Box Hill Station Master, Joanne Neville has worked on the railways for 30 years, following in the footsteps of her father. The Neville household is driven by trains, with Joanne meeting her husband on the job and their daughter recently joining Metro herself. Joanne and her staff manage Victoria’s busiest Zone 2 station, which accommodates 26,300 trips each weekday.
What led you to this career?
I’m the second-generation in my family to work for the railways. Funnily enough, my father was Station Master here at Box Hill as well. He can tell me so much about this station because he was involved in its construction back in 1983. I’d always wanted to be a policewoman or a nurse, but I’d been a bit of a part-time student in my last year so the thought of doing more schooling wasn’t all that appealing to me. I got an interview with Victorian Railways when I’d finished school and the railway commissioners taking the interview could remember me as a kid playing around the Maffra Station in Gippsland where my dad was working.
Last year I said to my dad, because I never know how much longer he’s going to be here at 85, I actually want to thank you for getting me this job on the railways because I love it. I knew I couldn’t do Monday to Friday in an office, I thought that would drive me nuts. Getting into this has been perfect. I’ve never looked at anything else. After 16 years working at this station, I consider Box Hill my home. I’ve seen a lot of change in the railways over my time and it’s been quite phenomenal.
What energizes you about your work?
Doing a good job and doing it right. Making a difference to people’s day. Even the unhappy passengers I consider a lovely challenge because most of the time you can make their day better. A lot of what we do is community service. You’d be surprised how many lost dogs turn up at the station, so we get them reunited with their owners. I’ve had people come back with boxes of chocolates because of that. People see the “customer information” sign and think it’s for the whole of Box Hill, so we’re also tour guides in a way. Metro gives us phones and iPads to look things up for people like restaurants, youth hostels. We use Google Translate a lot! That’s why I love this job, there’s so much variety.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
There are always plenty of challenges. I love the idea of shift work, I grew up with it, but it can be challenging for others because it affects your social life. Of course there are always options for swapping shifts with advance notice, but sometimes you miss out. My daughter had her 21st birthday party on a night she knew I was working and I missed it because I couldn’t change my shift. I think she’ll hold that against me forever! The bonus of shift work is getting blocks of days off during the week. When my kids were younger, I could take them to school, go to assemblies, help out at the canteen and go to reading sessions.
How do you deal with challenging situations?
I love dealing with challenging situations. In the big scheme of things, when you consider how many people travel, there aren’t that many disgruntled passengers. Sometimes there are disruptions on the train network, and a lot of the reasons are out of our control. Sometimes passengers are unhappy about disruptions, but you treat people like that’s your grandmother, or your child, or your brother. When someone is in a bad mood, I always say to the staff ‘you don’t know what’s going on in their lives’.
We had an incident here where a train had changed platforms at the last minute, causing a lady to miss her train. She was very upset and demanded an explanation, so of course I apologised and explained what happened. She came back a few days later with a bun from the bakery to say how sorry she was for how she behaved. Little things like that put a smile on your face.
What’s the best experience you’ve had on the job?
I met my husband at work. He’s third-generation railway, so we’re a big railway family. We both loved horses so we used to go riding together, and 30 years later we’re still going strong. Some people say don’t marry someone on the job, but it’s worked for us. We worked opposite shifts for a very long time when the kids were little.
What are the little things that happen every day that can make a big difference to the people we’re here to serve?
Metro has a designated pram area on the platform to guide parents to stand at the Driver’s end of the train. There are also Velcro straps on the platform seating to attach to the pram, in case you let go of it and you’ve forgotten to put the brakes on.
The bus connections at Box Hill are great, we have the SmartBuses and we also have the local buses. I believe there are 13 bus bays and the buses are constantly buzzing in and out, bringing in a lot of people to the station. The buses are timed in with the Metro routes, which helps cater for passengers travelling from Doncaster. It works really well.
Who uses this station?
Box Hill is such a big hub. You’ve got your commuters, you’ve got your students, and you’ve got people going to and from the hospital. The shopping centre here had 30 million people through the doors last year. A lot of those shoppers come through the train station.
How is the station changing as Melbourne grows?
It’s busier. There’s more frequent trains and the timetable is much better. We have a lot more express trains going from Box Hill, which has improved the service a lot.
What’s the difference between weekdays and weekends?
There’s very little difference nowadays. There’s always something going on in the city and obviously it’s cheaper to travel on the weekend, so you get a lot of people using trains to get around. We have a fruit and veggie market on the weekend and people come from all over to do their shopping, so it’s always really busy.