This Is Not a Man’s World: GTR doubles the number of female driver applicants in less than a year, and targets 50/50 splits across new training programmes in 2021

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), the UK’s biggest rail operator which runs the Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express services, has, through a series of dedicated recruitment and marketing campaigns, successfully managed to double the number of female train driver applicants from 413 in 2019, to 825 in 2020[i]. A remarkable feat for an industry usually seen as dark, dusty and better suited to men.

It’s no secret that a diverse talent pool makes a happy, motivated and successful workforce, as well as giving businesses the best opportunity to recruit the most skilled and capable people for the role; not based on gender, but on ability. And whilst historically the rail industry has struggled to attract female talent, the tide may be turning.

Speaking of the company’s progress, Zoey Hudson, Head of Talent, Diversity and Inclusion at GTR said, “We’re very aware at GTR that to get the best from our staff and be best able to serve our passengers, a diverse and highly skilled workforce is absolutely vital. For this reason, we’ve invested heavily in a recruitment campaign packed full of programmes and initiatives, such as working with Mumsnet. Our campaigns are aimed at debunking the stereotypes associated with careers in the rail industry and humanising our brands while demonstrating the huge versatility of roles available. All with the intention of attracting a more diverse workforce to the industry.”

Zoey continues, “We’re truly delighted to have been able to double the number of female train driver applicants in a single year, and we look forward to continuing to be the driving force behind the rail industry’s mission to recruit more women and have a more diverse pool of talent.”

Whilst the progress made is encouraging, GTR recognises that the fight is far from over, and has once again committed to doubling the number of female train driver applicants, this time by 2021. Further commitments include improving diversity in teams across its entire talent pool, with the company setting itself the target of having a 50/50 gender split on all training programmes by the end of 2021.

To ensure this ethos is embraced across GTR, the company also introduced ‘Unconscious Bias’ training, designed specifically to help make the organisation a more diverse and inclusive place to work. Ian McLaren, CFO at GTR commented, “As the executive sponsor of our Unconscious Bias training programme, it is my responsibility to ensure GTR is the diverse and welcoming business that we strive for it to be. We all have biases, it’s how our brains process and categorise the world. But by making ourselves aware of our tendencies to favour people most like us in appearance, background, or world view, we can begin to overcome those biases to create a more agile and innovative blend of ideas and experiences at GTR.”

Paige Lunn (29), Lisa Gibbs (56) and Beau Hawkins (26) are all newly qualified train drivers, working across the GTR network. They applied for the role at different ages and all come from completely different backgrounds. To find out more about each of their individual stories, please click through below:

  • Paige used to work in retail but in her mid-twenties she decided she wanted a change. After seeing campaigns calling on women to become train drivers she thought…why not! Read more here.
  • Lisa initially applied to be a train driver when she was 21 years old. After her career took a different turn, she decided to revisit the idea over 30 years later and is loving every minute. Read more here.
  • 26-year-old Beau has been on the railway since she was 19. She’s worked in ticket offices, on the platform and now has the best seat in the house. Read more here.

E-tickets will help Southern Railway passengers socially distance

More passengers than ever before can now travel with e-tickets on Southern Railway, helping people socially distance, preventing the spread of Covid-19. 

Twelve extra stations along the south coast between Chichester and Eastbourne now have barcode readers installed on the ticket gates for passengers to scan e-tickets bought via the Southern OnTrack app or online at southernrailway.com and displayed on their smartphones or printed out at home. 

Another 29 stations will follow across the Govia Thameslink Railway network, including Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern over the coming months, in addition to the 15 major stations already fitted out with the technology (see editor’s notes for a full station list). 

Barcode e-ticket sales have increased in the UK from 25% of UK rail ticket revenues pre-Covid to 33% now as passengers realise the benefits of non-contact travel. E-tickets can help passengers travel with confidence and are ideal for advanced singles, peak and off-peak singles, and peak and off-peak day return tickets. 

