadors, from CEOs to apprentices, use their passion for construction to raise awareness of the careers paths and opportunities available. 
  • Careers campaign – In August, testing began on a £10 million industry-wide campaign aimed at, and largely designed by, ‘Generation Z’. Drawing on campaigns such as the Royal Navy’s ‘Made in the Navy’, Sarah said it won’t draw attention to specific details of a career in construction but will get people excited about an industry where you can “make a huge legacy”. Media channels such as YouTube and Instagram, as well as buses and bus shelters, will be targeted when the campaign goes live next year. Sarah said the website has been extensively tested with the target audience in mind, particularly looking at language and colours.
  • GoConstruct – an awareness raising website that matches users’ interests and skills to job roles, busts damaging myths surrounding safety, culture and careers, details the rewards and benefits as well as descriptions of some 150 different job roles. Sarah said the website received one million visitors in 2018, 52 per cent of which were women.
  • Open Doors – a programme where hundreds of construction sites open up to members of the public so they can see the variety of construction careers available.
  • Construction Skills Fund and the Onsite Experience Commission – these schemes, totalling £40 million, will support 31,000 substantial work experience opportunities thanks to the creation of training hubs on live construction sites. Done correctly, construction work experience placements are expensive and disruptive to organise because of the nature of the working environment, which this initiative hopes to overcome. Since it launched in November, 250 people – 50 per cent of whom are from underrepresented backgrounds – have already turned work experience into a job.
  • Pathways Into Construction – Also in August, CITB announced £10 million is being invested into the Pathways Into Construction programme to support 16 projects that help people from diverse backgrounds into construction. For example, in Wales, the Community Impact Initiative will provide nine renovation projects for 72 women to train on along with on-site work experience.

Sarah explained that construction has never had such a joined-up approach, which has led to a “glacial” change from 12 to 16 per cent in gender diversity over the last 20 years.

There is further work to ensure women are retained once they’re recruited through the introduction of practical facilities and flexibility in contracts, but Sarah is confident of her industry’s approach. 

“We’ve done lots and lots of small interventions that weren’t scalable and were never going to make the difference that we need.

“The difference now is we’re offering the full suite, and I think that’s what’s going to make the difference.”


Bus

When it comes to operating speeds, customer interaction and levels of concentration, the roles of a bus and train driver differ greatly. One area in which they are similar, however, is that they are both significantly underrepresented by women. 

A recent report from the train driver union ASLEF found that 6.5 per cent of those that occupy the role in England, Scotland and Wales are women. For bus drivers, 7.9 per cent of FirstGroup’s 9,739, nine per cent of Arriva’s 13,000, 10 per cent of Stagecoach’s 13,000 and 10.5 per cent of Go-Ahead’s 10,176 positions are held by women.

“The percentage of women drivers in the bus sector currently, which is around 10 per cent, is higher than the overall proportion of women train drivers” said Scott Maynard, Go-Ahead Group interim people director.

Although bus is slightly ahead of rail in terms of the gender diversity of its drivers, it’s the opposite when it comes to the entire workforce. Eight out of 10 Go-Ahead employees are bus drivers and the lack of gender diversity in that role has a significant impact on the company overall.

Scott added: “11.2 per cent of our bus workforce is female and it’s about the same percentage for our bus drivers. So it’s a very different problem to what you have in rail. 

“What we’re looking to drive forward in bus is more women in a range of roles and levels. It would be good to have more women in senior leadership roles in our bus companies, we still await our first female managing director in bus.”

In the bus division, Go-Ahead is working to ensure its recruitment adverts use gender neutral language to ensure they appeal to both men and women – a practice that was tested out on its new bus driver apprenticeship programme, which launched earlier this year with women making up 17 per cent of the recruits.

Go-Ahead has also set itself targets and recently announced it wants to increase the representation of women in its 14,000-strong bus workforce from 11 to 20 per cent by 2025.

Having visible women leaders is essential to achieving this as women respond well to seeing role models in areas they operate in. The company hopes the launch of a new ‘Women in Bus’ network can help elevate them further. This includes figures such as Angela List, who joined the business in 1977 and is now the longest serving bus driver for Go North East, and Elodie Brian, the first woman to hold the position of chief financial officer at Go-Ahead. 

Scott added: “55 per cent of bus passengers nationally are female, rising to 70 per cent in London.

“We want to have a workforce that reflects our passengers and the wider communities that we serve.

“You connect with people who look like you in some form. You feel welcome in that environment. It’s very important.”

Accelerating gender balance and diversity with HS2

HS2 CEO Mark Thurston meeting with WSP's Catherine King and other early career professionals working on the high-speed project. Photo: WSP.

WSP Rail’s managing director, Darren Reed, and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) manager, Abi Frost, discuss how HS2 is helping the business and the industry tackle one of its most endemic challenges


For WSP, breaking down the barriers that prevent the best people from contributing to our talent pool is simply good for business. Research and common sense tell us a more inclusive, and therefore diverse, workforce has more interesting debates; it can respond better to changing markets and improve business performance. 

HS2 is accelerating our progress as an industry, upping the stakes with its own exacting EDI targets and demanding unprecedented levels of commitment from its supply chain to help address the under-representation of many groups within the rail and construction sectors, among them women, BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic), LGBT+ and disabled people, and the long-term workless. 

A foundation built on solid data

For HS2, WSP is helping to set new standards for EDI and skills, employment and education (SEE) across 11 active contracts comprising well over 1,000 people. WSP has worked collaboratively with the workforce and the supply chain to support HS2’s ambitious agenda, which has included the launch of a multi-cultural network, a ‘blind auditioning’ recruitment model and various actions aligned with the WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) campaign. Through a dedicated EDI and SEE manager, we have provided an integrated reporting suite that captures the protected characteristics of our employees and those of our supply chain working across HS2 – an innovation which has since been adopted by other contractors on this project. 

Only with reliable data can honest conversations happen and meaningful decisions be made. For example, we know 25 per cent of WSP’s workforce working across all HS2 contracts is female (vs. 17 per cent in the infrastructure sector). We also know, on each contract, the percentage of WSP staff of BAME origin is either equal to the infrastructure sector’s six per cent or greater – on Phase 2a, for example, it’s over 40 per cent. There is much room for improvement; and, armed with detailed data, we can measure our progress and the efficacy of our actions; for example, more clearly gauging the impact of advertising vacancies on diversity job boards.  

Students at the National College for High Speed Rail benefit from practical classroom learning. Photo: WSP.

Top-down reform

Industry must accept that a cultural shift driven from the top is the only way to effectively address gender balance and diversity issues. It is why WSP adopted Avivah Wittenberg-Cox’s pioneering 20-first approach, which moves away from assuming today’s gender imbalance is caused by something women lack (i.e. skill, will, or background), instead embracing the diversity of experience and ways of working that women bring to the workforce. Through our dedicated Gender Balance Action Group, we have equipped our leaders to be convincing gender balance advocates, with a 20-first trained executive leadership team, and further face-to-face training underway for over 600 UK senior managers. Unconscious bias training and third-party consultation with organisations like Business in the Community, WISE, Stonewall and Women in Transportation have helped embed diversity into the business. 

This practical approach to promoting a more representative workforce has enabled us to grow as a business and align with the EDI aspirations of some of our largest clients, including HS2. This is an investment we know is working: with a 29 per cent female workforce already, we are set to comfortably meet our strategic growth target of a 30 per cent female workforce by 2021. In fact, we are now striving to meet HS2’s industry-leading figure of a 35 per cent female workforce.

Celebrating strong role models, smashing stereotypes

Like HS2, we recognise that the historical over-representation of men in rail and construction means there is a greater concentration of men at the executive level. While this is a deep-rooted societal issue, it’s not enough to simply have more women in the workforce, we also need to ensure those women are represented at the leadership level. That is why it’s so important to celebrate and raise the profile of those women who are already leading our industry. Women like Carol Stitchman, design manager of HS2 Curzon Street station, whose trailblazing path challenges the gender stereotypes that constrained the aspirations of many of her generation. Or Dr Nike Folayan, who has worked on the project for over five years as design lead for telecoms and control on multiple HS2 contracts including the station design at Old Oak Common, Curzon Street and Euston stations. 

Shaking up gender stereotypes at school, where very few girls over 16 choose physics for further education, is a big part of the gender balance issue.  Liaising with the North West College of London and HS2, and taking part in the City & Islington Employability Day, we are working to raise awareness of apprenticeship and work opportunities at WSP. Our ecologists have taken part in ThinkTank’s ‘Meet the Expert’ event, and our engineers have volunteered at a targeted programme of STEM events with schools along the HS2 route, including the Big Bang Fair and the Science Museum‘s We Are Engineers Family Festival, an event which reached around 450 children and 300 adults. And our award-winning apprentice and graduate programmes are making a difference. For example, females accounted for 66 per cent of our 2019 apprentice intake, following year-on-year increases since 2015.


