Skills Case Study: Women in Rail – Suzanne Mathieson
Case Study: Suzanne Mathieson, Senior Development Manager for Crewe Hub Project, Network Rail
“I have to use a blend of gentle persuasion, negotiation and compromise…”
Suzanne has over 20 years experience in the rail industry with Network Rail and previously Rail Track. She has a wide range of experience in delivering rail projects across many aspects of the industry – and all the result of a chance temping placement…
What is your current job?
I am responsible for co-ordinating the requirements of our key stakeholders such as the Department for Transport, HS2, the local Council and train operators in the development of a new hub station for Crewe, incorporating the proposed High Speed 2 line. Network Rail has been commissioned by the government to look at potential options for the station taking into consideration future rail passenger growth and the wider economic aspirations of the region. I manage the remit, scope, and funding feasibility plans bringing the design and engineering together into a plan for the delivery of the project due for completion by 2027.
What do you do on a ‘typical’ day?
I have to ensure we consult with every stakeholder involved in the project, and manage the interface between them all and Network Rail. This involves lots of meetings and detailed report writing to incorporate all the requirements to set out the options and recommendations. With potentially such a large and costly project running into tens of millions, I have to follow a specific project management process that will have to pass through our internal governance milestones and then via the government’s approval process too in order to become a live construction project. This means I have to become a bit of an expert in every aspect of the project – which includes civil engineering, law, train planning and the financial budgeting that will underpin the project.
What do you like best about your job?
I like to use my considerable experience in the industry to ensure we can achieve the best outcomes, it means I have to use a blend of gentle persuasion, negotiation and compromise – which can sometimes be quite a challenge to manage. But without doubt the best bit is seeing things come to fruition, for example much of the infrastructure around Crewe dates back to the Victorian railway pioneers, and although it has been updated and lasted pretty well for almost 180 years, its all now reached the end of its useful life and it will be so rewarding to play my part in the transition from old to new – and hope it will last just as long!
What do you like least?
My job can be quite difficult managing the needs and expectations of all the stakeholders involved in the project, and sometimes it can be draining when politics and complex governance issues dominate my time. I have also had to juggle the needs of my family and put my career on hold for a few years while my 2 children were very young, but our virtual and flexible team working allows me to maximise my efficiency and keep my work/life balance in check.
What’s been your career path to date?
I took Law, Sociology and English Language at A level and then did a BA in Public Administration & Managerial Studies at Leicester De Montford University. This gave me lots of transferable skills and I considered law or social work as possible career paths. However I entered the railway industry by chance via a spell of temping for a Rail Planning Team within Rail Track. I enjoyed this so much that I gained a permanent role in the team and this gave me the foundation for a career in the rail industry. The planners’ passion for rail was infectious and being taken under their wing really enabled me to learn the ropes; in fact, learning the fundamental skills about how timetables and train routes are planned has been invaluable in all my subsequent roles.
Since then I’ve held a variety of roles including managing assets and maintenance programmes, the implementation of new IT systems and more train planning until my previous role project managing £250m worth of track and infrastructure improvements in the Stafford area, south of Crewe, including a new bridge scheme from design to build.
What advice would you give to women thinking about a career in rail engineering?
Don’t be put off by thinking it’s just about trains! There are so many varied interdependent areas that make up the industry from HR to architecture that can take you into countless different career directions.
Don’t also think it’s a world full of men playing with supersize train sets; I have found all my male colleagues to be so eager to share their knowledge and passion for railways. Right now, the rail industry is going through a huge period of growth with rising passenger numbers, new technology and massive investment in new lines such as HS2 – so keep an open mind and grab the opportunities.