Season ticket holders looking for similar Covid-safe benefits are urged to use the free Key smartcard which, by December, will also be available over the ticket office counters and not just by ordering it online, a process taking up to five days. 

Southern Managing Director Angie Doll said: “Customers can already travel safe in the knowledge that our trains and stations are kept clean with a long-lasting viruscide on all touch points. Now e-tickets and our Key smartcard make it even quicker and easier to book a ticket online, speeding up the journey through the station, minimising contact and helping everyone to socially distance.”

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Making public transport more modern and accessible is a top priority in all the work that we do. The roll-out of smartphone ticketing across the Southern network makes it quicker and faster for passengers to pass through stations, simplifying their journeys and delivering a more seamless experience.”

Govia Thameslink Railway is UK’s first rail operator to sign new homelessness charter

Homelessness in the UK is increasing year-on-year and has been heightened during the pandemic, with reports of rough sleepers up by 36%[1]. The issue is particularly prevalent on the railway, which is why the UK’s largest rail operator has signed a new charter to help safeguard vulnerable people and communities.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), is the first train operating company to put its name to the Rough Sleeping on Rail Charter, introduced by Network Rail. The charter is a first for the industry and forms part of a wide-reaching programme of collaborative efforts to support a route out of homelessness for every person sleeping rough around the rail network. It was signed by Chief Operating Officer Steve White, and witnessed by NOAH – a homeless organisation in Luton and a long-standing official charity partner for GTR.

Signing the new charter is another positive step from GTR, which is committed to helping the vulnerable communities it serves. Last year, GTR launched the ‘Great Sock Appeal’, which collected more than 4,000 pairs of socks for homeless shelters across its route. This year, in addition to signing the charter, GTR is rolling out e-learning to all colleagues to help them support homeless people.

Steve White, Chief Operating Officer at GTR said:: “Homelessness is a significant issue for society. As another winter approaches, I am proud to be signing the charter on behalf of Govia Thameslink Railway to support the ambition to break the cycle of homelessness and end rough sleeping for good. Our intention is to support the most vulnerable and collaborate with others to offer routes out of homelessness.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, added: “Every signature on the Rough Sleeping on Rail Charter moves us one step closer to our goal of ending rough sleeping in this Parliament. Everybody should have the safety, comfort and security of a home. For those sleeping rough in our railway stations, particularly as we approach winter, life can be cold, challenging and uncertain. It is hugely welcome that GTR has stepped forward to play their part in supporting the vulnerable people who sleep rough on our rail network.”

David Morris, Chief Executive of NOAH Enterprise, commented: “We have worked with GTR for a number of years and in this time have collaborated on various projects to help disadvantaged people in the local community. It’s great that the new training will educate staff about StreetLink, which is a key tool in helping someone begin their journey out of homelessness by connecting them with relevant services and outreach support. We applaud GTR for adopting the Charter at this early stage, and for committing to partner with NOAH’s new social enterprise Rainbow, through which more disadvantaged people will access jobs and training.”

Rachel Hopkins, MP for Luton, also commented: “I’m pleased to see GTR sign up to the Rough Sleeping on Rail Charter and commit to working to end homelessness. Equipping their staff with the skills to support those in need is vitally important. NOAH is an integral part of our community, and the commitment to the new Charter will enable them to continue working with GTR to help those who have nowhere else to turn.”

The Rough Sleeping on Rail Charter was announced by Network Rail on 7th October 2020. It focuses on educating staff and empowering them with the tools to support homeless individuals as well as homeless charities.

Southern station hubs offer support to mark World Mental Health Day

With ongoing uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to prioritise health and wellbeing. That’s why Southern, part of the UK’s largest rail operator, has teamed up with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust to launch a pilot scheme featuring ‘drop-in’ mental health hubs, following World Mental Health Day this Saturday (10th October).