Carol Stitchman (below), WSP design manager (HS2 Curzon Street), grew up in a coal-mining community: “where most of my female friends and peers considered engineering to be for men only; projects like HS2 capture the imaginations of the next generation of female, BAME or otherwise under-represented talent”.


Photo: WSP.

A viable option for returners

All too often women who choose to have children and temporarily disappear from the talent pool find they have to lower their expectations and ambitions when they return to work. This is wrong, but by flexing our thinking and our business model, we can find ways to accommodate the modern career path. Promoting inclusive behaviours to support a more flexible workplace is not difficult. Even simple things like not organising team meetings when parents are ‘on the school run’, or making it easier to work from home via Skype, have proven to be extremely effective.

When HS2 skills manager Ambrose Quashie invited WSP to support Women into Construction, a cross-industry initiative sponsored by Camden Borough Council, we were keen to take part. The event saw senior people from HS2’s supply chain conducting speed interviews with female candidates hoping to return to work following long absences. Genevieve Edwards, senior requirement manager, HS2 rail systems support contract, was impressed by the women’s enthusiasm: “Many were not from project management or engineering backgrounds, but they still wanted to be part of HS2 and leave a legacy that will affect the place where they live for generations to come”.  Through this one event, WSP has provided over 500 days of work placement opportunities on HS2’s Old Oak Common and Curzon Street stations, and on Phase 2B. 

Making gender balance easier 

It is not just about inspiring women, it is just as important to make it easier for men to challenge the gender stereotype. For example, a more progressive policy on paternity leave has helped new fathers, like Tom Wood, sustainability manager, Old Oak Common, to become ‘stay-at-home-Dads’. In Tom’s case he can now balance his family commitments and career with those of his wife’s. Clearly, as more women join the engineering workforce, we can expect shared parental leave to become far more common. This will benefit projects like HS2 through the retention of experience and skills, but it will also benefit people’s hard-earned career paths and their families. 

As an opportunity to change the skills landscape, HS2 is special: its construction alone will create over 30,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships; another 3,000 will operate it, and it’s estimated new HS2 stations will create a further 100,000 jobs. By any measure, HS2 is a game-changer for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups and every effort should be made to optimise this unprecedented opportunity. Critically, this is the clarion call HS2’s partners and suppliers are rallying behind. 

Teams that reflect the communities they serve

Jean Cockerill took on GTR’s newly created role of people director in July. Photo: GTR.

Jean Cockerill, people director at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), on building an inclusive workplace where diverse talents can thrive


I’m relatively new to rail – I started in the industry in 2014 – and I was pleased to find my ‘outsider’ perceptions of the sector as old-fashioned, not very progressive and slow to change were themselves increasingly outdated. It’s really encouraging to see the changes we’re making as an industry, but we still have more to do.

I get a real kick out of the fact my forefathers were amongst the earliest employees of the world’s first public railway – the Stockton and Darlington Railway – at the time of its birth in the 1820s. Over the last 200 years, the industry has seen tremendous growth and technological change, while continuing to offer fantastic career opportunities. 200 years ago, 100 years ago, maybe even 50 years ago, the sector would have been almost exclusively male, but this has started to change rapidly over recent years and the continued pace and scope of this change is truly exciting.

While my career to date has been within human resources – traditionally a very ‘female’ occupation – the industries I’ve worked in have been very male-dominated, particularly at more senior levels. Over several years, I’ve led on employee and industrial relations matters and very often I’ve been the only woman in the room at union negotiations – on either side of the table! But that too is changing and indeed there’s an opportunity here to work collaboratively with the rail unions on creating a diverse and inclusive industry, as they care passionately about this too. 

Delegates from GTR’s Diversity & Inclusion Conference. Photo: GTR.

Indeed, across the industry the true value of diversity and inclusion is increasingly being recognised and is being made a key focus for organisations. Collaboration between industry partners is key for this and is happening more and more; earlier this year, GTR held an inspiring Diversity & Inclusion Conference with Southeastern and Network Rail – the first event of its kind and following its success, this is now set to be an annual forum.

I have joined GTR – the UK’s largest rail franchise and parent operator of Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express – at a time when tangible action to improving diversity and inclusion is already well underway. With commitments to appoint more female train drivers than ever before, offering more apprenticeship roles, as well as a recruitment push to highlight the breadth of careers available across the business, this is an exciting time with real scope to diversify the make-up of the future leaders in rail. 

Our responsibility as such a large employer to shape the future generation is a really exciting opportunity. 

Now, two months into my role at GTR, I can see the real progress being made toward authentically improving diversity and inclusion across the organisation. This is not a tick-box exercise or a nice-to-have; at a purely business level, a more diverse and inclusive workplace delivers better results. An organisation where people can bring their true selves to work ensures greater diversity of thought, innovation and agility and is something to be celebrated by our 7,300 employees.

Cynthia Bosombi-Mandete (centre) was among the cohort that joined GTR in November from its ‘Get into Railways’ programme with The Prince’s Trust. Photo: GTR.

While this positive action is having a real impact – we have women well-represented across station, on-board, management and administration roles – we still have some way to go to address the imbalance in our operations and engineering teams, as well as within the driving grade. These key areas will only reap the benefits of evolving into more diverse teams, so highlighting the women already in these roles helps to attract more women to the sector and show what they can achieve in rail. 

We are already celebrating greater diversity across GTR and have multiple routes into and within the business to attract – and, crucially, retain – female candidates and employees, as well as apprenticeships and programmes for younger people or those from disadvantaged backgrounds – all of whom may not have considered a career in rail before.

To support this, as well as working toward the target of increasing the number of train driver applications from women to 40 per cent by 2021, we have launched station manager apprenticeships. This year, we celebrate the fifth anniversary of our partnership with The Prince’s Trust, through which we help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds get into full-time employment with our ‘Get into Railways’ customer service course. This course has had a huge impact on hundreds of young people, with Prince’s Trust graduates in roles across the GTR network. 

The career opportunities in rail are almost endless and I am focused on helping to continue with this vital build project. Creating a more diverse and inclusive culture that is reflective of the communities we serve, allowing us to provide better service for our customers is my overall goal; I am excited to be a part of this industry’s continuing evolution. 


Jean Cockerill took on GTR’s newly created role of people director in July. She joined from Transport for London, where she was director of business partnering and employee relations. Before that, she was head of business partnering and employee relations at Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Powering rail productivity: The case for greater diversity

Virgin Trains' people director Natasha Grice (centre) surrounded by colleagues. Photo: Virgin Trains.

Stewart Thorpe outlines why rail needs to draw on new pools of talent


In a quiet side street office in the heart of Westminster, a team of data analysts gazes into a crystal ball to predict the makeup of rail’s future workforce. 

At its fingertips the team has collected anonymised data on 237,000 people by drawing on databases from the safety passport system Sentinel and industry employers that date back to 2016. Details such as job role, age, gender and location are entered into a specially designed programme that generates a map of Britain, highlighting where rail’s skills gaps and shortages are most acute. 

For example, it knows there are currently 288 male train drivers based in Wales over the age of 50 and that, in 10 years time, 613 will be needed in Wales in total.

This tool, referred to as the ‘Skills Intelligence Model’ (SIM), not only looks at today but, by looking at how much and where investment is going into the rail industry, it is able to forecast how many people the industry will need, what skills will be needed, where they’ll be needed and, crucially, when.


What is the difference between a skills gap and a skills shortage?

A skills shortage relates to the number in a particular job role (signallers, for example), whereas a skills gap describes limitations in their skillsets.


New students at the National College for High Speed Rail, pictured in 2017. Photo: NCHSR.

The bigger picture

The remarkable resurgence in the UK rail industry has seen passenger numbers double in the last 20 years, it’s a fact we’re all familiar with.

What hasn’t been reported so widely is the number of people employed by train companies alone has increased by almost 50 per cent in that time. With demand for rail services set to increase further, so will the need for more staff. 

Added to the equation are further trends that complicate the picture for rail’s future workforce in the short and long-term. For example, rail has an ageing workforce caused by a lack of investment in training and skills over the last 20 years. Around 22 per cent of the workforce is older than 50 and the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR), which developed SIM, predicts this could result in as many as 50,000 people retiring by 2033. 

Furthermore, as much as 20 per cent of the rail industry workforce consists of non-UK EU nationals. For some organisations, particularly those in London and the South East, that figure is as high as 50 per cent. Brexit, therefore, threatens the industry’s access to this pool of skilled labour from the EU. 

