By Mike Atkinson | Drive producer and public relations officer
“Dad, when I grow up I want to be a train driver!” I exclaimed to my dad as a young and excitable seven year old, standing at a train station in northern England.
It might have been the sheer size and noise of trains rocketing past on the tracks, tooting their horns as they passed me or the fact I’d watched Thomas the Tank Engine on repeat on VHS. One thing was certain — I was hooked.
The fascination with trains faded as soccer and yo-yos took over (this was the late 90s, after all) but it goes without saying that train driver, as a ‘childhood dream’ job, ranks highly among the wee ones along the usual suspects of astronaut, police officer, a rock star or a vet.
Transperth shifts more than 64 million customers each year, heading to and from work, sporting events, concerts or down to the beach. They topped customer satisfaction ratings for the fifth year running beating competition from Adelaide Metro, Queensland Rail, Sydney Trains and Melbourne Metro services, and were highly praised for coping with the onrush of patrons during Adele’s concert last month.
But what’s it like behind the wheel of a Transperth train? Here’s Trainsperth train driver Zoe Standring who’s been in the train driving gig for two and a half years to tell all.
What a typical day looks like
“So we come in and we sign on and we pick up our worker for the day and that’s basically an A4 sheet that tells you where you are every minute the day,” Ms Standring said.
“It tells you what lines you’re driving, what patterns you’re doing ,when you have your crib, who you’ll be changing your trains over with — that sort of thing.”
How do you drive a train?
“People do ask this question quite a bit! A lot of people think you just press a button but it’s a lever.
“There’s a lever that you can obviously accelerate and brake with. There’s a lot of other controls there — lots of buttons and things like that but the main control is just basically a lever.”
Ms Standring said inclement weather plays a factor in how early you should hit the brakes.
“It can get challenging at times. Especially when it’s raining and so forth. You can imagine steel on steel can get a bit slippery and a bit hard to break but all in all they are quite easy to drive.”
How do you become a qualified train driver?
The role of train driver has surged in popularity in recent years due partly to the mining downturn in our state’s north, which has seen qualified freight train drivers come back to Perth in search of work.
Zoe said her training was comprised of 11 weeks in the classroom and a further 14 weeks learning the ropes out on track culminating in a three-day driving test style assessment.
“After those three days you’ve got an assessor with you and it’s so stressful! That day when they say ‘you’ve passed out’, that was great — followed by the next day after that when you’re out on your own and you’re terrified!
Zoe has no doubt that if you have a passion for train driving you should give it a go.
“I’d say do it! You do have to have quite good communication skills and maybe a bit of mechanical knowledge wouldn’t go astray but there are so many people from so many different backgrounds here so I’d say go for it,” Ms Standring said.
“It can be a lengthy application process. If you are successful you do get placed in the pool — It can be anywhere from six to 12 months so you might have to be prepared for that.”
What are the downsides?
“I think I can speak for all drivers when I say, there are people — and I know it’s a minority — but they don’t really behave that well around the tracks.
“There’s a yellow line here for a reason and sometimes when people step over the yellow line your heart jumps up into your chest or if you get people jumping over the pedestrian gates, that’s always that scary.
“You can’t stop these trains in a hurry so I would say these people spoil it for us a little bit. I’d just urge everyone to be safe around the tracks. Treat it like you would a road or a highway and look both ways.”
A push for more female drivers
On the back of the NSW government’s campaign to recruit more female drivers, Zoe said she’s keen for more women here in WA to enter a historically male-dominated profession.
“I think we need more women in the workplace here.
“It is an equal opportunity workplace. I think about 10 per cent of us are women now and I would like to see more of us here because we can do it just as good as the guys!”
Lingo of the land
Every profession has its buzzwords and jargon and train driving is no different.
“There are a few things. One that might sound funny is called a ‘bobo’. It’s when a train has a fault and it can’t be rectified by doing a circuit breaker. You might have to shut the train down. It’s short for battery off, battery on,” Zoe Said.
Podcast: Drive host Jeziel with Zoe Standring
When quizzed on the strangest thing a patron has brought on her train Zoe admitted some people use public transport as a removalist service.
“One of my colleagues once saw someone with a refrigerator on a trolley and another person once tried to bring a lounge suite on the train as they were moving.
“They got kicked off in the end but, yeah, lounge suite would be one of the weird ones.”
Listen to I’m a Professional each Tuesday on Drive with Jeziel.