Jess Thiele

Jessica Thiele was accepted into Metro Academy three years ago after she decided nursing wasn’t for her. Now as a qualified Train Driver on the metropolitan network, Jess is responsible for helping thousands of people get to where they need to go every day. Jess’ sincere passion for her job has inspired her wife to study to become a train driver as well.

Jess Teal, Metro TrainsWhat does a normal day look like for you?

A normal day can start as early as 2am. If you’re doing a morning shift, it can take an hour to prepare your train which means checking the brakes, identifying any faults and making sure it’s safe to drive on the network.

Every Driver needs to understand how the train works, so that if there are any issues you know how to fix them. It’s also important to keep up to date with things like changes in the weather and be across any issues on the line, like trespassers on the track. We need to adjust our driving to suit that while getting our passengers from A to B as quickly and safely as we can.

It sounds like the training required to become a driver is pretty intense.

It’s sort of like an apprenticeship, with time in the classroom and out driving with an On the Job Trainer driver. Once you finish all of that and pass all your exams and everything gets ticked off, then you’re ready to go out and drive by yourself, which is pretty daunting at first.

How did it feel doing your first solo trip?

I remember bringing the train into the platform and it was about 7am so the platform was choc-a-block full of peak-hour passengers going to work. There were hundreds of faces staring at me and I remember thinking to myself, ‘you people have no idea it’s my first day.’ It was scary at first, I definitely had the white knuckles going for the first couple of days. It’s pretty surreal looking back in the rear-view mirror and seeing the 160-metre long train behind you and seeing people piling onto your train and thinking I’m responsible for nearly 1,000 people.

How did you get to this point in your career journey?

I studied Nursing at university, straight after high school. Towards the end of it, I started to get this inkling that it wasn’t for me. I thought, ‘I’ll finish it, but I don’t think I want to do it as a job.’ So then I got into the fitness industry and still do a bit of that now as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. It’s sort of my release on the side. After that, the nursing led into pharmaceuticals, so I worked for Pfizer manufacturing chemotherapy drugs. I did that for a good couple of years, but I was just looking for more, I knew I could do more and stretch my wings. I remember seeing Metro ads in the newspaper, targeting women. I thought it’d be pretty cool for a girl to drive a train. I sort of left it for a while, but it kept coming back to me and I thought, ‘this is fate, I have to apply.’ The application process is pretty long. Everyone’s different, but it took me from start to finish about 10 months to get into Metro Academy.

Looking back when you first left school, did you ever think you’d be driving a train?

Not at all. Jumping from nursing to train driving, it’s a bit different. Even now, I think it’s funny driving past places I used to catch the train from when I was in high school. Now I’m driving these trains past stations that I’d wait at to go into the city, so it’s pretty crazy but it’s well worth it.


What do you love about your job?

The relationship with other drivers, we’re like a little family. Everyone looks out for you. I had a trespasser incident at work a little while back and there were so many calls and texts from people making sure I was okay, which was really lovely.

And the interactions you have with passengers are pretty special. If I’m assisting someone in a wheelchair get on and off the train, I really try to make an effort to have a chat to them, asking them ‘how’s your day? And what are you up to in the city?’ Often you’ll pick them up again, so you’ll remember where they’re getting off. They really love that, that friendly interaction.

Once I had a guy at the platform in a wheelchair who was non-verbal. With his disability, his arm was permanently raised, but I didn’t realise, I thought he was giving me a high-five. So I gave him a high-five and then it dawned on me that he wasn’t putting his arm down. So I got him onto the train and got back into the cab and had a bit of a giggle at myself. The next day, I did the same run and he was there again, but this time he angled his wheelchair so we could give each other a high-five again. I love those kinds of interactions, now I’ve got a bit of a connection with him.

Jess Teal, Metro TrainsAre passengers ever surprised to see a female train driver?

You get some lovely and funny comments, especially if you get out to help someone on. It’s always positive. I had an older man in a wheelchair not long ago and he said, ‘Oh, you’re a girl! Good to see some pretty girls driving trains.’ Bless him.

On the weekends, there are lots of families out with their kids. It’s really nice when the little girls are waving and their face lights up when they see it’s another girl driving. It’s great for them to see that girls can do what guys can do. We can drive this million-dollar train and crawl around under it and fault-find if we have to. Metro don’t treat you any differently, male or female, you do exactly the same job, it doesn’t matter who you are. I think that’s really awesome.

Has there been anything that’s surprised you about this job?

You get some lovely and funny comments, especially if you get out to help someone on. It’s always positive. I had an older man in a wheelchair not long ago and he said, ‘Oh, you’re a girl! Good to see some pretty girls driving trains.’ Bless him.

On the weekends, there are lots of families out with their kids. It’s really nice when the little girls are waving and their face lights up when they see it’s another girl driving. It’s great for them to see that girls can do what guys can do. We can drive this million-dollar train and crawl around under it and fault-find if we have to. Metro don’t treat you any differently, male or female, you do exactly the same job, it doesn’t matter who you are. I think that’s really awesome.

What are some of the challenges?

Everybody’s different. For me the shift work is sometimes difficult, just trying to get your body clock back. I also find disruptions challenging. Sometimes there might be a delay so you’re coming into a platform five minutes late and people will give you a dirty look. But they might not know that there’s been a trespasser or weather issues. If it’s really hot, we have to go slower. You can communicate over the PA, but people just want to get home or get to work so they’re frustrated. It can be hard to bear the brunt of that.

You mentioned you had a fatality, is that something you’re comfortable talking about?

It’s part of the job. You are prepared for it in training, but you never know how you’re going to react. You’re shown videos and you’re told the procedures you need to follow, but you don’t know if you’re going to fall apart or be fine and it depends, every situation is different.

I was really calm and I was surprised about that. There’s a lot of support with Psychologists and counselling available at Metro. They give you as much time off as you need which I think is really good. And then when you are ready to come back, you come back and drive with someone else. I used all of those resources to make sure I was okay. But when you’re driving that line again, you do think about it.

Has this job taught you anything about yourself?

It’s shown me that I can handle intense pressure. You’re not sure how you’re going to react in certain situations, but now I know I can deal with pretty extreme circumstances. The other thing is information retention. There were times when I was studying that I thought, ‘my head is full, I can’t do it anymore.’ But you can do it. It gets absorbed somehow and comes out when you need it.

Are there many other women train drivers?

I think we’re sitting somewhere above 25 per cent. Metro is keen to train up more female drivers to reach 40 to 50 per cent gender balance. It’s good to see so many other women here from all walks of life.

Do you think there are any barriers that might prevent women from considering a job like this?

I think there’s definitely perceived barriers and I did have them coming in. I thought that it was a male-oriented profession. Growing up, I only saw male train, bus or tram drivers, so I think that thinking is still there. When you see a female driver, it’s still an anomaly. But as I said, there are more females coming in. Metro doesn’t treat females any differently, you do exactly the same work, including all the heavy lifting. So there maybe is a perception that it’s a job for men, but it’s not the reality.

What advice would you have for a woman who might be interested in becoming a train driver?

Do it. Just do it. For me personally, it’s honestly the best thing I’ve done career-wise. I bloody love it. It’s just the best job in the world, it’s never boring. You can tailor it to suit your lifestyle, so if someone’s got a family, you can chase certain shifts so you can still pick the kids up from school or take them to footy. If you’re curious about it, try and seek out someone who can give you more information about it. And just give it a go, you won’t regret it.