Finally, a shift in the types of skills that are in demand – from manual to digital caused by technological advances and digitisation – will change the make-up of jobs and put pressure on upskilling and recruiting people with higher skillsets.

These are all changes that influence the SIM forecasting tool. 

Neil Franklin, head of skills intelligence at NSAR, leads on this work to predict the future workforce for the rail industry. He said there are three areas in particular in which rail faces the most acute skills shortages: signallers, train drivers and maintenance technicians. Simply put, overall, rail will need around 50,000 extra people by 2033.

If it doesn’t succeed in tackling the skills shortages and gaps,  labour costs will be pushed up, increases in productivity prevented, project timelines delayed and the industry’s ability to deliver a railway to meet future growth requirements compromised. 

“By not investing in skills, what we’re actually doing is worsening our productivity perspective,” said Neil. “Because we have an ageing workforce, if people retire and that well of capability is not being replenished, we’re relying on fewer and fewer people to do the same job, which basically means we’re paying them more because we don’t have a choice. 

“What that means is we become less and less productive. So what we should be doing is replenishing the reservoir of talent, either with apprentices or with people from the armed forces or people from other sectors. At the moment, our reservoir is diminishing rather than increasing, which means we’re being less and less productive.”

It’s a big task, and it requires a change in approach. 

Fishing in new pools

The railway workforce has long been made up of predominately white, middle-aged men, but if it wants to tackle the skills challenges, it needs to widen its reach and attract the very best talent. 

This includes recruiting and retaining people of a black, Asian and minority ethnic background and women – who make up less than 15 per cent of the workforce and have previously been underrepresented. It is exactly why the August/September 2019 issue of RailStaff focuses on women, who are one of a number of key talent pools for the industry to fish from.

Mark Carne (centre), former CEO of Network Rail, alongside colleagues Janice Crawford and Becky Lumlock.

Advantages of gender diversity 

Not only does rail need women and their skills, research has shown that more gender-diverse workplaces perform better than imbalanced teams. 

Former chief executive Mark Carne wanted to find out if this held true for Network Rail and prompted a research project looking at its teams. It found teams with 20 per cent or more women – the “critical minimum threshold” – were more engaged, more collaborative, safer and more motivated. And in teams with up to 40 per cent women these scores were even higher. 

Mark said: “When a workforce is made up of similar people – when they all think the same and have the same background – it encourages conformity and stifles creativity. It doesn’t help us to challenge the way we’ve been doing business for decades. It doesn’t help us to drive up productivity and offer better value for money. It doesn’t help us to keep making our railway safer. It doesn’t help us get better every day.”

He added that “diverse, gender balanced teams” were “better in every way”. “The prize is huge” he concluded.

A special edition

The research above stresses exactly why diversity is important, not just from a cultural standpoint but from an economic one too.

This issue, which has been shaped by three railwaywomen who have helped to edit its content, focuses on women in the rail industry, highlighting issues that will hopefully inform, educate and inspire change when it comes to attracting and retaining the very best talent.

Researching this topic has been an eye-opener. Diversity has improved considerably since the mid-19th century, when women disguised themselves as men to secure lucrative work constructing railways. Nevertheless, it has so much further to go. 

The following pages highlight pioneering women, work organisations such as Network Rail, GTR and WSP are undertaking to recruit and retain more women into their workforces and what lessons could be learnt from other industries. 

I’ve learnt a lot over the past few weeks but, above all else, I’ve come to realise the historic assumption that the market will take care of the provision of skills is no longer safe. We must all act now. 

RailStaff Aug/Sep: Guest editor takeover

Inge-Sarah Andersen, Network Rail engineer and guest editor; Stewart Thorpe, RailStaff editor; Nikki Williams, Virgin Trains driver and guest editor. Photo: Rail Media.

When I was first asked to be one of the guest editors for this special issue focused on gender diversity, I jumped at the chance. Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) has been close to my heart for a very long time and even more so since joining the rail industry. I joined Network Rail in September 2017 as an engineer on its graduate scheme and since then I’ve come across some brilliant people but, equally, I’ve seen a lot that could be improved in order to bring our industry into the future. 

There are lots of things happening that are really positive: from initiatives to increase the number of female train drivers to companies providing shared parental leave (acknowledging that men have as much a right to care for their families as women) and a programme to rollout more toilet facilities for track workers: the industry is changing for the better.

While these are examples of what we are doing right, not every experience of mine has been positive. When I meet someone new at an industry event, they are still just as likely to assume I’m my male colleague’s secretary or that I work in a more ‘traditionally female’ role as they are to assume I’m an engineer, and some people still hold outdated views regarding the ability of the disabled – which, as a dyslexic, I thoroughly enjoy debunking! 

Inge-Sarah Andersen is a reverse mentor for Andrew Haines, Network Rail CEO, on the subject of diversity. Photo: Rail Media.

Even where we are doing well, we often don’t discuss the bigger picture when it comes to diversity and inclusion which can lead to some groups feeling singled out and marginalised. Many people feel ‘diversity issues’ aren’t for them because they aren’t female or from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, when, in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth and an interest in ‘diversity issues’ should be for everyone. We each have things that make us unique and acknowledging the hardship one group might experience isn’t a green signal to diminish the experiences of others. Diversity is for all and by discussing what it means and how we are all unique, we can try to make the industry better for each and every one of us.

My hope for the industry has been rekindled as of late. I was recently appointed as a mentor for Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, on diversity and inclusion issues. To see someone at such a high level take an interest in EDI shows me there is a new wave of change coming and I would like to see every top boss in our industry follow suit and lead from the top, as Andrew has done. 

Although Andrew doesn’t fall into the demographic you might initially associate with EDI, he recognises these are issues that affect us all and that we need to reconsider what diversity and inclusion means on both a personal and industry level as it may be much broader than we realise and because it’s the right thing to do.

After agreeing to help shape this bumper issue, I met with fellow guest editor Nikki Williams and RailStaff editor Stewart Thorpe in Birmingham back in June to thrash out a plan. With the input from Anna Delvecchio, who completed the lineup of guest editors, we decided on the most important topics to tackle and how these might be approached. The bulk of this edition is the product of those discussions.

We are a wonderful industry with fantastic people and a proud history, but although our roots lie in the Victorian era it’s time to bring our values into the modern age and show other industries we can be every bit as progressive as them. I hope you enjoy this special issue

Inge-Sarah Andersen

RailStaff Aug/Sep: Meet the guest editors

Guest editors Anna, Inge-Sarah and Nikki.

One woman from the supply chain, one from Network Rail and another from the driver’s cab; together they have helped to shape the August/September issue


Anna opening Railtex 2019.

Anna Delvecchio: diversity champion, industry leader and role model

You can’t underestimate the influence of good role models. Anna Delvecchio, Amey director and Rail Sector Deal co-lead, had two. 

The first was a commercial account director – the same type of role Anna now holds – when she was a sprightly 16-year-old apprentice. The second is the Princess Royal – who she describes as an “exceptional ambassador for Great Britain”.

Anna, who is becoming a role model herself, recently returned to Amey after a three year secondment to the Rail Supply Group as programme director, taking on the additional voluntary role as Rail Sector Deal co-lead during that time. Only seven sectors successfully negotiated sector deals with the government, an achievement Anna takes great pride in. 

“We had many individuals saying that we wouldn’t achieve it, that we were not capable, as a sector, of coordinating ourselves,” she said. “We created, negotiated and secured it against other sectors. It is a really good news story for the sector, so I would have to say that’s one of my biggest achievements, as well as taking an apprenticeship in the profession I have gone on to enjoy for over 20 years.”

Hailed as a key milestone in the government’s modern industrial strategy, the Rail Sector Deal is intended to deliver more for passengers, create jobs and drive economic growth across the country.

For Anna, the deal was one of the proudest moments from her 20 years of working in commercial and supply chain roles in the transport sector, a journey that began in 1997 when she joined Railtrack as a buyer for Major Projects in the Great Western region. 

“I’m driven by challenges and I knew it was going to be a challenge to co-ordinate the entire sector,” she said.

Anna climbed her way up the ladder, building up her knowledge of the industry and its assets through working in the regions and, centrally, in both a contractor and client environment.

Achievements

When she’s not working with the Rail Supply Group or for Amey, Anna is a champion for greater diversity and inclusion across the sector. 

She set up Women in Rail’s ‘South’ group, sits on the board of Women in Transport and, through working with the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, launched the Big Logistics and Transport Diversity Challenge. 

