Women on track for brighter future with the railways

A new group is to be launched to increase significantly the number of women working on Scotland's booming railways.

Jayne Wright at work on a steam engine at Boness. Picture: Alistair Linford

Despite around half of train passengers being female, women account for only one in five of those in the rail industry north of the Border.

Women in Rail in Scotland (WRS) aims to boost their involvement, especially in traditionally male roles such as engineering.

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ScotRail Alliance managing director Alex Hynes is leading a separate initiative to increase female apprentice levels to 50 per cent.

Lynsey McCabe at ScotRail's Shields depot in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin

A key Scottish Government goal is to boost female numbers in science, technology, engineering and maths. It comes as Scotland’s railways are expanding with new fleets of trains and major line upgrades – all of which provide more jobs.

WRS is spearheaded by Lorna Gibson, training director of Lanarkshire-based rail contractor QTS Group, with fellow steering group members from Network Rail and other firms.

She said: “There has been an extremely encouraging response, and a vibrant group of women from across the rail industry in Scotland have joined together to discuss roles and share ideas.”

Gibson said WRS, which is to be launched in February, would “offer a support network through mentoring, networking and personal development.

Lynsey McCabe at ScotRail's Shields depot in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin

“One of the key focuses will be engaging with education to encourage young people, particularly girls, to consider a career in rail.”

Only 11 per cent of Network Rail’s 2,500 staff in Scotland – and 16 per cent of its 37,000 staff in Britain – are female.

WRS aims to reach 20 per cent by 2020, with a greater proportion of women proven to boost motivation and collaboration.

ScotRail said 21 per cent of its 5,000 workforce were women. However, they account for only 4 per cent of train drivers – compared with 6 per cent across Britain. ScotRail is striving for a gender balance that reflects that of its customers.

Among the train operator’s women at the sharp end is senior engineering project manager Lynsey McCabe, who joined seven years ago with fellow graduate Syeda Ghufran, who is now head of engineering projects.

They were ScotRail’s first female graduate engineers for about five years.

McCabe, 34, who oversees train maintenance and refurbishment at the Shields depot in Glasgow, where she is one of the only women, said: “My experience has been a very positive one. There are always opportunities which we are actively encouraged to pursue. I really liked physics at school and have always been fascinated by how things work and can be made to be more efficient.”

She said she impressed on visiting school pupils that “there’s nothing that girls can’t do that boys can”.

McCabe said her gender was not an issue in her job.

She said: “It’s not something I have ever really thought about, certainly nothing negative.

“I do not think of it as male and female.”

Women are also active on heritage lines, with portrait photographer Jayne Wright, 40, training to be a steam engine fireman on the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway while also helping to restore locomotives.

Wright, who has been a train fan since she was a child, said: “Not everyone wants to get their hands dirty, but I love it.

“When I was at school, girls were not encouraged to go into engineering, but that’s all changed.

“Most heritage railways now have women on the footplate [drivers or firemen].

“It it would be lovely to see an all-female crew at Bo’ness.

“It’s not for everyone, but I love it. As long as it’s accessible, some women will come into it.

“Some of my friends who have worked as car mechanics left their jobs because of the hassle they got.”

Fellow Bo’ness volunteer Angela Heron, 40 - a dental nurse by day - said women were still judged.

Heron has worked there for 13 years and also started fireman training before having to give it up for family reasons

She said: “You have to prove you can do the job, and it’s even harder being a woman – there is still some sexism on the railway.

“There are comments like ‘You won’t stick at it’, but eventually they realise you can do the job.”