There is no margin of error in my job – Anne Mordi

Anne Mordi is not your typical interview subject, and so is her day job. She lives her life on the fast lane, a different type though. This beautiful entrepreneur holds down a day job navigating the dark tunnels of the London Underground as a driver on the Central Line. In this conversation with Uche Nworah, she talks about what it is like to be a female train driver and her plans for the future.

Family and Education

My dad is from Issele-Ukwu in Delta state – Nigeria while my mum is from Cross River state. I was born in Dulwich, South London, the second of 4 kids.

I attended Lambeth College, West Norwood and London Guildhall University (now London Metropolitan University) where I studied International Relations and Languages. My passion however remains in interior and fashion design.

Career

As a teenager I worked in Macdonald’s like most youngsters did to make some pocket money. I then moved on and worked in Debenhams as a food service adviser, this was while I was already at college. I started working for the London Underground at19, but in between I’ve also done some voluntary work for the Down Syndrome Association, FCO etc. I have also served as a local community representative.

What a beautiful woman like her is doing in a ‘man’s job’

I’m a bit of a tomboy and have always been drawn to male dominated roles. It was either driving trains or driving buses. Since I could already drive a car, I didn’t think bus driving was challenging enough for me hence my decision to go for trains. I laugh at people who tell me that I’m doing a man’s job. I usually reply that it is one up for the ladies, if the men want to get even then they should try their hands at having babies (laughs).

Her family’s reaction on hearing of her plans to become a tube driver

My dad and siblings were actually impressed; my mum wasn’t crazy about the idea though. She kept highlighting the dangers of the job (don’t we just love out mothers?). I quite understand her worries especially under the circumstances we live in today, especially after the London bombings of July 7th 2005, but hey, it’s just a job and somebody has got to do it.

The lure of the salary

Train drivers are well paid, and that’s because of the role we play and all the critical safety things we have to remember. There is really no margin of error in my job. I’m not going to pretend that money didn’t play a role in choosing my career path; but it wasn’t the prevailing factor for me. I was actually fascinated by the mechanics of how trains work and my mum who is a mechanical engineer has always wanted one of us to follow in her footsteps. Though it’s not exactly the same but you could see her imprints in my choice.

A day in the life of a London tube driver

I currently work on the Central line service. No two days are exactly the same. We do extreme shifts, this week you may start work at 4.15am and the next week you’re booking on at 5pm to finish at 1am. You can go months and not see some of your colleagues because of the extreme shifts.

A typical day would involve booking on for work, reading the notice board to check if there have been any disruptions on the line, and then picking up your train either from the platform or the depot (where trains are kept when they’re not in service). We have duty books which already tell you where you’re taking the train to.

The feelings of speeding down the dark tunnels all by herself in the controls

At first it was scary especially because I have some phobia about darkness but after a while you get used to it After a few years driving through the dark tunnels as you described it, the thrill is still there, it hasn’t worn out yet but it is not to be confused for a joy ride or ride in a theme park.

Between driving trains and cars

Train driving is nothing like driving a car. It is completely different; there are no pedals or steering wheel on a train as you have in cars. Before you actually take charge, you receive 6 months intensive training as there are lots of procedures to remember for example, what to do if your train breaks down and how to repair it, enough to move it to the nearest depot. London Underground takes staff training and passenger safety seriously.

On the trains, we have what is called a Traction Brake Control (TBC) which is used to control the speed of the train. The handle is pushed forward to move the train to whatever speed you want and pulled back to slow it down or stop the train.

How one can become a train driver

Unfortunately the Underground doesn’t do direct recruitment anymore (where they advertise to the public) so you have to be working for LUL (London Underground Ltd) or TFL (Transport for London) already before you can apply to become a train driver. When a vacancy comes up, you request an application pack, fill it out and depending on the strengths of your application, you’re called in for an assessment. The assessment has 4 stages and you’re expected to achieve a minimum of 80% at each stage.

When that has been achieved, you’re then invited for an interview where your competency amongst other things is assessed. After that, you are sent to the training school at the training centre of the Line you’ve chosen (e.g Victoria Line, District Line, Central Line etc)

Rookie on the job

My first day was actually scary. Unfortunately for me i was thrown into the deep end on my first day as there was an incident on my train that morning and i had to de-train passengers from the tunnel to the station platform. At that time, my nerves were already on end.

Gender rivalry

Unlike what people say that women are bad car drivers, actually it’s the complete opposite here. We (women) are said to be very cautious train drivers more than the men. (Don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing). The men do tease us and say that we drive the trains too slowly.

Near misses and close calls

I have had a near miss before. Once there was a lady on the track, I thought it could be a staff member working on the tracks ahead but then I realised it wasn’t when I saw she was naked. In terms of getting lost, it’s impossible to get lost navigating on the underground, our board equipments are there to ensure that that doesn’t happen.

On the day of the London bombings (July 7th 2005)

On that particular day, I was a driver on the Jubilee line and was at Wembley Park bound for Stratford when I got a call telling me that a bomb had just gone off on the underground. I thought it was some kind of post April fools joke or that they had got it wrong and still set off on my journey. At that point the only information we got was that there had been a power surge on the Underground system. A few minutes later, I got a call from my mum in Nigeria who had heard the news and was extremely worried; then the calls kept flooding in, first it was my sister, who also works for London Underground asking where i was and telling me a bomb had just gone off near her station. This is when I knew that the London Transport system was under attack. Passengers were then informed of what was going on and advised to use alternative routes.

Life after train driving

On the side I also run my own fashion business; www.jewellerybyanne.com where i make bespoke accessories. I’m also actively involved in creating awareness in Nigeria for children with Down syndrome www.dsa-nigeria.org . This is an issue close to my heart as my little sister has Downs. Unfortunately there is still a stigma attached to it and other forms of disability in Nigeria. There needs to be more awareness not just in Nigeria but Africa as a whole. At the moment we (DSA) are running a resource centre in Nigeria for kids with disabilities.

Chilling out

I love to travel. I don’t even want to think of what my carbon footprints would be like if ever I decide to be conscious about stuffs like that. I love to explore the world and have been to Tunisia, Ghana, Dubai, Cyprus, and Pakistan (just to name a few). I also volunteer my time for good causes. I also enjoy educating my mind; I read a lot because it relaxes me.

On flying an airplane

That’s definitely the next challenge for me. Even if it’s not as a profession, I’ll just love to be able to fly a plane.

If she is not driving trains

I would probably be a diplomat, an ambassador or an activist of some sort.

Anne Mordi could be seen navigating dark tunnels of the London Underground on the Central Line by day.

Written by
Uche Nworah
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1 comment
  • Nice interview! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, for she seems very happy with her life and profession. Thank you for bringing us her story.