In June 2019, the London Transport Museum unveiled a portrait and plaque of Anna, appointing her as a patron of the museum and recognising her as an iconic woman of transport. Anna was also named Woman of the Year at the 2018 Everywoman in Transport & Logistics Awards, in recognition of her work supporting others and helping to inspire the next generation to be part of these sectors. 

“For me, many years ago, I attended a transport meeting and, when I walked in, there were 300 in the room with perhaps less then five or six women there and no BAME,” said Anna, explaining how she came to become a champion of greater diversity overall. “It was a real turning moment for me. It was ‘Do I roll my sleeves up and help the sector make it more diverse or is it just someone else’s problem?’ I decided that I would voluntarily try and champion change to make the sector more diverse.”

Anna said that the perception of rail and transport as a male profession is holding the industry back when it comes to attracting a more diverse workforce. 

Since having her plaque in the museum, Anna has received numerous messages from people wanting to find out more about transport.

Anna said: “To inspire others to want to join a great sector in transport and in rail,  that will be one my biggest achievements but we are just at the beginning.

“Role models play an important part and, as a judge of the 2019 RailStaff Awards, I’m looking forward to identifying a new set of role models that can help deliver and champion change. 

“Looking ahead, I’m involved in a number of exciting projects with the London Transport Museum and CILT [the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport]. In addition I’ll be supporting the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Transport to highlight best practice in recruiting and retaining women in the sector.” 


Inge-Sarah Andersen: engineer, stem ambassador and rising star

If the first 18 months of Inge-Sarah Andersen’s time at Network Rail is anything to go by, she has a promising career ahead of her.

The trainee engineer is entering the final months of her graduate programme and has made an impression on colleagues with what she has achieved in a short space of time.

In 2018, she was a key player in the launch of Fast Trackers, an outreach programme that gave 150 students, from areas with the lowest uptake of further education, an insight into a career in engineering. Inge-Sarah enlisted the support of industry leaders such as David Waboso, former managing director of the Digital Railway programme, co-ordinated internal and external communications and organised volunteers to help inspire and mobilise the engineers of Generation Z.

On its 2019 return, Fast Trackers was even bigger and better, this time reaching more than 300 students. 

Mentoring the CEO

Ambitious and eager to seize opportunities to make a difference, Inge-Sarah threw her name into the hat to reverse mentor Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, when he joined at the end of 2018. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a cause close to her heart and one she is passionate about improving. She was one of 60 people to put themselves forward and, after going through a testing application and interview process, she was chosen for the role.

Inge-Sarah and Andrew now meet once a month, although Andrew’s busy schedule sometimes gets in the way, to share their experiences and thoughts on D&I improvements at Network Rail. 

Both of these roles are in addition to her ongoing work placements as a graduate electrical and electronic engineer – currently as part of the signalling team working on East West Rail.

Unsurprisingly, Inge-Sarah featured in the 15-person shortlist for the Graduate of the Year category at the 2018 RailStaff Awards, thanks to the backing of colleagues. Although she narrowly missed out on the top prize to a fellow Fast Trackers organiser, judges identified her as one of two highly commended entries. 

A happy accident

Since her childhood, Inge-Sarah has wanted to turn her passion for science into a career. Initially she wanted to become a plastic surgeon and, later, when she took a greater interest in physics, she sought to join academia, applying to join the University of Birmingham as her first step.

Unfortunately, a required A* grade from her A-Level maths studies did not materialise and she was unsuccessful in her application. Before the news had even reached Inge-Sarah, the University of Birmingham had assessed her credentials and suggested she explore engineering instead. 

“Before I had even picked up my UCAS results, I had a phone call from the electrical engineering department at Birmingham saying ‘Hi. So, you didn’t make your maths grade, so we’re offering you a place on this course instead.’ I was like – ‘Excuse me? I’ve not heard any of this,’” she said. 

“I realised that if I’d have known what engineering was, I would have chosen it. It’s essentially applied physics. People talk about engineering, but they don’t say what it is.

“If you have a pure physics degree, you either work as an academic or a teacher, or you go into something that’s not really related at all – with engineering that’s not the case.”

Enrolling onto the University of Birmingham’s electrical and electronic engineering course, she developed an interest in rail under the tutelage of professors such as Clive Roberts, who is also a director for the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education.

She added: “Clive would use examples that were railway-based in class – very much subliminal advertising – it just got me thinking that it seemed really interesting. 

“In the first year of university, he took about 10 of us to China for two weeks, which was amazing. It was a little bit of a tour of China, but it was also helping Chinese students to build robots to get credits to pass their summer class. 

“When I was there, it clicked very quickly for me that working in rail means there are lots of exciting opportunities, the demand is worldwide, and you get to travel. So, from a very simplistic young person’s point of view I thought ‘This is cool, I’d like to find out more about this.’”

Inge-Sarah hasn’t looked back since.

Overcoming adversity

The story of how Inge-Sarah fell into and then fell in love with the rail industry is one many will recognise. But the struggles she went through as a youngster to get to where she is today is a story many would not. 

From the age of 11, Inge-Sarah has been a young carer for her mum, who has fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Aged 16, the ongoing battle of juggling studies with her responsibilities at home became too much and she left the education system to look after her mum full-time. 

It was only when she turned 19, with her mum’s words of encouragement ringing in her ears, that she decided to return as a mature student to tackle her A-Levels. 

Those difficult years have shaped her mindset and fuelled her drive and determination to this day. 

Inge-Sarah said: “I was a young carer and my mum was a single parent, she was disabled, there were loads of times when we didn’t have any money, we lived in a crap area, I’m an ethnic minority and I’m a woman. These are all things that, if I hadn’t have had the right support from my mum, would have 100 per cent have held me back. Statistically, people who are just a little bit like me don’t make it in life. 

“I had my own blip; I was not going to make it. I managed to climb out of that and thought there are so many young people who don’t. 

“My background is a little unique, as in my mum already had that self-belief. But, if you come from that background, and maybe it’s generations and generations of those backgrounds and you’re already so downtrodden by humanity, society isn’t structured to help you.”

Inge-Sarah admitted one day she would love to take on one of the top jobs in the industry, to become chief executive of Network Rail, or to sit on the board of a major company in the rail industry, so she can impart real change. In the meanwhile, however, she is determined to instigate change wherever she can.

She added: “Getting into a position where people start to take you seriously, and then getting into contact with people in power and getting to influence people in power, it feels irresponsible not to try and do something with that.”


Nikki Williams: scuba diver, train driver and adventurer

Of the 128 Virgin Trains drivers based out of Euston station, only three are women. Not that it matters to Nikki Williams. Nikki has been undertaking a demanding programme of training since joining the train company in July last year and is almost ready to operate Pendolinos along the West Coast main line solo. 

“For me, it’s been very positive,” said Nikki. “I don’t feel [my gender] has had any relevance. Transitioning into this job has been fantastic. The support that I’ve had has been great, I just generally get the feeling that people look out for each other as a whole.”

A colourful CV

Her job may be bound by rules, restrictions and routes, but her career to date has not been. 

Between university studies and hopping into the train driver’s cab, Nikki spent 18 years living a split life. In the summer months she worked as an ice cream lady, driving around the country to earn and save as much money as she could. 

Come winter, Nikki would pack up her things and, with the savings from the seasonal work, head abroad to take part in unpaid conservation work while also picking up paid-for work as a divemaster and scuba diving instructor. 

She flew to South Africa to help with the rehabilitation of injured penguins and travelled deep into Nicaragua’s tropical rain forest to study the area’s rich biodiversity. 

Nikki admits it was a bit of a strange lifestyle but it’s one that enabled her to chase her dreams and journey all over the globe.

Turning point

In 2017, Nikki married her partner and together they decided to settle in the UK. 

With an undergraduate degree in geography and a master’s in conservation and protective area management, she assumed she could find a well-paid job in this specialist field. But she was wrong. 

It was after being offered a position with a starting salary of £15,000 that she decided to think outside of the box and beyond the reach of her university education.

“I had a chance conversation with my mum’s best friend’s daughter, who basically said she was in a very similar position to me. She had a PhD in her field, so she was even more qualified, but was struggling to find a reasonable job.

“She said ‘I’m going to try to become a train driver, it’s supposed to be a really good job.’ By that point, I was looking into anything that I thought I might enjoy that would pay better – so that I could live!

“I love driving – always have done, always liked being on a journey – so I thought I might enjoy that.

“That night I went onto the internet, looked up train driver jobs and the Virgin train driver apprenticeship came up. 

“It was only offering £15,000 to start off with, but that was for a year’s apprenticeship with the provision that it would go up. I had seen jobs for guards and they started at £26,000 going up to £36,000. I figured the driver must get paid more, so I went for it. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

Nikki didn’t secure a place on the apprenticeship scheme but joined Virgin Trains soon after as a trainee.

