Everyday a staggering amount of freight gets moved all over Australia by locomotives operated by dedicated train drivers. Have you ever wondered what it is like to drive a locomotive train? How do drivers eat, sleep and occupy their mind while hauling up to 10,000 tonnes of freight behind them – knowing it can take over 1km to come to a halt if fully loaded?
As a child many of us dreamt of being a train driver when we grew up - so we caught up with Mark, a Trojan Locomotive Driver Trainer to learn what the job is really like and whether it has lived up to his expectations.
How did you get into the rail industry?
I was in my thirties and ready for something new. My girlfriend who worked for the government gave me a brochure about a job for a Transit Officer working for Rail Corp in Sydney. I applied and got the job.
At first, I was checking tickets, providing security on trains and was part of a task force set up to catch people leaving graffiti on rail property. After that, I applied for a train driver job and within 12 months, I was driving passenger trains across Sydney.
Around 12 years into my career in the rail industry I was offered my first official locomotive driver trainer role where I was driving coal trains in the Hunter region, and on long haul runs from Western Australia to Queensland.
What type of stuff do you haul?
When I was a train driver, I moved anything and everything from passengers to coal, cars, furniture, food and even dangerous goods. Every train has a manifest which is a list of everything on board. Everything on the train has to be loaded to ensure the highest level of safety, for example, dangerous chemicals that don’t mix well must be separated with up to 13 wagons away from each other.
How far are your trips?
For some trips across Australia, the trip could be a few days or even up to 2 weeks. There are some fly in, fly out rail workers who work 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. Even working in a train depot, you could be staying somewhere overnight.
Do you sleep in overnight accommodation?
Yes – we don’t sleep in the train, we stay in overnight accommodation when needed. Regulations require that the accommodation be suitable to ensure drivers are comfortable and can get some rest. Although it is up to each train driver to manage their own fatigue and get the rest they need.
How do you occupy the time while on a trip?
When you are on a ‘Driver only’ trip with no second person, there are lots of things can occupy your time with. You can listen to music or the radio or check out the view from the cabin however, it is a job where concentration, being alert and safety aware is very important.
Is it lonely being on a trip without anyone else?
It can be, but mostly it is great to have the freedom to work without anyone looking over your shoulder. You can eat when you want, have the window open or closed and the air conditioning on or off, without consulting anyone!
What do you think about while driving?
Safety is a big thing and being alert is really important. When driving a train in a city, it’s people that you need to be aware of, because sometimes they can take silly risks. In rural areas, it is mainly livestock and cars that you need to be looking out for.
Can you go to the toilet when you are driving a train?
Not really so you have to be prepared for your scheduled breaks! A train driver has to schedule breaks with the Train Controller when the train can be brought to a full stop on a sideline.
Can you eat while driving?
Absolutely – an often driver cabins on trains will include a small fridge, microwave, jug or maybe a hot plate. Hard to believe but some trains even have a small kitchenette.
Are there any unusual stories from your time as a train driver?
My wife was staying with me while I was on a train trip and we had agreed to meet at the hotel we had booked. Later that day, I realised I had the car keys in my pocket and if my wife stopped the car, she wouldn’t be able to turn it back on. I called her, we arranged to meet at an upcoming railway crossing and as the train passed through my wife was ready and waiting so I tossed the keys out the window and she caught them!
One day I was driving a train in Sydney which happened to be the train a good friend takes to work each day. I put down the privacy screen to the passengers so he could see inside the cabin. He was amazed at how it all worked, and I am pretty sure there were other passengers who were too. He didn’t realise that you don’t steer a train the way you steer a car.
Do you think the rail industry is an essential service?
Absolutely. During this pandemic, it has been more important than ever to get goods from point A to point B safely, even with state boarder closures, stuff still needs to move around.
Would you encourage a young person to join the rail industry?
Definitely! Rail has a lot to offer including a career path, security, excellent potential earnings and longevity. There are many people in the rail industry who have made it their career covering a 30 -40 year period.
It was great to talk with Mark and gain an insight into the rail industry and a service that we often take for granted. Like Mark, there are so many dedicated people in our community performing a whole variety of jobs - whether they are driving a train, servicing a car, working in a factory or operating a supermarket checkout, many essential workers collars are blue.
Trojan Recruitment Group are leaders in contract, permanent and labour hire recruitment across many industries including blue collar sectors such as rail, building and construction and manufacturing. If you are looking to recruit top talent for the rail industry or would like to consider a career in rail, talk to the Trojan team about the various options available for you.
Courtesy of Jason Everett
Jason Everett is the Senior Human Resources Advisor for Trojan Recruitment Group who has worked in HR roles for the past 20 years servicing many industries including the blue-collar sector. As a passionate HR professional, Jason loves helping candidates find the perfect role and become essential to the business and industries to which they are hired.