Moving road haulage onto railways can dramatically cut carbon emissions – and Siemens Mobility employees such as project manager Claire Whitehouse are currently involved in a major transformation of transport infrastructure that will not only drive decarbonisation but also improve journey times for passengers and freight


WHEN it comes to her job, Siemens Mobility project manager Claire Whitehouse is very clear that her career is absolutely on the right track. 

“It’s a really good team and it becomes quite a personal issue because everyone cares for each other. It becomes more than just a job, there’s an ownership. You know everybody is really proud of the work that they do…and quite rightly so!”

Claire has worked for Siemens Mobility in Glasgow for the past four years.

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A project manager, she delivers signalling works that help to improve Scotland’s railway links and passenger travel experiences, from renewals and enhancements, through to large new projects. Her role is very diverse, a trait that she loves, and requires a mix of time spent both on and off project sites. 

“At the moment I am working on a digital signalling project, a very early development project around Inverness and quite a large project focused improving journey times from Aberdeen into the central belt.”

She continues: “That’s just my project-related activities, I’m also included in the day-to-day operations of the Glasgow office, things like on-site safety which are critical.”

When pushed to highlight things she specifically enjoys, Claire focuses on innovation, noting that its core to every project she works on, and the impact that has on decarbonisation. She gives an example of something she’s been working on for several years, a project to improve the railway between Aberdeen and Inverness which has introduced many more additional services providing connectivity to rural areas. 

“Public transport has now become a more viable option with additional connectivity and more frequent services. Previously, if you needed to travel to a different location to get on a train, and it took more time to do that, then the temptation to stay in the car was much greater.”

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Claire was part of the team that introduced modular digital signalling options on to the routes around Dalcross. “This was the best solution, it was efficient and cost-effective. 

“When it comes to modular signalling we design it in-house in Glasgow, so you have that local knowledge of the project, and then our UK factory in Chippenham, Wiltshire manufactures the equipment to our design. Our test teams can carry out testing at the factory before we get everything ready to ship to the project location.” 

This, Claire notes, is a far better way than using traditional construction methods where previously installation teams would have spent more time at a project site, and would have to test the installation in situ generally via possession and limited night access. 

“It’s more or less ready to go and the teams can install in a plug and play method as a fully functioning unit. And that not only cuts down on time and cost, but it’s also much safer as less time is spent on the operational railway.”

It also means a lower carbon solution. With COP26 having taken place in Glasgow just last month, how to reduce emissions continues to be of paramount importance.
Transport is now the largest emitting sector with much attributed to domestic road and freight traffic.

Claire sees this as an opportunity for Scotland to continue to lead the way in decarbonisation. Her advice is to continue offering short-term objectives to meet the longer-term goals. 

“Going for a 2035 goal for railway decarbonisation is quite a tight, but achievable goal. It keeps everyone focused. If a project or end date is significantly far ahead it’s almost too easy to forget isn’t it?”

Her advice to the Scottish Government is to focus on finding the most energy-efficient solution. She sees the potential power sources as broader than electric, with a need to explore all types.

This is particularly pertinent in Scotland, where renewables produced the equivalent of over 97% of the country’s electricity consumption in 2020, mostly from wind power. “But we really need to look at the mix here, where can we use solar for example, to complement other renewable options.”

She also refers to her earlier point about short, achievable targets. “It pays to look at multiple small changes rather than trying to do one overwhelming large initiative.

“Take removing old petrol and diesel cars off the roads, by 2035. We need to make electric cars, and the relevant charging infrastructure, as user friendly and efficient as possible. There are lots of questions about the technology and range just now, so people are reluctant to change. We need to address their issues.”

Claire highlights the need for an education piece too. “I think in general everyone cares about the environment and we all care about decarbonisation. But there seems to be a focus on one large topic that hits the media and that dominates minds. There should be a focus on the many smaller things we can all do that will make a difference. 

“There’s a tendency at the moment to become a little ‘blind’ to large things. People think they are outside their control. There are multiple initiatives that could become part of the general conversation and built on to raise the profile of the positive impact they could have.” 

Decarbonisation of the railway is an important topic, but as Claire rightly points out it is road transport that remains a real challenge as rail is already a low-carbon form of travel. Concentrating on railway infrastructure upgrades and development will help to move road freight onto the railways (and as a result remove HGVs - off the roads).

“Electrifying the railways, such as projects like the one we are currently working on in Carstairs, means it is possible to both extend reach and capacity and introduce more energy-efficient options.”

She continued: “There’s also the potential to introduce innovative solutions, such as eHighways or electric roads as we’ve done in other countries. This means that HGVs can draw their power from overhead lines, in much the same way that trains do, meaning zero emissions at the point of use.“

Aside from lowering carbon emissions, another topic Claire is passionate about is the topic of gender equality. Women are still underrepresented on the railways, a known fact and something the industry is working hard to change. She is very honest that she ‘fell into’ the rail industry quite by chance but, having experienced it, she can’t imagine working anywhere else.

“I was always interested in maths and science at school and I particularly like the engineering aspects of the industry and the ability to solve issues and improve different parts of the rail industry. I originally wanted to work in construction, but it just so happens that the first project I started to work on was within the rail sector. 

“There’s still an imbalance in the industry, but people shouldn’t be put off by pursuing something that’s going to interest them and create a really interesting career.”
That relates to the one piece of advice that she would give to her young self. 

“I’d say stick to your guns. Don’t compromise for someone else and if you want to take time to raise your children and work part time while doing so, don’t be afraid. 

“It’s not held me back at all and there are huge opportunities to grow and develop. It’s an innovative sector and I can only see it developing in the future. Exciting times!”