The new hubs, based at Brighton and Eastbourne stations, will be staffed by a range of psychologists and therapists from Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust who will be on hand to talk to passengers and the local community about any issues or concerns they have surrounding mental health. Southern’s team of Wellbeing Champions will also be available at each station for general advice and support, with the pilot marking the first partnership between Southern and an NHS trust to deliver localised mental health support collaboratively.

The mental health hubs will follow World Mental Health Day and be open to passengers and members of the local community on Monday 12th, Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th October from 15:00 until 18:00.

Sam Allen, CEO of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Covid-19 has threatened our personal safety, disrupted our daily routines, uprooted our lives and shaken our world. The psychological impact on our local communities has been huge. It’s so important that we talk about our mental health with friends, family members or colleagues as this can be key in looking after our mental wellbeing.

“We’re delighted to be working with Southern on developing this unique mental health hub pilot scheme and promoting our #Ten4Ten campaign; it’s fantastic to see the organisation taking such an active role in supporting colleagues, customers and the local communities,” she added.

The NHS Trust’s #Ten4Ten campaign encourages people to look after their mental health by following 10 easy steps:

  1. Remember it is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during a crisis
  2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle as far as you can, including diet, sleep and exercise
  3. Don’t smoke, drink or use drugs to deal with your emotions
  4. Limit worry by watching or listening to media coverage less
  5. Keep connected to people by phone, email and social media
  6. Be kind to others and yourself
  7. Seek advice you can trust from the NHS and the Government
  8. Get the facts to help you determine the risk and help protect yourself
  9. Use skills you already have, and have used in the past to deal with stress
  10. Structure your day with things you can realistically achieve

Angie Doll, Managing Director for Southern and Gatwick Express, said: “The railway is playing a vital role in keeping the country moving throughout this terrible pandemic. Our colleagues have been working tirelessly so our passengers can use our trains with the confidence that they are Covid-19 safe and secure. We know this will be taking its toll on both their physical and mental health, so we have Wellbeing Champions across our network to support the wellbeing of all our staff. In honour of World Mental Health Day, we are now extending this support to passengers, thanks to our new and first-time partnership with an NHS Trust.”

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said:“The pandemic has put extra strain on people’s mental wellbeing, and it’s more important than ever that we all think of others and put in place real support. This is a great initiative by Southern, encouraging people to talk and helping passengers open up about their mental health issues.”

Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastbourne, also commented: “Reaching out to the rail passenger community to offer support, help and advice on mental health issues in this way is a great thing to do and I would like to thank Southern and Sussex Partnership for joining together to make it happen, especially at such a difficult time.

“Mental health issues affect many, many people and some of those people are sometimes reluctant to seek help. Having a pop-up hub like this at Eastbourne station is really sending out a powerful message that it’s OK to talk about mental health and there is help and support available.”

In addition to various confidential health and wellbeing resources, Southern – which is part of Govia Thameslink Railway – also offers employees Trauma Risk Management support, occupational health care and access to the railway chaplains network; an independent charity providing year-round support to railway staff who may be dealing with loneliness, stress, depression, bereavement or illness. The rail operator is encouraging all colleagues to support their teams through its internal communication channels with videos, access to resources and training opportunities.

The mental health hub pilot scheme follows the rail operator’s recent ‘Affirmation Art’ campaign, which offered passengers messages of hope on World Suicide Prevention Day and highlighted the year-round effort the company puts into this topic, with help from a dedicated Suicide Prevention Manager.

For those unable to visit the ‘drop in’ mental health hubs next week, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is also sharing easy steps for looking after mental health on its website as part of the #Ten4Ten campaign

Celebrations in store for Sussex railway depot

Nestled away in the Arun district of West Sussex is a workplace home to hundreds of dedicated railway workers – and today marks the 25th anniversary of the site’s operations.

From train drivers and conductors, to on-board supervisors, driver managers and station teams, Southern’s Barnham depot is one of Govia Thameslink Railway’s biggest bases and is steeped in local family history.

Formed in 1995 with the amalgamation of the company’s legacy depots including Littlehampton, Bognor Regis and West Worthing, the depot was created at Barnham to provide a base for drivers when the Bournemouth service launched in the mid-90s.

