Most of the daily passengers at Amersfoort Station in the Netherlands probably never noticed it, but between tracks 4 and 5 is a small (and therefore very cozy) office for the Valleilijn local trains. The train services are operated by Connexxion which is the most well-known public transit brand of Transdev Netherlands.
At a large table, Valleilijn train drivers eat sandwiches, drink coffee, and talk to each other, with loud laughter frequently echoing through the space. A small staircase no more than four steps high is the only ‘separation’ between the train drivers and the indirect employees, where the door is almost always open. It is in a cozy little room in the back where we find our new colleague : Sophia, age 20, who is a trainee train driver, and she tells us about the training, the work and about herself.
I always thought trains were interesting, but I never thought I would be doing this work !
After high school, Sophia went to the Shipping and Transportation College in Rotterdam.
Actually, on the advice of a classmate who went to work for NS (the largest Dutch railway company), he advised me to become a train driver. He was convinced that it was ‘really something for me’. That turned out to be true because I really enjoy working in that cabin. Still, I think that classmate was perhaps also trying to help a little bit in solving the personnel shortage at NS… But here I am, with the competitor !
That she ended up at the Valleilijn turns out to be not a coincidence but a deliberate choice.
During your training you do internships in different places, in my case at railroad companies. My first internship was with Deutsche Bahn’s freight business, but there I found out that I prefer to transport people instead of cargo. Therefore, it seemed clear to me what my next internship and hopefully new employer should be: the NS. But that turned out to be a big disappointment.
It was not the place for me. On the first day in Roosendaal, it felt a bit like I was not part of the group. I thought it would change, but two and a half months later it was the end of my internship there and little had changed. I still did not feel very welcome. But three times is a charm, because at the Valleilijn it was completely different.
For my third and final internship, I couldn’t have thought of a nicer place. I received a very warm welcome here at Connexxion.
NS is of course a big company, but maybe too big for me. The train branch of Connexxion is not only quite small compared to NS, but also compared to the other business units of Transdev. But I think that’s an advantage, it feels much more personal, closer here. I felt like a part of the group right from the start. The fact that Harina (my supervisor) is literally on the other side of the wall makes it very easy to walk by her.
An approachable supervisor obviously makes a significant difference for any new employee, but for Sophia it is extra valuable. There is something special at play on a personal level : Sophia has begun her transition.
Sophia walked in here not long ago as ‘Dylan’. During one of our first conversations, I already had the feeling that Sophia was struggling with something. Fortunately, she dared to discuss it with me; Sophia has been our new colleague ever since.
Harina, Sophia's supervisor
As her supervisor tells this, a smile forms on Sophia’s face.
« Harina has really given me a gentle, but positive push. »
The two exchange a telling look.
« Because she’s so open and approachable, it felt right for me to tell her I’m in transition. Without her, I might have kept this to myself for months, if not longer. But here I dare to be myself. Here I dare to be Sophia. »
Meanwhile, Sophia is at the end of her internship and thus her training, but if it were up to Harina, this would only be the beginning of Sophia’s career with us on the train.
As far as I’m concerned, she can start right away, and I think that enthusiasm is mutual.
says Harina as she looks cheerfully at Sophia, who nods her head in agreement.
« I didn’t expect it after my previous experiences, but train driver has really become my dream job » Sophia says.
« You drive through beautiful landscapes, and it gives a powerful feeling to operate over 100 tons of technology. I also really enjoy the contact with the passengers. Although they regularly look back when they see a young woman get out of the cabin and they realize I was operating their train, » Sophia says, laughing.
« There’s a saying within our rail department that I can really relate to: I’m on the right track with a smile! »
Since the interview was conducted, on Monday, June 13, 2022 Sophia passed her train driver examination and as a result will officially join the Connexxion Team and the Transdev family as of July 1, 2022. Congratulations Sophia and a warm welcome to you!