In the driver’s seat

Speaking to RailStaff exactly one year to the day since she joined the rail industry, Nikki said: “I love it. I really didn’t know what to expect. I kind of went into it quite blind and hoping I’d enjoy it and I’ve enjoyed it much more than I expected. 

“There’s a lot to learn, it’s quite overwhelming at times with the amount of information you need to know, but it’s been fantastic.”

Nikki said she had never thought about becoming a train driver and believes efforts should be made to change people’s perception, from a young age, of career possibilities.

“It is about opening people’s minds that anything is an option if it suits you and that your gender isn’t something that binds you,” she added. 

Travel has played a big part in Nikki’s life and it continues to do so along one of the busiest stretches of railway in Britain, where she hopes to spend the rest of her working years.

Nevertheless, Nikki hasn’t ruled out eventually changing depots or training to become a driving instructor – building on her past experience teaching English in Japan and leading scuba diving lessons all over the world.

“In this job it is very easy to make a mistake, so you’ve got to make sure you do your job well every day,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, you’re only as good as your drive today. So, it’s making sure you keep on top of your game. 

“Fingers crossed, this is me now. I want to retire in this job.” 

Gender diversity at Network Rail

A diversity and inclusion conference brought 200 industry colleagues from Network Rail, Southeastern and GTR together earlier this year. Photo: Network Rail.

Loraine Martins, director of diversity and inclusion, tells Stewart Thorpe what Network Rail has done to tackle three things that have traditionally hindered women in its workforce


Stewart: What is Network Rail’s policy on flexible and home-based working?

Loraine: We’ve got a great policy on flexible working. It encourages all line managers to explore with their employees the options for flexible working. So, if somebody wants to change the time they come to work, then we are encouraging our managers to have that conversation. 

Sometimes we think things aren’t possible because we’ve got a roster or because of the demands of the work; it’s a real challenge. What we’re saying to our managers in relation to flexible working is let’s be open and see what we can do. And, if you trial it and it doesn’t work, then that’s fair. But we really want to start from a position of the ‘art of the possible’. 

S: There are a couple of high-profile job shares – Polly Payne and Ruth Hannant, directors general for rail at the Department for Transport, and Porterbrook recently appointed two women to the position of innovation and projects director – what’s Network Rail’s policy on job sharing?

L: That’s an area for us to improve. What we have done around our vacancies is to begin to talk to our hiring managers and ask whether those jobs can be done in different ways. When we advertise, we can increasingly say that flexible arrangements are part of what we do. I think what the DfT does well is that most of those jobs, if not all of their jobs, are offered on a flexible basis. We have some operational considerations to make and so we need to think a bit more creatively about how we get to that stage, but it’s somewhere I’d like us to get to.

S: Do you know when that shift in different working arrangements started to occur at Network Rail?

L: I describe our approach as evolving. When I joined in 2012, the whole environment was less amenable to flexible working and, over time, we’re beginning to see the benefits.

As we’ve begun to promote it, we’ve seen some interesting things which we didn’t anticipate. For example, in our Wales route, some older male workers were looking at retirement and took up the offer of flexible working. They decided to have a job share and reduce their hours. This is a good outcome for everyone, and we want to promote that kind of arrangement more across the business. As we mature in our approach and as more young people are coming into our business want different work arrangements, we need to be able to accommodate that range. 

S: Why is it important?

L: It helps us to attract a wider range of employees. Also, where you give greater flexibility to your employees, you get greater discretionary effort. If you feel that your employer is able to accommodate your life circumstances, you are generally going to do more for that employer and be more loyal and your productivity goes up because you’re able to manage your work in a more autonomous way that gives you greater empowerment and greater freedom to live the life that you want to lead. 

S: Another obstacle that’s come up in conversations with women and from research is the provision of PPE. How have you seen it change?

L: When I started at Network Rail, what was more commonplace was that women would wear men’s PPE and it would be ill-fitting. You’d roll it up at the ankles or at the waist and, really, you weren’t as safe. Now we’ve got suppliers that provide PPE that is designed for women. All of the PPE is now available and so it’s a real shift in being able to make sure everybody can be safe in their working environment and not feel it is something special. 

S: A final obstacle that gets mentioned is the provision of trackside toilet and changing facilities. I know it’s traditionally been an issue, either not having them or having to travel some distance to get to them. What is the current situation at Network Rail?

L: This is something we’ve been working on for the last 18 months. We made a commitment as we started a project to increase the representation of women in our organisation by 20 per cent. The project is called 20by20. One of the key things has been to improve and increase the availability of toilet facilities with a view to making them more appropriate for women.

If you’ve got those essential facilities, you make your environment better and healthier for people. We’ve been working with Selectequip and other suppliers to design some bespoke facilities that we can put up near track. Before this, people had to walk quite a distance to go to the loo or they would go to the nearest McDonalds or they may have had to use where they are. So we want to try and reduce that, as it’s not good for our employees or for our lineside neighbours.

The facilities have been trialled and are now being manufactured and ready to be rolled out. They are designed in a way that means we have the toilet provision that we need, they’ve got the signs on them, they’re hi-vis so you can see them in the dark, or at night, and it will drastically reduce the need to relieve oneself trackside, but also make you feel much better about yourself. 

From the trial we’ve conducted, we’ve seen an increase in women working on track, we’ve seen better engagement and better safety for all of our employees. The outcome and benefits are that everybody is much healthier, feels that we as an employer care for them, and that we’re taking their welfare seriously.

S: How widespread will these be rolled out?

L: Currently we have a minimum standard of loo facilities being 20 minutes away, which is probably about a mile. This new facility enables us to put something 10 minutes away and radically reduces that distance. 

S: Are there any other obstacles in the workplace that need to be overcome in order to encourage more women to join and stick around?

L: Those things that I would class as the facilities and physical environment are vital. If you make your physical environment much more pleasant and more manageable then you increase both staff engagement and the opportunity to attract a wider range of people. Following on from the physical environment is the type of culture, things like inappropriate banter. That’s the next thing for us as an organisation and as an industry, so that it becomes an easier place to be. 

S: There will be people in the supply chain reading this who haven’t placed these issues so high up their agenda. What would your message be to them?

L: This is a good business benefit for our supply chain. Increasingly, as we have an aging workforce, as we have a skills shortage and are looking to improve the skills and the range of people working in our business, it’s really important for our supply chain to think about how they attract different people into their workforce, how they work with their contractor workforce and the conditions in which they deploy them.

I would encourage them to match, if not exceed, the efforts we’re making around employee welfare, and diversity and inclusion.

Gian Paolo Gotelli to head up TX Logistik

The new board of TX Logistik.

Rail logistics group TX Logistik has appointed Gian Paolo Gotelli as its new CEO.

TX Logistik, which was founded in 1999 as a private rail transport company, is today owned by Mercitalia Logistics S.p.A., which is itself a subsidiary of Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane. It has a European network with connections in 11 countries, subsidiaries in Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and Sweden, as well as local offices in Italy and the Netherlands.

Gian Paolo Gotelli has many years of experience in rail freight transport with the FS Group, for which he also worked in various CEO positions. His aim is to orientate TX Logistik even more strongly in the European context and to make the company a pillar of the international development of Mercitalia Group.

The board of TX Logistik now consists of (above, left to right) Albert Bastius (COO), Gian Paolo Gotelli (CEO) and Berit Börke (CSO).

The role of apprenticeships in filling the skills gap

Photo: Porterbrook.

Rail Forum Midlands talks about the skills gap and what its doing to bridge it


Not a day goes by without some reference to the skills gaps in the rail industry. Numerous organisations continue to report difficulty finding qualified people to fill vacancies created by experienced staff moving on or to support growth and expansion within their business – and the next few years look set to get even tougher as the age profile across the industry really starts to bite. So how might apprenticeships help?

Shared apprenticeships

The Rail Forum Midlands (RFM) has been asked to lead some work as part of the Rail Sector Deal to stimulate the uptake of apprenticeships across Midlands-based rail companies through the development of shared apprenticeship schemes. 

“Whilst the concept of shared apprenticeships has been around for some time, we are keen to explore several options that might work for our supply chain companies and SMEs in particular, so we have no preconceived ideas about what a shared scheme might mean,” said Elaine Clark, chief executive of RFM. “It may be simply sharing a cohort of students that go to college together; or it could mean providing an apprentice with several different work placements across different employers to provide broader work experience. It could also mean a third party employing the apprentices on behalf of the SMEs, but only if we can guarantee a quality experience for the young people undertaking their apprenticeship.”

