Well, we wouldn’t that any job is a stroll in the sunshine but there’s plenty to smile about. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of factors that can affect train performance and Southern’s customers expect them to be running a safe, reliable and speedy service all day, every day. Most of Southern’s employees are in customer-facing roles and they could be dealing with a different situation every day therefore communication and customer service skills will prove invaluable.
So what can you expect? Once you’ve completed the training, you’ll still be supported in your new job but there will be times when you may be working alone, albeit within telephone or radio contact of others. What will your working day be like? In this article we speak to Claire, who is a Platform Assistant at Barnham station, about her job to find out more about what she does each day and what she thinks of her job.
What will your working day be like?
You come in the morning and you’re checking if there is any assistance for the day. This is assistance for any disabled, visually impaired, people requiring ramps, that sort of thing. You go through printouts, faxes to see if there is any type of assistance needed and put that into the computer to show the times of trains. When the trains come in we’ve got to make sure that passengers get on their trains safely and that you’re out on the platform to give information to anyone that might require it. You’ve got to make sure that your station is clean as well, and secure. You’ve got to do security checks as well. You’ve got to be friendly and approachable at all times, even if you’re having a horrendous day. You’re just making sure that everyone enjoys their journey just as much as they can. You’re the frontline and you’re the last person they’re going to see before they get on their train.
What is the best part of your job?
I enjoy the different types of passengers; I’ve made a lot of friends out of the passengers. Most of them are a friendly bunch. I enjoy the people I work with and I have job satisfaction. I enjoy making people happy, really, that they get on their train and they’re happy with the service they receive from us on the platforms, that they’ve got the information that they need. Sometimes they may come in and they’ve lost something and we’ve been able to trace it for them and they’re pleased about that. I enjoy the diversity of the job.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
You do have days when there’s lots of disruptions, lots of things go wrong. Might not be one thing but three things could go wrong that day. You’ve got to make sure that all your passengers are informed, making sure they’re regularly updated with times when trains are coming on or with others ways of getting them home or to their destinations, making sure there’s a bus service, giving them information of local bus services. It can be frustrating when you can’t do that sometimes; you don’t know when the next trains going to come in and it is frustrating sometimes when you can’t give that information out. Generally, it’s alright, you do have a good outcome but it is frustrating when you can’t deliver that high standard of service that you’re used to in the day.
How do I deal with that? You’ve got to liaise with Control, trying to get extra services out, trying to make trains stop at stations, trying to make trains that would stop go faster by missing out a lot of the little stations for people that have been stood there for quite a long time. You’ve got to stay friendly, even if you’re so frustrated and there is nothing you can do. You’ve got to still remain upbeat because, despite that, passengers do expect that from you and you want to make sure they’re alright.
What different types of customers do you sere?
You’ve got commuters, people who travel every day and they know what to expect; you’ve got the holiday-makers, people who come down maybe once a year, or they’ve never come down, and they want local information. They want to know where it’s good to go around here, or if they’re going to Bognor, tell them about the train service or places to go. Tell them, if there’s engineering works when they’re coming back, that they may have to get a bus service. Then you’ve got the schoolchildren, make sure they’re safe. You tend to get big groups of those.
Then you’ve got your disabled passengers. We’ve got a lot of passengers at Barnham, regular passengers as well, that come off the trains in wheelchairs. We’ve got visually impaired people and we’ve just got to make sure we treat them the same as we treat all the other passengers but make sure they get on the train safely and they’re aware of anything that could go wrong. They might need that extra bit of help.
What has been the most exciting day you’ve had with Southern?
I’ve got to say, when it did go wrong and it was disrupted. We had a load of people on the station and I think it’s kind of an adrenalin rush, trying to make sure everybody’s going home and getting those trains out, getting that crew on the train. I do find that exciting and, when it was snowing, it was making sure that the passengers were happy and it was exciting and intuition kicks in and you do that, make sure everyone’s happy and fine. They may not be happy at the time but, when you’ve been told “Oh, thank you very much”, when you just get that thank you, even though they’ve had a really rubbish day, that thank you is really nice.
What advice would you give to someone applying for a railway job?
Be prepared for the unexpected, because it does happen. I think you’re in for a good time. It’s a good job; it’s a good, steady job. Every day is different, just enjoy it. Different passengers – you’ll meet some really lovely people and get to know about the services. It’s a good job. Shift work – you’ve got to get used to the early starts, late starts and you’ve got to understand that that is part and parcel of the job. Shift work can be quite demanding on your social life as well as your family life but, once you get into a routine I’m sure you’ll find it good. I’ve got a family myself. I’ve got a husband who works on the railway but we’ve worked around that.