She's an Engineer- Kate Ford

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Kate Ford

Route into engineering

I left home at 16 and joined the army attending a military sixth form to become a technical army officer, as part of this program I completed a degree in electrical engineering but unfortunately injured myself whilst at Sandhurst carrying out my officer training.  I subsequently left the army and joined a London Underground Graduate training scheme and spend 2 years working in multiple areas before I commenced a role as a signalling engineer   in a maintenance environment.  I eventually moved into project work and left London Underground to work for Thales 15 years ago.  I have had a number of roles with Thales; on site as an engineer, working remotely from America for 2 years doing technical analysis to operations management focusing on logistics and resources before taking up my current role managing a team of up to 400 staff on the largest metro resignalling project in the world.

Job description

Head of Field Deployment Urban Rail Systems at Thales UK.

I manage the programme and provide technical leadership to the installation and testing teams upgrading the train control (signalling) system for four London Underground lines - some of these areas are running on systems that are 150 years old.  The changes to the new system will improve the frequency of trains so that you will only have to wait 2 min for a train on the circle line but we do all this while ensuring the trains can continue to run on the existing system.

There isn't a typical day I could be on site on a closure reporting on progress and controlling the works (from an office or a train) or I could be in the depot office with my site team updating our plans and analysing technical faults, to working from home updating documentation and attending meetings to out on the track at night when no trains are running while teams install equipment and test that it works the way it is supposed to.

Don't let anyone tell you the right way to do something, challenge them and yourself. The best results come from diverse teams who think and do in different ways so embrace doing it your way!

The best thing is the variety I very rarely have two days the same - I think I would get bored if that was the case.

Th worst thing is we tend to be able to do our work when the railway isn't running which means working weekends, nights and lots of holidays - I have worked on site or on call for the last four Christmases.

Every time we commission a new section of the railway, I am astounded by the work the team achieve in such a short period of time.  Our last commissioning in March doubled the size of the railway operating under the new system and went in so smoothly we even got a thumbs up from Sadiq Khan which was amazing.

We are looking a sustainable transport so encouraging more people to utilise green methods of transport, how can we make the system we install more efficient from a whole life perspective from manufacture of the equipment we install, through to waste management on site but also how much power the system consumes; it’s going to be more important to have more engineers working in the transport sector to grow this sustainable model.

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