RFM is currently gathering views from a range of employers to understand the current challenges and barriers for SMEs recruiting apprentices and to gauge the level of interest in some of the key apprenticeships available. 

Change

“Apprenticeships look very different now compared to what colleagues across the industry may remember from when they completed their training – perhaps many years ago!” Elaine added. “To be classed as an officially recognised apprenticeship, certain criteria have to be met – an apprenticeship is a real job with a recognised training programme; combining knowledge, occupational skills and behaviours structured around the specific occupation or job role. 

The knowledge (or academic) elements of the apprenticeship are normally delivered by a college, private training provider or a university; this is known as off-the-job training. The occupational skills and behavioural elements can be a mixture of off-the-job; learning new skills in a safe environment, and on-the-job experience; supported in the workplace, by the employer. This skills development often leads to some form of competence assessment process.”

Apprenticeships are available in many occupations from basic entry level, right through to post graduate degrees. Whilst ‘degree level’ apprenticeships are relatively new, they are already proving popular with students and employers alike; providing the opportunity to gain real work experience alongside academic studies.

One of the key things about all apprenticeship standards is that they are developed with significant input from employers. Rail sector specific standards exist for a range of occupations that are relevant across infrastructure, rolling stock and operations, however the nature of the industry means that standards developed in other sectors such as manufacturing, IT, finance, management and so on, will also be relevant to many employers. Navigating the different options can be off-putting but working with a local training provider can help identify the best standards for a particular role. 

All apprenticeships have a minimum duration of 12 months and some will run for up to two or three years. While apprentices must be aged 16 or over, they don’t have to be new recruits, so an apprenticeship can be used for upskilling the existing workforce.

Funding

Elaine added: “One of the common obstacles is often funding; or rather the lack of understanding of how funding works. All apprenticeships are allocated to a funding band, this sets out the amount of funding available to pay for the basic apprenticeship. The funding may come from an employer levy account or direct from government for smaller employers.” 

Since April 2017, employers with a pay bill of over £3 million a year pay an apprenticeship levy based on a percentage of their pay bill. In England, the government tops up the employer levy with an extra 10 per cent, this is paid directly into the employers’ apprenticeship account. If your organisation is too small to pay the levy, the government will pay 95 per cent of the cost of the apprenticeship, up to the maximum funding band for the specific apprenticeship standard, with the employer paying the final five per cent.

As of April 1 this year, levy-paying employers can transfer a maximum amount of 25 per cent of their annual funds to other employers, such as those in their supply chain. They can make transfers from their apprenticeship account to as many employers as they choose.

Transferred funds will be used to pay for the training and assessment cost of the apprenticeships agreed with the receiving employer. Whilst this facility is still very new, it’s something RFM will be looking at more closely as it develops its shared apprenticeship workstream, to ensure smaller employers are taking advantage of unused levy paid by larger companies in the industry. 

“The industry is going to need a lot of new people over the next five to 10 years and larger public sector contracts are now demanding a certain number of apprentices per million-pound spend to encourage everyone to do their bit,” said Elaine. “We need to address the barriers that SMEs face and our shared apprenticeship workstream will help address some of these issues.” 


To find out more about RFM’s sector deal apprenticeship workstream, contact elaineclark@midlandsrail.co.uk.

RailStaff Awards: Lifesavers

Of the 20 trophies presented at the RailStaff Awards there is one that is more emotionally charged than all the others.

The Lifesaver Award is a category that is inundated with stories of rail staff stepping out of their comfort zone to help in someone’s time of need. 

These selfless acts of humanity aren’t listed in the job descriptions of these everyday heroes, but they undertake them anyway. 

Customer service experience manager Rizwan Javed, of MTR Crossrail, made 25 life-saving interventions in three years, repeated feats of courage and compassion that saw him presented with the 2018 Lifesaver Award.

Jason Alexandre, managing suicidal contacts trainer at category sponsor Samaritans, said the award was a great recognition of Rizwan, who represents the group of people that made over 2,000 life-saving interventions in 2018/19. 

“I’ve spoken to Rizwan a couple of times since the award and he has since gone on to help us with our rail industry campaigns,” said Jason. “He’s a great advocate of giving colleagues the confidence to go out and speak about mental wellbeing. He’s said that if he can help and support in any way he’d love to do that if it saves somebody’s life. 

“People who make that intervention, who make that connection, they often want to do more to help, sometimes like Rizwan, they add their passion giving incredible energy to these campaigns to help and support people.”

Emotional health

Samaritans' Real People, Real Stories campaign, which sees men who have overcome tough times share their stories to encourage others to seek help, was launched in March with a burst of media activity. More than 20 news outlets covered the new campaign and it featured on talkSPORT and BBC Breakfast to help spark conversations on mental wellbeing, particularly for men. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 and 80 per cent of suicides on the railway are by men. 

Since the rollout, authentic stories from sporting celebrities – including former footballer Leon McKenzie and international rugby referee Nigel Owens – have aired on talkSPORT and shared on social media. Over 1,500 posters have been distributed to railway stations across Great Britain. 

As well as people such as Rizwan who make a life-saving intervention, Jason was full of praise for staff for providing ongoing emotional support for passengers. He touched on a recent example of a member of gateline staff who had got to know a customer who had cancer and would regularly chat to them about how they were doing. 

Jason added: “As soon as you feel like you’re struggling to cope, it’s really important to talk to someone. Samaritans is not only there for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, in fact only one in five of those that contact us say that they are feeling suicidal. We want to reach people whenever they are finding life tough.”

Marathon efforts

Building on the success of Real People, Real Stories, Samaritans is putting plans in place for its next big campaign, Samarathon. 

Jason added: “We know that physical health has an impact on mental wellbeing. And so what we’re encouraging people to do in the month of July is to either walk or run a marathon – at their own pace – with friends and family. People can then go onto our website and record it and their sponsorship.”

Jason explained that Samaritans hopes to raise money, awareness, build resilience through improved physical health and have “a bit of fun” too through the campaign. 

RailStaff Awards 

Come November, more people and more stories such as Rizwan and his heroic efforts will be acknowledged at the RailStaff Awards. 

“We are so proud to sponsor the RailStaff Awards,” added Jason. “All of these guys do a really great job. They’re working hard and this is an opportunity to recognise what they do as they often go above and beyond. 

“It’s an opportunity to thank them, acknowledge them and when that person gets awarded I think it’s an award that people can associate with and say we as an industry are being recognised too.” 


Can you help Samaritans share its new Real People, Real Stories awareness campaign through local professional or semi-professional football or rugby clubs?

If so, please email: d.masters@samaritans.org

Sheriffs on patrol

Whether they’re opening a new building or marking a new milestone or landmark anniversary, MPs are often snapped celebrating special occasions with organisations associated to either their constituency or government department.

So, when Land Sheriffs welcomed not one but two politicians to its headquarters in Essex earlier this year, you know it was for something significant. 

At the beginning of 2019, the professional security firm recorded its 200th life-saving intervention since 2013 when it first started actively working to prevent suicide on Britain’s railways. As of June this year the figure currently sits at 222 and refers to incidents whereby a member of the public is handed over to the BTP, the ambulance service or another police force for a mental health assessment. 

Ministerial praise

Tyler LeMay, managing director of Land Sheriffs, welcomed mental health minister Jackie Doyle-Price and local MP Robert Halfon to the company’s offices in April for the event.

“We tried to make it more of a recognition of staff because the event was tinged with a little bit of sadness because there were 200 people who were in very dark places,” Tyler said. “We never set our sights on targets. We don’t have a KPI for it. We trust our staff’s experience and training to intervene when they feel able to.”

On the day of her visit, Jackie Doyle-Price tweeted the following message: “Congratulations on all that you have done, please continue that good work. I am going to preach to the world about what you have done here because it is so impressive, thank you very much indeed.”

Tyler explained that when staff make these life-saving interventions, they’re not just saving one person’s life. 

He added: “You’ve saved their family, friends and partners from going through the pain and heartache of that person taking their own life.

“Plus, if a train driver’s involved, some train drivers never come back to work, even though there’s nothing they could do.”

A rise in crime

Working predominantly across the South East and Anglia region of the UK, including major London Hubs such as Victoria, Charing Cross and Liverpool St stations, Land Sheriffs isn’t just contracted for suicide prevention by Network Rail and train operators. A key aspect of its work relates to violence and antisocial behaviour on the network.

In the last three years, the number of overall recorded crimes in England, Scotland and Wales has increased from 49,000 in 2015/16 to 52,000 in 2016/17 and 61,000 in 2017/18, according to BTP – although these figures are lower than they were in 2005/06 (79,000).

