“Everyone expects me to say Glenfinnan but I love driving down Loch Eilside heading to Fort William with the sun rising above the Ben.”

Marie Macbeth is describing her favourite part of the rail journey, voted the world's most scenic, that she enjoys from a vantage point at the front of the train.

Bookings are quieter now without the bustle of snap-happy tourists but the 45-year-old ScotRail employee is generally responsible for  transporting hundreds of passengers safely from Mallaig to Crianlarich on the West Highland Line.

She is one of an increasing number of female train drivers in Scotland.

ScotRail says female trainees have doubled but numbers are still “not as high as we would like” and the company is keen to encourage more to consider the job.

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In the most recent intake of trainees, 19 out of 166 are women (11 per cent), compared with less than 6% across the entire workforce.

Mrs Macbeth moved to the front of the train after a spell as a conductor and, while she admits she sometimes misses the customer interaction, she  “enjoys every aspect” of her driving job.

She says people are “always surprised” when she tells them what she does for a living.

“But pleasantly surprised I think,” she adds. “But I’ve never felt that in the railway – everyone is very encouraging. The whole railway was a male- orientated profession, but when you look back so many jobs were. Even the job you are doing [she directs at me].” 

There is no reason why women shouldn’t feel that it’s something they can apply for

“People say, ‘Do you not get bored because you are doing the same run every day?, but every day is different. 

“You see some spectacular sights. There was one day when we were leaving Corrour and the sun was rising and the whole sky was red. I’m not allowed a camera in the cab obviously, but you see those moments and can’t capture them.


“What you see every day is different because of the weather and obviously the weather can throw up obstacles, so it’s quite challenging as well. I really enjoy all aspects of it.

“It was never a career I had thought about, but when I moved to Mallaig I was given notice that my job in a nursery was being made redundant.

“That same week I saw an advertisement for a conductor’s job so I applied and I was successful. 

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“I’m quite a people person and I enjoyed the interaction. I think the safety aspect also helped me as driver – you have to know your rules and regulations.”

She says that when a drivers job came up she seized the opportunity for a challenge.

“I just thought, ‘I think I can do that’. I do at times miss the interaction with people because you are very much on your own in the cab, although it’s good when times are busy and folk are complaining,” she says.


ScotRail receives thousands of applications whenever jobs are advertised. The competitive route to becoming a train driver includes two rounds of psychometric testing on the types of challenges employees might expect to encounter and an interview.

Those who are successful will complete 12-18 months with a mixture of classroom training and on the job tuition with an instructor. The ideal driver, says Mark Ilderton, head of drivers at ScotRail, is someone who is dependable and able to keep cool and think ahead if something goes awry.

Applicants must be 20 years old to apply for a role and 21 prior to being competent to drive alone. 

“It’s quite a well-paid job but the responsibilities go hand in hand with that and what you need to know to become a driver,” says Mrs Macbeth.

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“I think some people think you just sit and look out the window. There were seven of us training and there were two other women.” 

She has two daughters, aged 23 and 15, and the oldest is  about to start training to be a conductor. “I would encourage any woman to do it. It is challenging and the training is intense but it is worth it.


“I do early mornings and afternoons and I’ve always managed to work round the kids, but I know there are policies in place and colleagues doing job share.”

Rail union Aslef has called on train companies to introduce more flexible shift patterns to encourage more women into the job, but the industry has a good record in equality of pay.

As well as a competitive salary – trainee drivers at ScotRail start at £28,000 and progress to £50,000 – Mr Ilderton says it is a hugely rewarding job. 

“You are making a huge difference to people’s lives every day,” he said.

“We have 166 trainees at the moment at different stages and of those 19 are female – those numbers are not as high as we want to get to, but it shows the current number in the business has doubled.

“I think it’s just seen as a job where there typically hasn’t been many females, but there is no reason why women shouldn’t feel that it’s something they can apply for.

“The role does involve shifts but we are always keen to understand how we can work together on that and also meet the needs of the business.”