How to become a female train driver
How long have you been doing this?
I have been a train driver now for 4 years.
Do you get, like, any money at all?
The salary for this varies considerably across the country. I earn roughly £37000 per annum. This is without Sundays – if I work those I get more!!
(Oh our days. That is a stupendous amount of money. We’re in the wrong job. – Mooky Eds.)
Perks of the job?
The job perks are obvious! Apart from the money though you are like your own boss – I keep my own company most of the time with noone looking over my shoulder.
Does the job have a downside?
The downside is the hours. I work an average 35 hour week. But this is over 24/7. Sometimes I am up at 2 in the morning but finished before lunch. Other times I am starting work when the rest of the world is going to bed.
What on earth made you want to be a train driver?
I fell into this job by accident. I was a shop manager at Primark. The boss was a twit. The security guard’s wife worked on the railway and suggested I applied. I took a job as a ‘revenue inspector’ – ticket inspector! After 6 months my fellow employees had persuaded me to try the entrance exam an be a driver – I never looked back!
Bestest/worsest things that have ever happened as a result of this job?
The worst thing that ever happened was when a man stood in front of my train and I killed him. At interview it is mentioned, and always a possibility that it can happen. Some drivers will complete 40 years and it never happens. Some drivers I know have had 3. The hardest part is the coroner’s court. You are stood telling someone’s loved ones how their life ended.
The best part is the kids who wave from bridges. Their eyes light up – especially if you blow your horn for them! (I remember staning with my parents doing the same when I was small)
Do you meet interesting people and if so, who was the most interesting?
Occasionally you meet famous people. Blakey from On the Buses and later Last of the Summer Wine is a regular… Zoe Ball, Tony Blair and many others all use the railway. Sometimes there are steam train specials. These tend to bring out the anoracks!
The danger factor is quite high; the railway has lots of interesting ways you could hurt yourself… 750v dc and 25000v ac for a start.
The uniform is sooooooooooo unsexy, but it has to be really… you can’t look like a air hostess if you need to climb up and down out of trains. Try revenue if you want a bit more glamour!
Gender prejudice factor?
Gender prejudice on the railway is gone on the most part. You need to be able to give as good as you get and be pretty thick-skinned, but banter is banter, and there are policies in place for harassment. Our company employs all sorts: male, female, LGBT and gay and also transgender.
Do you meet fit, clever, solvent blokes in your line of work?
There are many fit and solvent guys on this job – imagine both of you on the same wages. It’s the norm to have 350k houses, 3 holidays abroad a year. (There are also some very unfit guys too.)
Can you still see yourself doing this in 20 years’ time?
I cannot see myself doing anything else, ever. I can’t afford to go back to shop manager’s wages now. The only thing I worry about is being medically retired. You need to be in good health, so no diabetes, hearing loss, heart problems etc.
What kind of skills or qualifications do you need?
Officially I don’t think there are many qualifications you need. I think just english and maths, but this may vary from company to company. You sit an entrance exam first. The training takes the best part of a year to complete. It is a modular course in that you complete one part and move on to the next. The easy bit is PTS (personal track safety) which is self-explanatory really, it makes sure you and those around you follow the safest procedures when on or near the line.
Then you complete several weeks of route learning – accompanying a qualified driver over all the routes you will eventually drive.
Then comes rules. The railway rule book is like a telephone directory. It is also referred to as a book of death. Nearly all the rules have been made because someone has lost their life on the railway in the past. You need to be competent in all the rules. I found this the hardest part of my training.
When you pass rules there is the traction course. This is the first time you drive a train. You need to learn how to fix simple problems on the type of train you are driving. You also incorporate the rules you have learned for such times as when you are unable to fix the problem, and you need to take the train off the line to somewhere it can be fixed. Traction was my favourite part of the course.
When you pass this part you are sent out with a driver trainer and you drive real passenger trains under instruction. This lasts for about 17 weeks. At the end of each module you sit an exam. Each one lasts a whole day! With all parts of the training you only get 2 tries at passing. If you fail both times sadly that is it – back to the office job! The final exam is 8 days!! You go over everything you already passed a second time, and are assessed driving over all the routes you learn, if you are lucky you pass and way hey!
What advice would you give young women who are interested in this career path?
If anyone is interested in this path I would say go for it. It helps to play computer games and try mensa puzzles for the entrance exam. Also don’t expect to grow your nails long!! You will never look back and the money is fantastic. Even if driving is not for you there are loads of jobs on the railway where you can meet interesting and funny people. It beats the 9-5 any day!