Following this trend, Land Sheriffs has also seen a rise in violence and antisocial behaviour, which Tyler believes is partly down to a change in workers’ attitudes to reporting. 

“No one goes to work to be abused or called names or threatened with violence, but it seems as if there’s an acceptable culture in the rail industry that rail frontline staff can be abused, without repercussions” he added. 

“Lots of these frontline staff, gateline staff, staff in customer service, they’re not there to deal with conflict, they’re not trained to deal with conflict. 

“Our staff, certainly in our sector, are trained and – like a police officer almost – they’re willing to enter into conflict in order to deal with a situation.”

Giving back

As it has grown its presence in rail, Land Sheriffs has sought to give something back to the communities it serves. 

In the immediate area of Harlow, the firm raised enough money to allow all of the nurses from the neonatal unit at the nearby Princess Alexandra Hospital to undertake special training, to improve their knowledge and skillset around caring for babies and their families. 

In the rail industry, it is once more returning to sponsor the Charity Award at the RailStaff Awards.

“It’s an award that’s close to our hearts. We do a lot of charity work and I think it’s good to give back to your local community,” said Tyler. “Lots of the staff that are nominated don’t do it for the recognition either, they just do it for a passion or a drive, something that’s touched them or their family. They do it for the cause, which they should be recognised for.” 

To nominate one of your colleagues or to find out more information, head to www.railstaffawards.com

RailStaff Awards: Celebrating extraordinary people

On May 18, hundreds of people travelled between London Paddington and Exeter St Davids on Great Western Railway’s (GWR) last High Speed Train (HST) in regular passenger service.

Rail enthusiasts lined the route to snap a final photo while customers and colleagues took a minute to appreciate the iconic train that saved intercity rail travel. 

Such is the public sentiment for the trains that this final trip attracted coverage from a host of media outlets. A video news report on the BBC website even became its most watched clip of the day.

On Twitter, the hashtag #LastOfTheHSTs trended and the resultant buzz of users celebrating the historical moment saw GWR’s social media team receive its highest ever positive score.

After 43 years in operation, the fleet of HSTs has been replaced with 93 Hitachi-built Intercity Express Trains (IET). The first IET entered service on October 16, 2017, and GWR took delivery of its final trainset in May this year. 

“It was a great event that was quite nostalgic,” said GWR managing director Mark Hopwood, talking about the last HST. “Colleagues from all over the business worked hard to make it a success – little touches like bespoke window labels helped make the day extra special for customers.” 

But, as Mark explained, it was an event tinged with sadness. 

“Many of our colleagues loved working with these trains – some of them for 40 years,” he added. “That being said, the retirement of the HST from high-speed service represents a significant milestone for our transformation, and while it is poignant there is plenty to be excited about in the future.” 

The new fleet is part of the biggest upgrade to GWR in a generation, which, combined with a major timetable change in December, will boost the number of trains and seats and cut journey times.

Influential figures

With so many new trains being introduced, GWR has seized the opportunity to name 50 of them after inspirational locals who have influenced the towns and cities it serves. The campaign will see each of the trains fitted with plaques inscribed with the name of one ‘Great Westerner’.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the revolutionary engineer who designed and built the Great Western Railway; George ‘Johnny’ Johnson and Joy Lofthouse, pilots from the historic Dambusters raid in 1943; and Rick Rescorla, a Cornishman who died saving the lives of thousands of people during the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks in New York, are examples of the names that appear on the new IET trains. 

Rail Manager of the Year

The train naming project has been set up to recognise the achievements of extraordinary local people – and it’s the same drive to recognise greatness that’s led to GWR supporting this year’s RailStaff Awards. Following on from sponsorship of the 2018 ceremony, GWR will once more return to sponsor the Rail Manager of the Year category. 

“Having great line managers to guide our colleagues through the huge transformation we’re seeing on the GWR network is key to us delivering our purpose of revaluing rail in the hearts and minds of the travelling public,” said HR director Ruth Busby. “I see and hear of fantastic examples of leaders who demonstrate our values and use their Great Experience Maker customer service training, so this category particularly resonates with me.”

By coincidence – and it really was, judging is independent – last year’s category was won by GWR’s Carys Thomas, a former duty station manager who is a graduate of the company’s Aspire apprenticeship scheme.

Carys, who now works as an operations compliance manager, had a significant impact at Bristol Temple Meads station. She boosted staffing levels from 67 to 96 per cent and worked tirelessly to help improve much-needed station administration; helping to maintain operational and occupational compliance. 

The RailStaff Awards will once more take place at Birmingham’s NEC, this year on Thursday, November 28. To find out more head to: www.railstaffawards.com

RailStaff Awards: Introducing your host…

Image © Licensed to Chris J Ratcliffe. 14/05/2019. LNER new Azuma train launch on May 14, 2019 in London, United Kingdom, Picture by Chris J Ratcliffe / LNER

Showman Richard Salkeld shone so brightly at the 2018 RailStaff Awards that organisers have signed him up to return for this year’s ceremony.

Not only did his sequin jackets add a touch of glitz and glamour in a room of black-tie suits and cocktail dresses, Richard perfectly orchestrated proceedings, which cost tens of thousands of pounds and took the best part of a year to organise. 

He may not have known what to expect, having never attended the RailStaff Awards before, but Richard was unfazed by the thousands of watching eyes and had the necessary skills and personality to keep the momentum going regardless of what was thrown at him.

“It was genuinely a real joy,” said the former journalist, who recently swapped the Great Western for the East Coast main line to oversee media at LNER. “It has always been an ambition of mine to host the Eurovision Song Contest and I think that night was the closest I’ve got to it.

“The whole event felt like a glossy Saturday night floor show with entertainment, the spectacle, the awards themselves, the personalities and with everybody looking so fantastic. It was kind of like a Royal Variety Performance railway awards.

“I recall a real sense of railway family at the event which certainly made it feel like an intimate event despite being at one of the country’s largest venues.”

Memorable moments

Richard takes great pride in his work and the impact it can have, something that is helped by his lifelong love of railways.

“I’ve got a real affinity with the East Coast route. My grandad was a train driver for British Rail and I remember him taking me to Newcastle station to have a look inside the cab of an InterCity 125 and being allowed to honk the horn. 

“I remember holding it for so long that I can remember seeing pigeons flying out past the canopy of the station and having to have my fingers peeled off the lever to stop the horn from going off.”

Richard said he treasured his time at Great Western Railway and the opportunity to learn about the Class 800 trains and a different part of the country and that he returned to the East Coast with “more knowledge and experience”.

Knowledge and experience

When the RailStaff Awards returns in less than five months time, Richard will also return to the role as host with more knowledge and experience. 

“I’ve been really privileged to host or co-host events ranging from the Railway Benefit Fund Gala Dinners to the Association of Community Rail Awards to name a few so it’s always difficult knowing what the audiences will be like and if the tone and humour will hit the spot,” he added. “I’d like to think the professional set-up, big screens, sparkly jackets and occasionally deviating from the script to have a chat with winners and sponsors made for an unpredictable and entertaining night – and will again this year.”

Organisers meanwhile are hoping to draw on your knowledge and experience to make the ceremony on Thursday, November 28, possible. 

Do you work with a selfless charity fundraiser, a station assistant who’s saved a life or a hardworking OLE engineer? If you do, head to railstaffawards.com and nominate them for a chance to be recognised by the industry. 

Spending a few short moments of your time telling us why they deserve to win could help to create more special moments that will be remembered for years to come. 

Tickets for the RailStaff Awards are now on sale. To secure your ticket or table, go to www.railstaffawards.com


Do you work with an extraordinary train driver, station manager or engineer? Nominate them in one of 20 categories today: 

The categories in full: 

  • Apprentice of the Year
  • Award for Charity
  • Customer Service Award
  • Depot Staff Award
  • Digital Railway Person or Team Award
  • Graduate or Newcomer Award
  • HR, Diversity & Inclusion Person or Team Award
  • Learning & Development Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Marketing & Communications Team Award
  • Rail Civils / Infrastructure Team Award
  • Rail Engineer of the Year
  • Rail Manager of the Year
  • Rail Person of the Year
  • Rail Project Manager Award
  • Rail Team of the Year
  • Recruitment Person or Team
  • Safety Person or Team Award
  • Samaritans Lifesaver Award
  • Station Staff Award

The European Tram Driver Championship

Photo: Tram-EM.

Metrolink duo Caroline Haynes and Steve Shaw recorded the best finish for a British team at this year’s contest. They tell Stewart Thorpe what it was like taking part in this bizarre competition


Each year a different European city takes its turn hosting the European Tram Driver Championship.

First organised in 2012 to coincide with the 140th anniversary of horse-drawn trams in Dresden, Germany, the competition pits some of the continent’s very best against each other in tests of skill, speed and sheer luck.

