Maria Cliff: speeding my career ahead with East West Rail

Maria Cliff - Rolling Stock Executive for East West Rail - writes about jobs in rail and her unique route to success in the rail industry. 

Spending time in a prison as a family support worker and a Japanese classroom as a language assistant may not be the most typical routes to a job in rail but they worked for me.

This month, I spoke at a panel event organised by Young Rail Professionals set up to reinforce the multiple ways you can build a career in rail. We should all be shouting about the brilliant opportunities available – as well as defusing a few urban myths along the way.

My story is that seven years after joining the industry, I’m responsible for delivery of the rolling stock (trains) for the new railway being delivered from Oxford to Cambridge.

After joining a graduate scheme with First Group, I’ve worked across lots of different departments and done the training as a frontline crew member – as a guard, revenue protection inspector and station dispatcher.

Going on to manage frontline staff, managers and projects has all helped develop my skills but the fundamentals are the same – having emotional intelligence, getting stuck in and leading from the front.

Get out of your bubble and talk to everyone - you never know what you’ll learn!

At Great Western Railway, I managed the Oxford driver depot where sometimes taking a left-field approach worked best to inspire my team. I credit the decision to use Longleat Safari Park for a planning session as a key factor in us ultimately achieving the company-wide ‘Most Improved Depot’ award.

My current job allows me to take all the best bits from my previous roles to ensure our trains work for a wide range of stakeholders. I’m showing that you don’t need to be an engineer (or male) to work in rolling stock so long as you have the right values, behaviours and transferable skills.

Our industry is going through a huge period of change and investment. With the Williams review due to report back imminently, it’s a good time to get involved in shaping the future of our new railways.

Top tips for new entrants:

• At the start of your career – wherever possible say yes to an opportunity! Be bold when people ask for your help.

• Get involved in whatever you can – there is always chance to raise your profile and visibility, not just in your company but across the industry.

• Be yourself – we need balanced teams and workforce. Stay true to your own values and be authentic.