A day in the life of a train dispatcher

Laura Warwick headshot

Written by Laura Warwick

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10 min read | Published 30 April 2024

As a team leader it is my responsibility to maintain the safe daily operations of the station and customer service.

No day is ever the same! Every day I am faced with numerous challenges. This could be anything from overhead line damage, broken down trains, floods and engineering works.

A typical working day for me looks like…

Waking up a 4am and getting ready for work, then starting my shift at 05:15am.

The first thing I do every morning is open the main car park gate, park my car and then start to unlock the station estate. I am joined by one of my colleagues who is a customer service assistant in our booking office. Opening up consists of the unlocking of all car parks, waiting rooms, turning lifts and lights on, so that our station is ready for our first customers of the day.

Once this is complete, I commence a safety and security walk about. I walk around the entire station keeping an eye out for any defects and ensuring that there are no unattended or hidden items that may cause a security threat. I record this check on a mobile device to show that it has been completed. Any defects that I find are then reported to our contractor to be repaired. 
Laura Warwick at Runcorn station putting up flags for Queen's Jubilee
I then return to my office at around 05.30am to put my equipment on, which includes a body camera, radio and a handheld microphone called a teleque. I then log on to my computers. The first job of the day is to print off the passenger assistance list. This list contains information of customers who require some additional assistance to get on/off trains. This is a very important document as customers with accessibility needs rely on our support. I read and highlight this document and then brief my team when they book on, so that everyone knows who is due.

At 05:35am I start preparing for my first trains arrival. I go on to platform number one and start my pre arrival safety checks. I ensure that my customers are stood behind the yellow line. The area in front of the yellow line is called the platform corridor. For safety we are required to keep this clear prior to, and as trains arrive and depart.

I also look to make sure that no customers have any helium balloons or any large items such as fishing rods in their possession, as this can present a risk of electrocution if they come into contact with our overhead line equipment. Customers with such items are given safety advice. Our overhead line equipment is 25,000 volts.

I then check that I have a signal. A signal is similar to a road traffic light. It has Red for Danger, One Amber, Two Ambers and One green. Trains can leave my platform on Ambers and Greens but must not move when on a red signal. It is very important to check this signal on a regular basis as signals can change at short notice. I can check the signal in a couple of ways. I have an ‘OFF’ indicator, located on my platform. If this displays the word OFF, I have a proceed signal. If blank, I have a red signal. I also have a banner repeater signal which displays a horizontal line in a circle for a danger signal or will display a 45-degree line in a circle which informs me that I have a proceed signal. My final option is to simply walk up and check the main signal that the driver is sat looking at.
Laura Warwick at Runcorn station after her award win

When the train arrives, I observe customers alighting and boarding. Once this has been completed, I then check my signal and start my train dispatch procedure. This consists of showing a white light in darkness or a white dispatch baton in daylight to indicate ‘station work complete’ to the train manager. This tells the train manager that my platform is clear and safe for them to close the train doors. They acknowledge this with a white light. I check that each door is closed by observing the orange bodyside lights being extinguished.

Once this is complete, I then recheck my platform and my signal and then give the train manager the ‘train safety check complete’ indication which is with a white light/baton. This tells the train manager that all customer doors are closed and locked and that they can now close their service door. The train manager acknowledges this with a green light/green flag. Once this process has been completed, I then recheck my signal and give a Right Away indication to the driver to let them know that the train is secure and is safe to start moving off my platform. This is displayed as ‘RA’ on the actual signal and on a box on my platform.  I then observe my train leaving my platform, completing my final check of ensuring that the taillights are on. Taillights are red lights on the back of a train. These lights show that the train is complete to all railway staff. Once the train has gone, I then return to my office.

I have twenty minutes until my next train, this is my prime opportunity to have my first coffee of the day. Whilst drinking this I will scroll through my emails and identify any actions that may need completing for the day. I will also read through Avanti control messages to see if there is any disruption or information about train running operations.

At 06:00hrs our station cleaner Pete or Jan arrive on site. I will delegate some tasks to them to complete, that I have noted on my walkabout, hand keys over and sign them in.