In the United States, the Maryland Transit Administration organises a ‘Rail Rodeo’ for its own light rail operators. Otherwise, there is nothing like the European Tram Driver Championship anywhere in the world.

As the country that invented tramways, you could be mistaken for thinking Britain would dominate the championship, but you’d be wrong. 

A team from Greater Manchester’s Metrolink was the first to enter in 2013, finishing midway in sixth place from a pack of 14. Ever since, however, British entries have been disappointing to say the least. In 2015, Metrolink finished in last place in a 23-team contest. In 2018, it finished second bottom, but this was in a field of 25 entries. When National Express’ Midland Metro stepped in as the nation’s only competitor in 2016, the overall performance was Britain’s worse to date, with the drivers from Birmingham finishing 27th out of 27 teams.

Photo: Tram-EM.

British triumph

In Brussels earlier this year, that trend was bucked when Metrolink drivers Caroline Haynes and Steve Shaw finished in a respectable seventh. In total there were 25 teams from 21 different nations. Those present included teams from Berlin, Dublin and Paris as well as Budapest, Helsinki and Luxembourg. 

Caroline and Steve were chosen at random from a pool of 25 drivers who applied to represent Manchester – and, therefore, Britain – on the international stage. 

“All my friends were like ‘You’re doing what?! There’s such a thing as a tram championship?’” said Caroline, who spent 15 years working in casinos before packing it in to drive buses as a gateway into operating trams, which she has done for the past seven years. “I was showing them the videos and they were like: ‘Seriously?’”

Both were unsuccessful in attempts to take part in previous years, so when they received the call-up, they wanted to seize the opportunity with two hands. 

Steve added: “Obviously you get a bit of feedback from the drivers that have been in the past saying how hard it is. We’ve always struggled. I think we’ve come last and second last over the last few years.”

A former admin worker, Steve achieved his dream of working in rail six and a half years ago when he became a tram driver and hasn’t looked back since. 

“When we were chosen, I spoke to Chris Allen, driver manager at Metrolink, and he said we’ve got no chance of winning, to which I said: ‘Why not?’

“We’re both quite competitive, me and Caroline, we knew that previously we’d done pretty poorly so the main thing was to not finish down there. We just wanted to finish as high as we could.”

The 2019 competitors pictured on the morning of the contest. Photo: Tram-EM.

Practise

Before this year’s championship began, the 50 contestants spent a day listening to presentations, riding on Brussels STIB tram network and partying at a big welcome dinner. Crucially, they also had time to drive the three trams they would use in the following day’s challenges – out of service. The first was a heritage tram truck from the 1930s, the second was a PCC Streetcar that requires the driver to use floor-mounted pedals and the third was a Bombardier-built T3000 Flexity tram. 

Steve said: “The very old heritage tram had air brakes and was unlike anything I’ve ever driven before – it was crazy. I couldn’t get the hang of it in training, but it seemed to go okay in the competition.

“The second was the tram that you use pedals, basically like a car, to drive. You did nothing with your hands – it’s quite a weird feeling.

“And then we had the more modern tram, which is quite similar to the ones we drive in Manchester, just on a lower level because we have higher platforms. Very similar just slightly different with the TBC – traction brake controller – and things like that.” 

The door stop challenge. Photo: Tram-EM.

The tram-pionship

And then, on Saturday, May 4, the main event. In total, drivers had five minutes to tackle six back-to-back disciplines: 

  1. Precision stop: After pushing a big green button, the circuit begins with the driver boarding the heritage tram. Their first test is to accelerate and then brake within 20cm of a cone without hitting it.
  2. Estimating lateral distance: While their teammate goes ahead to place a cardboard cut-out of Brussels’ famous ‘Peeing Boy’ statue as close to the tracks on a curve as possible without hitting a passing tram, the challenger runs to the second tram for the lateral test. The closer they can pass the statue (within 20cm) without touching it, the more points they rack up. 
  3. Door stop: With the clock ticking, drivers then board the final tram where – with their mirrors disabled – they have to stop the second set of doors on a designated metre-wide arrow that’s placed at the side of the tram line.
  4. Speed: Staying in their seats, the drivers first have to accelerate and reach 30km/h without the assistance of a speedometer.
  5. Estimation of braking: Shortly after challenge four, the competitor has to take their hands off TBC to see how close they can get to a marked area on the ground. TBC is a safety feature on modern trams that activates the brakes a couple of seconds after a driver lets go of the lever.

One member from each team competed in the morning and the other in the afternoon. For team Metrolink, Caroline went before Steve. 

She said: “In the first challenge I hit the cone. The second one I had to do a swept path, which meant Steve placing the dummy at the same time. 

“In the third one, the door one, I missed that by about half a foot. Then the fourth and fifth were combined. I did that really well. We practised it in the morning by watching when the other drivers were letting go to stop. I was timing it in my head how many seconds the delay was, so I tried to judge from that as to where to let go.”

Event staff ensure the skittles remain upright before the tram bowling begins. Photo: Tram-EM.

Tram bowling

The first five challenges were based on situations that tram drivers find themselves in on a daily basis. For example, when estimating the lateral distance, the aim is to correctly assess the passing distance of obstacles such as parked cars, to prevent accidents. 

The sixth and final challenge is something that none of the drivers would have experience of – well, at least if they wished to keep their licence – and it is appropriately named tram bowling. 

It’s a challenge that has attracted the public’s attention more than any other since it was introduced in 2014. Videos of drivers performing perfectly executed shunts of huge blown-up bowling balls that send skittles flying have racked up tens of thousands of views online.

The aim is simple: knock down as many pins as possible, but, as Steve and Caroline explained, it’s not as easy as it looks. 

“I didn’t hit the ball hard enough,” said Caroline. “It’s just really weird. There are a few guys standing either side of the ball and it’s just totally wrong to drive at people at speed. It goes against your natural instinct to drive at something. You automatically think to brake. Even when you’re driving a car it’s just something you do without thinking about.

“Because the contest lasts five minutes and you’re having to rush around, you kind of panic. It was great fun though.”

Steve explained that if you’re driving too fast and end up knocking into the pins with the tram, you’re awarded zero points, which makes tram bowling even more difficult.

He added: “I’ve never done anything like it really. I’m usually asked to do the exact opposite, to avoid everything. You’ve got to go against your gut feeling.”

Neither of the Metrolink drivers scored any points in this challenge. Caroline didn’t knock any pins over while Steve drove straight into them. 

The obstacle course ends here so the competitor disembarks off the tram and runs over to hit a big red button.

Photo: Tram-EM.

Hometown glory

STIB, the host’s team, were crowned the 2019 winners on 3,530 points. Metrolink finished on 2,650 points.

Caroline pointed out that STIB benefited from the home advantage, operating trams – at least the final tram – they would have prior experience with. Except for the brief session before the competition, neither Steve nor Caroline spent any time practising, but that was not the case for everyone. 

Steve said: “Stockholm won it in 2018 and they were very meticulous in their preparations for 2019. They’d been practising all week in Stockholm before they got to Brussels.”

Steve said Stockholm’s team members were also taken off roster for a couple of weeks before the competition to practise. Not that it helped – they came last in the championship on 1,200 points. 

Steve added: “When you’re trying to stop your doors in a certain place and you’ve got nothing to line up against, yes there is skill involved. The statue challenge – yeah there probably is a little in measuring distance. The emergency stop one? Definitely. The bowling? It’s a complete fluke. No skill in that. It’s pure luck.”

Photo: Tram-EM.

Highlights

After having a few weeks to reflect on their experience, Caroline and Steve were in agreement on the highlight of their four-day stay in Brussels.

“Not coming last,” said Caroline. “Everyone has been utterly abysmal before us. We were just happy we didn’t come last.”

Steve, who intends to put his name into the hat again next year, added: “For Manchester, it was our best position – certainly as it’s gone to 25 teams anyway. We were really pleased with it to be honest. We wanted to come in the top ten and got it.”

The entire event was live streamed, with tens of thousands of people tuning in to cheer on their countrymen. 

On the ground, there were also many who lined the course – including a handful of British families who had travelled hundreds of miles to witness the event first hand.

Next year’s event will take place in Oradea in Romania and perhaps one day we might see the contest take place on one of Britain’s tram systems – organisers TRAM-EM are certainly keen to come. And, should the home advantage prove as successful as it did for Brussels, we might finally see a British team take home the European Tram Driver Championship crown. Even if we didn’t, who wouldn’t want to see tram bowling on their local network? 


Want to find out more about the European Tram Driver Championship? Watch highlights from the 2019 competition below: