B railway’s first train driver dreads early shift but loves job

$25B railway’s first train driver dreads early shift but loves job

  • Monika Michalska is the first person to officially drive a train on London’s $25 billion Elizabeth Line.
  • He loves work and his colleagues, there is only one problem which is the morning shift.
  • Here’s what Insider reporter Kate Duffy had to say about her experience as an Elizabeth Line train driver.

The Elizabeth Line, London’s brand new railway which took 23 years to build and opened at the end of May. I am the first person to drive a train for a $25 billion project.

Before becoming an Elizabeth Line driver, I had no train driving experience. I worked in hospitality until my husband saw an advert for female train drivers on Crossrail and I decided to apply.

I was quite apprehensive before jumping into the rail sector. I thought culture was not for me. I thought it would be scary and unwelcome, especially for a woman. But from day one it was just the opposite.

Monika Michalska in front of Paddington Station for the Elizabeth Line.

Monika Michalska in front of Paddington Station for the Elizabeth Line.

Monika Michalska/MTR


After nine months of training, I walked onto the station platform at Abbey Wood in south-east London, ready to run the first Elizabeth Line train to Paddington, a major hub in central London. At 6am many train enthusiasts had gathered at Abbey Wood station. To see the train roll on the track for the first time.

Given that this was a big moment for the railway company Crossrail, the enthusiasts, and myself as a driver, I did a countdown to the trains leaving the station.

Inside the drivers cab of an Elizabethan line train.

Inside the drivers cab of an Elizabethan line train.

Monika Michalska/MTR


I still can’t believe that I was actually the first person to drive a train for the line, which was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

Although it was a huge construction project and required a lot of responsibility, I was not afraid of the work. i feel proud I thought, “Wow, I’m in charge of this shiny, beautiful train and I’m going to take the passengers wherever they need to go.”

Having said that, I dread the early morning shift. Whenever I see my name on the roster for 2 o’clock, I’m not happy. Some shifts are long and you have to focus — even if you want to go to bed or you’re hungry — you have to keep going. Organizing my life around shifts is challenging, especially with kids but that’s the only negative thing about the job. Everything else makes up for it.

Elizabeth Line train.

Elizabeth Line train.

Monika Michalska/MTR


Despite what you might think, the job isn’t boring. What I really enjoy about driving the Elizabeth line is the variety that I have. There are two different tunnels along the route and some sections have different speeds and stopping times, which makes driving more interesting. Other sections, for example in West London, allow you to travel at high speeds, which is fun.

A total of 70 trains pass through 41 stations on a 60 mile route from one side of London to the other. Most routes — mainly outside central London — are overground. I’d like to think that our Elizabeth Line drivers are much luckier than Underground Tube drivers who are in the tunnel 90% of the time.

Monica on a platform in front of an Elizabeth Line train.

Monica on a platform in front of an Elizabeth Line train.

Monika Michalska/MTR


As an Elizabeth Line driver, I work any day of the year. The only day we can guarantee we’ll get a day off is Christmas. Shifts can be as short as five hours and as long as 12 hours, but on average are about eight hours long.

In terms of pay, trainees earn over $40,700, while first year take home around $61,300 and fully qualified train drivers can earn over $81,800.

Other than the early shift, nothing else phases me. My work is like family to me. I even have a favorite train unit that I love to run — Unit 12 — which is the first train I ran during my training.

I think I hit the jackpot when I got hired for this job.

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