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Giorgiana Stevens talks about her role as driver on Southeastern’s high speed train line.
Giorgiana Stevens is one of three women train drivers on Southeastern’s high speed line between London and Kent. She loves her job and says, despite long shifts, she feels it gives her more quality time with her family than she had in her previous career in accounts.
“I would never have thought that I would enjoy it as much as I do,” she says. “I have never been very confident, but I love being in charge,” she says.
Giorgiana did not set out to be a train driver. She studied business and finance and became an accounts assistant in Italy when she left university. She was ambitious to progress so she came to the UK to learn English, but just as she was about to go back to Italy she found out she was pregnant. She stayed, but then moved back to Italy with her English partner when her daughter was born. However, her partner couldn’t settle so the family decided to return to the UK.
Giorgiana did a variety of jobs, from bar work and babysitting to cleaning before she got a post at a bed manufacturer, initially working in sales and customer services and then in accounts.
But the money and career prospects were not great. Her partner started working on the railway. His stepfather was a train driving instructor and persuaded Giorgiana to consider a job as a train driver. “He said if you are in charge of a child you can be in charge of a train,” she says.
Giorgiana has worked on the railway since 2006 when her daughter was five. She started as a conductor because there were no driver vacancies at the time. It was not until she was on maternity leave with her son a year or so later that a driver vacancy came up. She felt it wasn’t the right time for her, but her parents, who were moving to Tenerife, came and stayed for seven months to help her with the training.
Recruitment of drivers is a three-stage process – an external assessment process; a structured interview and a medical test. Successful candidates then have a four-month theory course and exams and do simulated runs. They then have to do 225 hours driving a train under the guidance of an instructor to get their licence. That includes doing running commentaries about what they are doing and writing a daily report on any safety or other issues.
Giorgiana says she didn’t think she could cope with train breakdowns or signal problems before she did the training, but each time she managed to deal with a difficult situation she felt a real sense of achievement.
When she finished her training Giorgiana was worried about arranging childcare around her shifts, but a friend helped out until she got used to how the shifts worked. Her ex-husband worked opposite shifts so they were able to manage without childcare.
Although she does 9.5-hour shifts and sometimes starts at 4.39am, she feels she spends more quality time with her children, aged 18 and 11, than she did when she worked 9 to 5.
Because of the long shifts, she gets a lot of time off between shift patterns [six times a year she gets eight days off between shifts] so she is around for her children. “It feels like I am at home more than if I worked normal hours,” she says.
She was based at Orpington which is 40 miles away, but since she became a high-speed train driver she has been based closer to home.
There are 34 drivers on the roster and the main timetable changes twice a year which means she has a lot of time to work out her schedule. There is also a weekly operational roster, but drivers can be moved around and there is a lot of flexibility, says Giorgiana.
She says her workplace has always been very supportive, particularly when she got divorced from her husband five years ago. Last year her mother had a stroke and her manager encouraged her to spend time with her mother. She was able to swap shifts with her colleagues.
Giorgiana is keen to encourage other women to take up a career on the railways and is taking part in a film for Southeastern’s railway academy dedicated to encouraging more women to apply to the sector. “Women can do the job just as well as men and, despite it being still a predominantly male environment, it is very supportive,” she says.
It’s a responsible and well paid job too, she states. “I love my job and it provides me with financial independence which is very important to me. I think it is a good lesson to teach my children. Whatever happens in relationships, I don’t have any financial worries on top of everything else.”
She adds that she also loves the independence of being in her own company, although she is regularly in communication with other colleagues. She says having a busy home life is a good contrast with the acute focus she has to have on one task at work. “It is the right balance for me,” she says.