Please tell us a little bit about your background…
I am originally from Venezuela. I was forced to leave my country in 2008 because the political situation had made staying there very unsafe. The UK was my best option as I strongly believed that improving my English would give me the best chance of a better future. I am delighted I made that decision. I have a double degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Cordoba (Spain) and Central University of Venezuela. I also have a Master Degree in Project, Construction and Maintenance of Railway Infrastructure and Installations from Structuralia-Polytechnic University of Catalonia.
What has been your career journey so far?
I’m a Civil Engineer. I came into engineering because math and physics were my favourite subjects at school. I was told to become a dentist by a career adviser but I was more interested in economics or engineering. I fell into rail by accident like many women in the sector. After I graduated, I was offered a job working on the first part of the Great Western Modernisation Programme, from Paddington to Swindon. I discovered rail and, most importantly, its people and as one says “Once a Railway man, always a Railway man”. I loved this industry from the start and I decided to dedicate my career to delivering railway projects. Currently, I am part of the ATC team delivering the Crossrail project, from Plumstead to Westbourne Park. I specialise in Overhead Line Electrification (OLE). I am thoroughly enjoying it. I am completing my Master’s in railway engineering. As an OLE engineer on the Crossrail project, my team is responsible for the electrification of the track. I am currently acting as an interface between the Quality, Construction, Design, Test & Commissioning and the Client to ensure that the Overhead Equipment is delivered on time, at the required quality and with all the support documentation in place. I am the only female engineer on site. My hours are traditionally 8am to 5.30pm but often it is 8am to 8pm but I don’t mind.
What in rail are you passionate about and what motivates you to put forward your greatest effort?
It’s very challenging. Working as a team is fundamental to achieve the goal. You spend several hours working in the middle of nowhere with people who will end up becoming your railway family. At first I was a little reserved, intimidated but when you spend so much time with people, you get to know them and create a bond. I feel accepted and privileged. I am grateful to be given a chance of being part of such important projects. Sometimes, it can be demanding and exhausting but when I look around at the people who have been in this industry for ages, how they give their best to deliver the project, I feel I cannot do less than that. When times are hard and I am in a stressful situation, I think about how lucky I am to be here in this country, that my life is so much better.
What aspects of the job do you find the most challenging and rewarding?
To plan and carry out the works during a possession (night work) is very challenging and rewarding, especially when you can report an “all done”. We often only have few hours to complete the job and leave the work site safely in time for the morning trains to pass. This requires a very detailed planning and a high level of supervision.
What has been your biggest success to date?
A deadline was approaching on a long possession and our construction manager had to take leave. I found myself leading the planning and preparation, overseeing and coordinating a team of about 60 to 70 people. Many technical issues arose that weekend which made the possession even more challenging but we all pulled together. The team made a massive effort to deliver what was planned. It was very rewarding. The team work was the key of our success.
What do you like the most about your job?
I never get bored! My managers expect me to ensure a smooth communication between the departments and to address satisfactorily the issues that we may face. So in a big project like Crossrail, with many activities happening at the same time, I have a lot to do!
Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years’ time?
I see myself as a Project Manager or Project Director. I would like to continue delivering ambitious projects in OLE. This is my passion.
What do you think the rail industry could improve to support and attract women?
I do support the idea of visiting schools to show the younger generation that being a woman in the railway is completely fine. New generations must come to find it normal to see a woman with her PPE on.
What message would you have to encourage girls to join the industry?
You never get bored in this industry. This is the place for people who like challenges, people who feel satisfaction of a well done job, especially after working hard. If you believe that you can do it, you will acquire the skills and knowledge to do it and have a rewarding career. Trust yourself!
Do you have a role model?
I feel a huge admiration for the young people around the world who fight for human rights. Working hard, with ethic and commitment, is my way to show respect and gratitude for their bravery.
What are your interests outside of rail?
Time with my family and friends is what I enjoy the most. My family is still in Venezuela and my friends are dispersed around the world so it is a real treat when they come to visit me in the UK. I also like going to restaurants and to the theatre. I enjoy listening to classical music and dancing… I also love travelling, especially to places with an exceptional natural beauty such as Croatia. I enjoy life.
Interviewed August 2017