Richard Yardley, 39, is a Driver Manager at Barnham who swapped the skylines of Dubai for suburban Sussex in 2016 and hasn’t looked back since. “The Barnham depot is a very special part of the local community. There is a real sense of family here, helped by the fact that many of our people have had parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents all working on the railway and at Barnham depot itself. When I joined over four and a half years ago, I realised that it’s the best job I’ve ever had. There’s a sense of comradery and togetherness in the railway that you just don’t get anywhere else.”

Although previously working for airlines, a career on the railway was destined for Richard with both his grandad and great-uncle former train drivers. It seems this trend is very much still alive at Barnham – with different generations of the same family all working under one roof.

Terry, 58, Lee, 38 and 35-year-old Adam are all members of the Laird family who work as train drivers at the Barnham depot. Terry Laird started his career at Barnham on the day the depot opened and says the best part of the job is working within the community. He says: “I joined the railway when I was just 17 and worked in various roles in the north of the UK. Unfortunately, the company I was with at the time were going through a part-closure, so I had to look for work elsewhere and that’s when I found the opportunity with Southern.

“It’s amazing to have both of my sons follow in my footsteps to become train drivers and even better that we’re now all part of an even bigger family at Barnham. The depot is a huge part of the local community and we’re really pleased to be celebrating 25 years of history here.” said Terry.

Richard had grand plans for the 25th anniversary of Barnham depot including inviting back retired staff for the celebrations, but this has unfortunately been postponed by Covid-19. However, the occasion won’t go amiss as decorations and historical memoires will adorn the depot for all staff to enjoy.

Opened in September 1995, the Barnham depot is now home to a total of 156 drivers, 90 onboard supervisors and 36 conductors and is led by the area operations manager, Tom Guiney. The depot even has its own football team called The Windmills, who run fundraising matches and events to raise money for Children with Cancer UK. It continues to be a vital part of the community, employing many generations of Sussex families past and present.

Sussex local in the running for prestigious railway accolade

Laura Lee is Sussex born and bred and has worked on the railway for over 20 years. She is being recognised in this year’s Community Rail Awards, having been shortlisted in the Outstanding Volunteer Contribution category.

Last year, the mum of two took on an ambitious project to recognise the efforts of railway staff during World War One in the run up to the centenary of the Great War. Initially, the project looked into the fates of those who had been based at her own station – Arundel – but it quickly snowballed as people encouraged her to extend the research to neighbouring stations.

Laura, 50, spent hours combing through records to collate the names, ages, roles and fates of those who served to ensure their sacrifices are not forgotten. For railway workers that didn’t make it home, Laura included locations of where they were buried after checking and cross-referencing details with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The extensive research covers 27 stations and has now been handed over to the West Sussex records office as an official historic account.

Laura Lee said: “I’m delighted to be recognised in the Community Rail Awards. What started out as a personal project grew and grew and I became engrossed in the research. I’m glad that it has now been made into an official account of history because it’s very important that these people are not forgotten.”

Howard Clear, Arundel Station Manager added: “We were all really impressed by the amount of work and effort Laura put into her research – it was truly above and beyond her day job. We felt it only right to display her work on the concourse at Brighton station with regimental flags for all to see. It’s even better to see that Laura is now getting official recognition for her work, we’ll have our fingers crossed for the results.”

Govia Thameslink Railway is shortlisted in a total of four categories at the Community Rail Awards 2020, which will take place virtually this year on Wednesday 9th December for community rail groups, station partners and the rail industry. See the full shortlist here: https://communityrail.org.uk/events-training/community-rail-awards/community-rail-awards-2020-shortlist/

Greener travel options for Haywards Heath thanks to a stations improvement programme from Govia Thameslink Railway

Today, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) – the UK’s biggest rail franchise – has welcomed Mims Davies, Member of Parliament for Mid Sussex, to the newly opened EV charging hub at Haywards Heath station to encourage people back to rail with a greener way to travel to the station.

