Jason Holloway’s job carries a lot of responsibility. As a duty manager at Swansea Station, he has to ensure the safe arrival and dispatch of trains, provide customers with important information and ensure the trains depart on time. His job takes him from the train platform to the back office, where computer screens provide vital information about the whereabouts and arrival times of trains.
Jason has worked in the role since 1998, and he still loves it. He’s one of five duty managers at the station; there will typically be two of them on duty at any one time, and they work interesting hours: their shifts are 6am-2pm, 2pm-10pm and 10pm-6am, ensuring there are duty managers on the platforms 24/7. As well as five duty managers, the station also has five dispatchers, who are also responsible for dispatching trains.
As a duty manager or train dispatcher, you have to follow a strict process for train dispatch. First you check for the signal, after which you give the first “tip” – a signal with your dispatch bat, or a lamp if it’s dark. This informs the guard that the station work is complete and there is nothing attached to the train and nobody in the doors – so it’s safe to close them. Once the train manager or guard has closed all the doors, you have to check various other safety points – for example, that the necessary lights are out and all the doors are safely closed with nothing trapped in them. Then you give the second “tip”, and the guard will jump back into the train and give the driver two buzzes to signal that the train can depart. Finally, you must watch until the train has safely cleared the platform.
While much of Jason’s time is spent on the platform, he also spends time in the office checking various computer screens. He has to ensure that the correct information is displayed in the customer information screens; although these are automated, Jason and his team need to update them with any platform alterations.
Other displays he must check regularly tell him the times of the trains and their current locations, so that he can report delays.
“You’ve got to have a good head on your shoulders for working with computers, and you have to deal with a lot of queries from passengers, so you’ve got to have customer service skills and know how to deal with people,” he says.
Duty managers receive very similar training to a train manager. They must gain a comprehensive knowledge of the railway rule book and all safety issues that might arise. They also have to know about signalling, how to dispatch trains safely, and all the terminology of the railway.
Jason got into the job after starting out in the catering stores, where he would stock up the buffet cars of intercity trains.
“Then jobs came up on the platform. I had to pass some tests and an interview, and that brought me to this job,” he says.
Being a safety critical job, the duty manager role has its stresses and challenges.
“The most challenging things are when things go wrong – when they change trains over or there are issues with connections,” he says. “Passengers can be irate – and as Swansea station is in the city centre, weekends can be very interesting. It’s certainly not a dull job.”
Despite the challenges, he enjoys the teamwork and interest of the role.
“I enjoy the people you meet and I just enjoy working on the railway,” he says. “It’s brilliant – I’ve got some good friends and we all stick together and support each other through any horrendous shifts. You all just get through it together.”
For anyone interested in becoming a duty manager, he has the following advice:
“You’ve got to be understanding and stay focused and very customer orientated; you’ve got to be a people person because we’re here to help. Even if you’re busy, you’ve got to assist. And also, the rules are the rules with regards to dispatch and the safety aspect. You’ve got to be on the ball with that. But it’s a great job – there’s a great bunch of people on the railway in every department.”