As Chief Operating Officer of GTR, Dyan Crowther leads the largest train operating company in the UK, created following the merger of Great Northern, Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express in July 2015. GTR is part of Govia – a partnership between Keolis and the Go-Ahead Group.

We spoke to Dyan to find out more about her role and get her thoughts on developments in the UK rail sector.

  1. Tell us how you ended up working in the rail industry – when and why?

I got my start on the British Rail graduate scheme, which included moving around the key aspects of BR, spending time in a range of operational departments like engineering, control and standards.  Having done a year’s training, my first appointment was as Station Manager at Peckham Rye. The opportunity to have early accountability and to work across a matrix of activity around customer operations, safety, and engineering, ticked a huge number of boxes for me.

I was particularly drawn to stations and the different challenges they offer on a daily basis. I started my training at London Bridge, one of the busiest stations in London, dispatching trains at peak times. That was fantastic in terms of understanding how everything comes together, how one small issue can impact the morning peak period.

  1. What does a typical day look like for you?

My job is to be an effective leader. That means providing clear communication and instilling confidence in our stakeholders and the 6,000 staff we have in the operating organisation. I have to consider how the decisions I make today will impact in years to come and ensure that customers can travel smoothly around the network and staff are still able to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

  1. What’s the best part of your job?

Variety, leading teams and engaging with all sorts of different people. If you don’t like people don’t come into the rail industry! Engaging with people across so many spectrums is integral to my role, and something I greatly enjoy.

  1. If you could change one thing about your job what would be?

I’d love to speed up the industry’s use of technology to enable a better customer experience It’s a big priority in terms of how we can be fleet of foot whilst we’re still using infrastructure that was built in the Victorian era. I’m happy to say we have some exciting innovations coming soon on our Thameslink Route.

  1. What’s the proudest achievement of your career?

I’m really proud to have been part of the team that changed British law on the sale of scrap metal, which has helped to almost eliminate cable theft across the UK rail network. Cable theft was the single biggest cause of delays on the rail network. I led a team that involved the British Transport Police, ATOC, and other external partners such as British Telecoms, which in October 2013 managed to make it illegal for scrap yards buy scrap metal for cash.

  1. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced? And how did you solve it?

Delivering change for the people that we employ is an integral part of my role, so I regularly negotiate and partner with Trade Unions to achieve outcomes that benefit both parties. Working through these scenarios can be complicated and you must be completely honest and transparent about how you are operating.

  1. What are the biggest challenges facing the UK rail sector today? And what do you think is needed to solve them?

The biggest challenge in UK rail is operating capacity. We must find innovative ways to respond to significant increases in demand so we can continue to be effective, efficient, reliable and safe. We’re experiencing a huge amount of growth and we must use innovative technology to respond to that. We’ll be using some great new technology on Thameslink from 2018, including Automatic Train Operation, where for approximately seven miles the train will drive itself. That’s all about capacity management and moving people through the system, and we must think where else we can do this. Looking at Europe, I’m very jealous of in-cab signalling, which we don’t have in the UK, other than on High Speed 1. The UK industry must have the courage to innovate to release capacity.

  1. What’s been the most exciting development in the rail industry that you’ve seen during your career?

For me, privatisation was incredibly exciting, especially at the start of my career in 1986, and it delivered a lot of benefits and experience. When I initially joined BR the government controlled the purse strings. What privatization did was protect the budget for the rail industry, and put the customer at the heart of everything we do. Since privatisation, I’ve seen a huge amount of investment and change, without which I don’t think we would be running the quality of network we do today.

  1. What excites you most about the future of the industry?

I’m at the heart of the Thameslink Programme at the moment, which is one of the biggest investment programmes to deliver transformational journeys in London. Thameslink represents a £6-7 billion investment, and Govia is at the heart of that. It will be delivering some significant improvements in capacity and journey opportunities for people who travel on our network, so to have that on my accountability list is fantastic and very exciting.

  1. What advice would you leave your successor?

Put a good team around you, employ a lot of experts and don’t stop asking questions.