This week has been my last week in my current job.
I've worked in the complaints department for a large insurance company since moving to Leeds in 2004. I think it's reasonable to say that I'm pretty good at what I do, but these are uncertain times for the financial sector, and I'm not finding myself as engaged with my work as I maybe once was. At the risk of sounding like I'm borrowing from my CV, I reckoned that I was hankering for a new challenge.
I'll be starting my new job exactly two years after sitting on my sofa with Gemma and discussing my desire for change. To my slight surprise she told me she thought it would be a good idea. I knew from my initial research that vacancies would be rare, and that competition would be fierce, but I also felt that, even ignoring the greater rewards, I'd be happier driving trains that being a desk-bound problem solver.
Yes, I'm going to be a train driver.
In the two years since October 2010, I've mainly kept quiet about what I wanted to do, initially only telling close family, before confiding in friends last year. I thought that because it was likely that I'd be waiting a while for opportunities, I didn't want to have the extra pressure of people asking me about my plans. And I was right, because in those two years I only came across four vacancies.
All were for Northern Rail, my local Train Operating Company (TOC). They seem to be the only one of the seven local passenger and freight TOCs who take on trainee drivers. The first opening was based a Skipton, but was withdrawn without explanation shortly after the closing date. The second was for a depot driver at the nearby Neville Hill depot; I thought I would apply for this as a stepping-stone to my goal. I didn't get passed the interview stage for this, or the next application, which was for a Leeds-based driver.
But the above attempts gave me valuable experience and helped me pass the interview for my fourth attempt, another position at Leeds train station. This led to a trip to Doncaster in August for the Train Driver Assessment, the dreaded series of tests that determine whether you have the necessary skills to do the job well. Fail any of the individual tests, and you're sent home. Pass, and you continue to a further interview, after which you are told straight away if you have met the required level to be a driver.
At the end of August I attended a medical test which is another (sensible) hurdle that must be passed. After receiving my results, I could finally hand in my notice. Most of my colleagues were shocked and pleased in equal measure. I will miss working with them for sure, but I know I'm making the right move.
The most common questions I have been asked are "do trains still have some kind of dead-man's device?" (A: yes, in various guises); "are you driving to London/Scotland?" (A: no, a Leeds-based Northern driver is mainly confined to West Yorkshire, although the more senior drivers get the more favourable routes, such as to Nottingham or over the Settle - Carlisle route); "I expect you'll be going on strike?" (A: it is my right to withhold my labour); "You'll be 'Thomas the Tank Engine'" (A: that is not a question); "do you need to do any training to drive a train?" (A: I don't want to live on this planet anymore).
I've also been asked whether this is something I've always wanted to do, a childhood dream. Although I've always had an interest in the railways and transport politics, I actually recall wanting to be a bus driver when I was a little boy.
I'll be training for around a year, before hopefully passing all the tests thrown at me. Then It'll be another two years before I'm considered to be a fully competent train driver. I can't wait.
Although I won't quite be going the 2,500+mph it takes the below Grand Central train to do the Kings Cross - Bradford run in just six minutes, you'll get a reasonable idea of the kind of views I'll get from my new office.