The installation, which features 12 charging points, forms part of a wide-ranging station improvements programme being undertaken by GTR, which encompasses more than 230 stations and over 1,000 individual projects. The programme aims to enhance the overall journey experience by making stations smarter, safer, more comfortable and more environmentally sustainable. Much of the work has been suggested by local passenger and community groups.

In partnership with Pod Point, a leading provider of EV charging infrastructure, the new charging points at Hayward Heath have been opened to meet the increasing consumer demand for electric vehicles, whilst also demonstrating the company’s commitment to sustainability. The EV installation at Haywards Heath will see a 54 per cent increase in public EV charging devices in the Mid Sussex district[1].

Haywards Heath station was chosen as a result of a heat-mapping exercise conducted by the rail operator, which revealed EV ownership and sales ‘hot spots’ around the UK. With an increasing number of people switching to electric vehicles, Govia Thameslink Railway is responding to local demand by providing greater access to charging infrastructure. The new charging points are in addition to the existing 114 in place across the GTR network, which have all undergone improvements as part of the project.

Chris Fowler, Customer Services Director for Southern, explained: “We’re delighted to provide new EV charging points to residents of Haywards Heath and the surrounding area. This is in addition to a new EV hub opened at Hatfield station and part of a much wider programme of works to improve station facilities at every station across the GTR network and give a better experience to our passengers.

“We have over 1,000 improvement projects happening across our network and many will help improve the sustainability of our stations, especially as our local communities seek out options for the greenest forms of travel.”

Mims Davies, Conservative MP for Mid Sussex, said of the project: “I am delighted Haywards Heath was chosen as a location for this project. We need to become more environmentally aware to rise and meet the challenges to preserve our local environment. It is great the people of Mid Sussex are embracing the new greener technology for transport and I’m pleased Govia Thameslink took the time to analyse purchasing trends and have responded to this to support both the environment and those that have bought electric or hybrid cars. It is a very welcome addition to one of our key local stations.”

Erik Fairbairn, Founder and CEO, Pod Point, adds: “We are delighted to be working with Govia Thameslink Railway on the installation of EV charging points across its network. Our continued partnership with GTR is making it easier for drivers to choose electric and will help accelerate adoption. We see the GTR EV charging hubs at Haywards Heath and Hatfield as a blueprint for EV charging across the rail industry. It offers connected electrified transport for all UK commuters and for the millions of drivers without off-street parking it provides a viable and convenient alternative to domestic or workplace charging.”

A dedicated Station Improvements web page is now available for GTR passengers and local communities to easily access information on what’s happening at their station to improve ambiance, experience and sustainability.

GTR and Porterbrook announce £55 million fleet modernisation programme

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Porterbrook, the owner of trains leased by the operator, have announced a five-year, £55 million programme to modernise the Southern, Gatwick Express and Great Northern ‘Electrostar’ fleets, 270 trains in all.

Enhancements range from real-time passenger information screens and USB/power points to high-tech on-board operation systems.

The trains include 214 ‘Class 377s’ that provide suburban and commuter services on the Southern network between London, Surrey, Sussex and the south coast, and over 56 ‘Class 387s’ working on Great Northern or Gatwick Express routes.

While parts of the fleet, including the Gatwick Express Class 387s, are just five years old, most have been in service for between 15 and 20 years. This upgrade will bring all 270 trains up to the same level of passenger facilities and the latest “smart” on-board diagnostic systems.

GTR’s engineers will install features called for by passengers in recent research led by Transport Focus and funded by Porterbrook. These include USB/power sockets and on-board real-time information through media screens. The trains will also be fitted with new energy-saving LED lighting to make them more environmentally friendly.

To improve reliability, the trains will be fitted with an upgraded on-Train data recorder that will help predict and diagnose faults and streamline maintenance.

Passenger-counting technology will also be fitted, to allow GTR to better analyse how busy trains are, further helping to support social distancing.