The slow start to the day is now over, trains now run at regular intervals every fifteen minutes. At 06:45 I am joined by my first customer service assistant/train dispatcher. They book on for duty, I brief them on any changes or important information. I ensure that they are fit and well to commence safety critical duties and hand them their equipment for their shift. They then go off to work dispatching trains and providing customer service.
Laura Warwick with cakes for Queen's Jubilee at Runcorn station

From around 08:00hrs I will start to have contractors arriving on site to complete jobs on the station. It is my responsibility to sign them in on site and give them a safety brief, which includes the fire evacuation process. Once signed in they go off to complete their tasks.

During my shift I am in constant communication with train managers, other team leaders, my station manager and control. I deal with requests and information accordingly.

Communication is a big part of this role. I communicate with my team on a regular basis via our radio system to pass and receive important information.

At 10:00hrs two more of my team arrive on site. One retail team leader and one platform dispatcher. I ensure that they have booked on and are fit to undertake their duties. I then brief any important information to them and hand them their equipment.

Now its my breakfast time! I sit down for twenty minutes in the mess room and watch some tv and have a coffee and a bite to eat. A well-deserved rest!!

After returning from my break I look at the roster for the week and make any amendments to it so that we have all shifts covered for the week ahead.

I monitor any delays at the station and give reasons why trains were delayed, this is completed on two different delay information systems.

I continue dispatching trains and assisting customers in between completing my admin tasks.

On a day where there is service disruption, I will arrange coaches and taxis for our customers to get them to a station that is still operational and provide alternative route information.

If there are emergency situations at the station it is my responsibility as the station incident officer to oversee all activities and to make safe the situation.  This sometimes requires calling the signaller who is in control of all the signals and requesting a block on the line, which is when all train movements are stopped through my station.

My role is to also support my team when they require it and help arrange any additional support measures. I am required to fill out reports for accidents, incidents and investigate these.

I am a mentor and a trainer. There is nothing more that I love to see than individuals in my team learning new skills and progressing within their careers. I spend many hours at work training individuals on train dispatch. I get great satisfaction from seeing a colleague develop from being really nervous dispatching their first train under instruction, to watching them over a three-week period, blossom into confident dispatchers. The great thing about Avanti is the development opportunities that are available to everyone! I was lucky enough to complete an apprenticeship this year in transport operations management. Doing this qualification has given me experience in other areas of the business that I didn’t even know existed!

My typical shift will finish at 14:00hrs and the late team leader will then take the reins.

I volunteer my time for Avanti as a community champion. This role is such a lovely one. I feel so proud to do this. This role involves working with the local community of Runcorn and helping to make a difference. I have opened a free community room at the station to assist our community. This has been a great success. We have so many community groups, support groups and charities using this facility on a weekly basis. I love getting involved with everything.
Ukulele group at Runcorn station

We have coffee mornings for Age UK. I really enjoy popping into join everyone for a brew and a chat. We also have a Ukulele band that come in every week to practice. They are fantastic! I have agreed to get involved in a Christmas sing song with them for our customers in December. I have spent the last few weeks learning how to play it! I have also set up mental health support sessions on a twice weekly basis during the day and once a week in the evenings. I get involved with school engagements. The last one was an event at the station for world book day. We have had jubilee, coronation and Eurovision events and parties too! It is so much fun and very rewarding to see the difference an unused space at the station has made to so many lives. I also support with work placements for people with additional needs who need mentoring ready for future work. This is also a very rewarding part of the role.

I am a people person. I genuinely care for everyone and everything.

My team call me Mrs Dolittle, as over the years I have developed a very bizarre gift of attracting wildlife. I am regularly greeted by a robin who hops on to my hand during my shift. I have had hedgehogs; racing pigeons and runaway dogs pay visits to my office! We have also somehow managed to adopt a local cat called Clive, who lives in the local vicinity. We are convinced that he thinks he works here! He is my shadow and follows me everywhere! He has become a bit of a celebrity with our customers! 
Clive the cat at Runcorn station

I have seen so much change! I have gone from dispatching HST and MK3 trains that involved manually closing each door and manually placing seat reservations on each service in 2002, to dispatching Pendolinos and voyagers that have automatic door functions and electronic reservation systems in 2023! Technology has absolutely improved over the years and I’m sure it will continue to evolve!

Working on the railway is one of the decisions in my life that I am happy that I made. I have had my challenging days, but the good days definitely outweigh the bad! I look forward to seeing what the future brings, as the last twenty-two years have been an absolute pleasure!

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