#WATWB May – The Conversations in Train

Welcome to We Are The World Blogfest yet again. Unlike trains, I’m not on time. Did I miss Platform nine and three quarters? Hardly.

But, I’ve grown up in a family that had generations of us on and off the rails, so to speak! Both the paternal and maternal line of our clan (or crew) are loaded with railway people. Not least of these was our late Dad who served the New South Wales rail system for 43years.

So, I’m delighted to share with you the story of Heather. Meanwhile, mind the gap!

Heather in the Cabin. Source: BBC News accessed 31 May 2021.

Heather is a Scottish train driver. As the BBC News tells us:

As Scotland’s only woman freight train driver, Heather Waugh was already a pioneer. Then a tragedy from her past inspired her to take on a new mission – getting men to talk about their mental health.

When it was time to set off, Heather briskly pulled a handle towards her: “Star Trek-style”, she said, deadpan, as though she were Mr Sulu putting the USS Enterprise into warp speed. But this wasn’t a spaceship; it was a British Rail-vintage Class 90 locomotive. Its motors growled, then the train shuddered forward.

Behind her, container wagons stretched down the line for three-quarters of a mile. It wasn’t Heather’s job to know what sort of cargo she was carrying, just how much it all weighed – tonight, a little under 1,500 tonnes – and whether it included anything hazardous. Her task was to drive the lot of it south through the valleys of lowland Scotland and beyond.’

After a time, there was a tragic incident, and Heather found herself in a doctor’s surgery and with a month’s leave. Later she switched from passenger to freight trains and a strange, yet fascinating thing happened.

‘Historically, freight had been widely regarded – inaccurately, Heather quickly discovered – as dirty, heavy, physically draining work, and the workplace was exclusively male as a result. “In this day and age, you don’t expect to be the only woman,” she says. “Even with my background, it was intimidating.”

To her surprise, her new colleagues were overjoyed to have her on the team. They’d look forward to her being on shift – not because they wanted to chat her up, but because they could open up to her about their problems in a way they wouldn’t with other men, Heather found. “I’ve had conversations with colleagues where I know I’m the first person they’ve had that conversation with,” Heather says.’

Heather went and trained in new skills ‘”…teaching staff to recognise what is out of the ordinary,” she says. “As human beings it’s our job to go and take five minutes to speak to somebody and say, ‘Are you OK?'” she says.’

Heather helped men talk about their problems to, literally, lighten one of the loads they were carrying.

Our co-hosts for this month are Susan Scott and Eric Lahti and we are grateful.

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