Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express, now has over 2,000 qualified drivers, the first train operating company ever to reach this milestone.
Newly-qualified Paul Butler is helping boost staffing to unprecedented levels to support the new winter timetable, which now operates 3,600 trains each weekday, and to prepare the way for further improvements in May.
GTR has increased the number of drivers on Thameslink and Great Northern, which has seen the greatest increase in services, by 50% since 2014. Southern has increased 9% since it joined GTR in July 2015.
It is also recruiting more women into the role than ever before, in what is the UK’s biggest driver recruitment campaign in rail.
Paul, 39, from West Wickham, said: “Qualifying is fantastic. It’s great to be starting. This made my New Year!
“This is a great achievement personally and I am proud to have made a bit of rail history by helping the company meet this milestone.
“A lot of people have gone before me and a great effort has gone into making this happen.”
“In qualifying, I have come to realise that I’m part of a much bigger project.”
Paul, a Thameslink driver based in Orpington, was put through his paces during the three-part training programme that involved 13-weeks of a classroom-based course plus exams on rules and track safety, time learning how to drive a train in a simulator cab and then completing 250 hours driving an actual train under the guidance of a driver trainer.
He added: “I love the work-life balance of this job. My dad passed away last year and that was a real eye-opener. You need to live your life. I have a five-day weekend every three weeks and I go to work happy.”
GTR has trained up 700 new drivers since 2015 and has 270 more in training. It has doubled the number of driver classroom trainers, tripled the number of courses run annually and opened new training centres, including a new simulator suite in central London.
GTR is recruiting more women than ever before to be drivers.
In 2017, 18% of Southern’s new trainee drivers were female. This increased to 30% for 2018. 2018 also saw the first class of trainees with a 50:50 gender split on both Great Northern and Southern.
The driver recruitment and training drive is part of GTR’s modernisation programme to address growing passenger numbers that have doubled in as little as 12 years on some parts of its network.
GTR has lengthened trains and increased weekday services up to 3,600 per day, creating space for 50,000 more passengers across its network into and out of London in each peak.
New direct journeys have been created on an expanded Thameslink network across the centre of London from Peterborough and Cambridge via Gatwick Airport, and from Littlehampton and East Grinstead in Sussex, and Rainham in Kent.
Weekend service improvements and more frequent weekday services between Cambridge and Brighton are set to be confirmed later this month to commence in May.
GTR Chief Operating Officer Steve White said: “We have more train drivers than ever before and many more coming through our excellent training programme. This is an essential part of our modernisation plans to bring in new and better trains and new, expanded and reliable services for our customers.
“This is a fantastic industry to work in, with many opportunities, and we want people from all walks of life to be involved. We want more diversity including a better gender balance. Women are well represented across our HQ, management, admin, stations and on-board teams, but less so in operations and engineering; we are addressing this imbalance head on.”