The New Transformers
10 May 2018

The New Transformers

This article first appeared in edition 852 of Rail magazine, 9 May 2018.


Julie has worked in the rail industry ever since she joined British Rail as a fresh-faced graduate engineer in 1993.

Having served her time there during the final years of BR, her CV subsequently shows an impressive roll call of senior leadership positions at a wide range of supply chain companies and organisations, including Corus, Colas Rail, Amey, WSP and Transport for the North.

Her current role is at SYSTRA, where she has led the global engineering and consultancy group’s high-speed product line in the UK since September 2016.

With 25 years under her belt working exclusively in the sector, Julie could almost certainly now qualify for the distinguished (although glaringly ironic) title of ‘Career Railwayman’.

This level of dedication perhaps makes it all the more surprising then that a very different career path could just as easily have beckoned.

She explains: "I don’t really know why I joined the industry. I didn’t grow up playing with trains or anything like that - I just sort of fell into it. I applied for more than 50 jobs in my last year at university, and at the time BR was regarded as the best graduate scheme for civil engineers.

“It really grabbed me after that and I’ve never looked back. My evolution has taken me from conventional rail through to high-speed rail, which I’m really getting into. We are the new age pioneers who will leave a legacy and change the way people think about rail.”

Julie says that there aren’t many downsides to the working in the industry, but one gripe she has is that things are too often made overly complicated for the end user.

She points to the UK’s notoriously intricate fares structure, which has often been a cause for complaint by bewildered passengers.

We could all perhaps take a leaf out of Julie’s book when it comes to communicating in more plain English terms.

It is a personal trait in which she takes much pride, and can perhaps be best demonstrated by the cunningly simple way she has devised to explain her job role to other people.

“I simplify it if I’m with schoolkids, friends or family because they’re not engineers,” she says. "But most people seem to understand how railways work, so I just say that I design infrastructure that enables trains to run really fast.

"We have a habit of overcomplicating things and we don’t always want to see things through the eyes of the customer. Things like signalling and ticketing are really complex, but that shouldn’t be of concern to passengers - they just want to get from A to B.

“It frustrates me because as a sector of technology-driven people we don’t always know how to deal with the need for improved communication.”

One of the things Julie most likes about working in rail is the close affinity she has with colleagues and peers from all parts of the industry that stems from playing a small but essential part in a much wider system.

She says it was this sense of kinship and joint endeavour that helped smooth out her own experience of joining a male-dominated industry in the early 1990s, and which continues to apply to men and women in equal measure.

“It was a bit like joining a boys’ club back then, but I never felt excluded. You had to be committed and earn your stripes, but if you worked hard and did your bit for the railway then you would always be looked after by your team - and that is something that definitely hasn’t changed.”


Top of the page
SYSTRA Ireland 2nd Floor, Riverview House, 21-23 City Quay, Republic of Ireland, Dublin 2. Registered Number 904799