New forward-facing CCTV cameras will help GTR and Network Rail investigate incidents that have delayed the service that day.

GTR’s Engineering Director Steve Lammin said: “Taking on board our passengers’ feedback, this multi-faceted upgrade by our own team at Selhurst Depot will provide a better on-board experience and more reliability.

“I’m really pleased that GTR is working with Porterbrook and Bombardier to deliver this improvement programme that will continue to ‘build back’ a better railway for our customers.”

Mary Grant, Porterbrook CEO, said: “We are committed to helping GTR meet the needs of its travelling customers. This is why Porterbrook are investing £55 million in the Electrostar fleet to significantly enhance passenger facilities and improve reliability using digital analytics. These are excellent and popular trains and I am delighted that their upgrade will be undertaken by GTR’s own workforce at Selhurst Depot.”

The first train to enjoy the full update is expected to emerge from GTR’s Selhurst Depot in the autumn. When the programme is in full swing, GTR’s engineers, guided by the trains’ manufacturer Bombardier, will be working on a constant one-per-week stream of trains.

Discount Railcards get smart on Great Northern, Thameslink and Southern

Railcards giving discounts of between a third and 50% can now be used on Great Northern, Thameslink and Southern’s “keyGo” pay-as-you-go smartcard service.

The innovation completely removes the need to queue or book ahead for most paper or online tickets, which supports social distancing for passengers and station staff during coronavirus restrictions.

This industry-first expansion of smartcard technology on National Rail means passengers with Railcards can now simply tap in and out at railway stations, knowing their account will automatically be charged the best-value fare for all of that day’s journeys – with any Railcard discount included.

Tom Moran, Managing Director for Thameslink and Great Northern, said:

“KeyGo itself was an industry-first, giving passengers the convenience and simplicity of pay-as-you-go smartcard travel, and since its introduction we have been developing the technology to increase the routes it can be used on, the value it offers, and the number of passengers who can benefit.

“Coupling keyGo with discount Railcards is a game-changer, with so many more people now able to take advantage of tap-in, tap-out travel.

“It’s something our passengers have been asking for, especially since the 26-30 Railcard became available, and will save people time queuing for tickets, also aiding social distancing.”

Covid-19 restrictions on social distancing have increased customer demand for smart ticketing, which minimises contact and time spent at the station, and can offer better-value fares for less-frequent travel. KeyGo allows flexibility and convenience over a traditional season ticket where customers don’t need to buy a ticket in advance and are only charged when they travel.

Second footbridge will be ‘real bonus’ for St Albans Thameslink commuters

Thameslink has welcomed the announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport of a £6.4m scheme to build a second footbridge at St Albans City station, to help passengers get on and off the platforms more easily.

Work is due to start early 2021 and be complete by January 2022.

St Albans City is Thameslink’s busiest station north of London with more than 7.5 million people passing through its gates in the 12 months to April 2019 – a 2.6% rise on the year before, attributed to the extra services and longer trains Thameslink has introduced.

Thameslink Customer Services Director Jenny Saunders said: “Our services have become increasingly popular as we’ve brought in new, longer trains and additional services.

“To give our passengers a better experience on their daily commute or trip to London, we are already extending and upgrading the station with new retail stores, improved toilets, additional cycle facilities with increased security and a wider entrance to help passenger flows through the Ridgmont Road entrance.

“This second footbridge will be an added, real bonus for commuters, saving them time queuing to get on and off the platforms, in particular the central island platform, which becomes very crowded in normal times.

“We look forward to working closely with Network Rail to develop the scheme.”

Stephen Hind, Head of Business Development for Network Rail, said: “We welcome the announcement of funding to build a new footbridge at St Albans City Station.

“The footbridge will bring significant benefits for passengers. It will reduce crowding in the station at peak times and make it easier for rail users to move around the station and access the platforms.

“We are looking forward to starting work on site early next year when work has also been completed to improve passenger facilities.”