The inside track on being a female train driver: Meet the LNER women, including a former neuroscientist, who have cut out rewarding careers in a male-dominated world
- Only 1% of women said they had wanted to be a train driver when young
- LNER driver Mena Sutharsan, 36, has a masters in neuroscience
- ‘To be seen as half as good you had to be twice as good’ – driver Trudi Kinchella
London North Eastern Railway (LNER) is pledging to shift the dial on attitudes to women pursuing careers in the rail industry, particularly train driver roles.
LNER research showed only one per cent of women said they had wanted to be a train driver when they were young compared to 21 per cent who wanted to be famous and 23 per cent who wanted to be a teacher.
If the reason women aren’t interested in being train drivers is that they think it’s a dull, unrewarding job in a sexist atmosphere, LNER’s female drivers have news for them. MailOnline Travel got the inside track on life at LNER from four of them – including a former neuroscientist and an ex-lawyer – and the consensus is that it’s a highly fulfilling career.
Three of LNER’s female drivers, left to right: Trudi Kinchella, apprentice Vandana Mungur and former neuroscientist Mena Sutharsan
Mena Sutharsan, 36, did a BSc in biomedical science at UCL and then a masters in neuroscience at King’s College London.
She spent ‘ample time in labs’ and worked on Alzheimer’s for her MSc project.
After graduating, she decided that ‘being a scientist wasn’t for me’.
She said: ‘I thought about a career transition and decided to become a translator. I grew up in France and can speak four languages fluently so I thought that might be something I enjoy.
‘I took a temporary job on the railways through an agency to work in the meantime. It was meant to be for three months and here I am at LNER 13 years later.’
Mena – who drives Class 800 Azuma trains and is also qualified to drive Intercity 125 HSTs and Class 91s – revealed there had been a change in how railwaymen interact with her over the years.
She said: ‘When I first started, some colleagues would ask a male or older colleague for advice or instructions over me even if I had the more senior position. It wasn’t always intentional. Now I see more of a balance and that’s been helped by the increasing number of women in senior positions at LNER.’
She described her male colleagues as ‘great’ and the job as ‘challenging and exciting’, with ‘no two days the same’.
Peterborough-based Vandana Mungur, 23, has diverted from a career path as a commercial lawyer to drive trains.
Vandana Mungur diverted from commercial law to become an LNER apprentice. She’s pictured here in the LNER King’s Cross simulator suite
She’s an LNER apprentice and said: ‘I am the only woman on my training course. I started with nine other male trainee drivers. They don’t treat me any differently and we have a great time training together.
‘The amount of information you have to take in during the first few months is crazy. We have assessments every week, so you always have to be on the ball. There’s no such thing as “I’ll just get it done tomorrow”.
‘It is challenging, especially back at the beginning, trying to balance everything. However, we have revision video calls between us, and our trainers are there every step of the way.’
An LNER Azuma crossing the stunning Royal Border Bridge over the River Tweed in Northumberland. Driver Trudi picked this spot out as a route highlight
Then there’s Leeds-based Azuma-driver Becky Brown. She’s been a driver for more than 10 years and said that ‘the majority of my colleagues supported me and helped teach me how to become the best train driver I could be’.
She continued: ‘My male colleagues are really supportive and they see me as a driver, all doing the same job and there for each other.’
LNER’s female-driver ranks may be boosted in the future by Becky’s daughter, Maisie, who’s eight.
Leeds-based Azuma-driver Becky Brown is pictured here with her eight-year-old daughter, Maisie, who wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps
From the age of four, she has been adamant that she wants to be a train driver.
Becky said: ‘From the age of four when at school, she and her classmates had to dress up as what they wanted to be when they were older. Maisie was adamant she wanted to go as a train driver. Most of her peers were dressed as superheroes and princesses.’
The driver we heard from who has seen the biggest changes in the female-male dynamic on the railways was Newcastle-based Trudi Kinchella, who has been a driver for 28 years.
Trudi Kinchella has been a driver for 28 years and said: ‘When any doubters saw that I was going to “stick it out”, I was finally accepted’
She said: ‘I learned quickly that to be seen as half as good you had to be twice as good.
‘I have shown that I am just as capable, professional and focused and very slowly over the years, probably about 10 years, when any doubters saw that I was going to “stick it out”, I was finally accepted.
‘I would say to any woman aspiring to drive for LNER that if you have the aptitude and dedication, then it is an amazingly fulfilling and enjoyable career. Go for it.’
For more information about careers with LNER, visit lnerjobs.co.uk/jobs. To see the female drivers at work and talking about their jobs, click here.
THE FEMALE LNER DRIVERS PICK OUT THEIR FAVOURITE ROUTES
Favourite route as a driver: The part of the route between Darlington and Newcastle is particularly beautiful, especially passing Durham Cathedral. It’s a stunning sight and I have the best seat on the train.
Favourite route as a passenger: I love the Eurostar journey between London St Pancras and Paris. It connects the two most special places to me. The views are great. I think the engineering used to build the tunnel is fantastic and it never ceases to amaze me.
Favourite route as a driver – and passenger: Newcastle to Edinburgh. You travel along the coastline, then over the Royal Border Bridge, into Scotland, over the tops and drop down into Edinburgh. On occasions, we are diverted via the stunning route from Newcastle to Carlisle – also a picturesque journey.
One of driver Becky’s favourite moments in the cab is crossing the Crimple Viaduct in North Yorkshire
Favourite route as a driver: Driving to Harrogate, which includes a journey over Crimple Viaduct [ in North Yorkshire].
On a summer’s day, the scenery is second to none, especially first thing in the morning. It is so picturesque and you see birds of prey along the way.
Favourite route as a passenger: Travelling up to Edinburgh. I just love the coastal views on that stretch of the route.
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