Lindsay Murphy is Head of Engineering at Nottingham Express Transit (NET), where she is responsible for the maintenance of the whole system. She comes from a background where she has developed major projects from concept to operation. As well as project management and construction experience, she has carried out roles involving strategic planning, engineering, feasibility work and transport planning. In recent years Lindsay has worked on land development and public transport projects (rail, bus rapid transit and tram / light rail) in Edinburgh and Manchester as well as Nottingham.
“…I am no different to anybody else and should not be treated any differently as long as I pursue my career with professionalism and passion. I apply the same rules to my team – I don’t care if they are male, female, black, white, pink, blue or plastic. All I ask for is that they are the best they can be…”
Lindsay, please can you tell us about your career to date and what got you interested in engineering?
My father was an electrical systems engineer and I was always interested in the way things worked. I enjoyed sciences as well as English, art and music at school. I considered many careers but I always came back to engineering.
Please can you tell us a bit more about your current role at NET, what this involves and why public transport is so vital to the economic prosperity of modern cities?
I am responsible for the ongoing maintenance and when necessary renewal of everything that makes up the system. So basically my team carry out cleaning and day to day maintenance replacing any wear and tear. If something breaks before we find it, we repair it, this includes trams, track, overhead power and tram stops as well as bridges and of course the depot.
I am immensely proud of what my team do to support the operation of the system. The trams run from very early in the morning until after midnight seven days a week serving communities, universities, local businesses and the Queen’s Medical Centre, allowing shift workers access to safe clean and secure public transport. The timetable has increased from one tram every six minutes through the city centre to one every four and with only a couple of hours per night with no trams running to carry out maintenance on track and power systems it is extremely challenging.
Good public transport links are essential to a growing economy. People forget that only a few people can afford or are able to run cars and that parking in a busy city is a premium. Not everyone that works in a company has a company car.
With a clean modern, low floor public transport system you can open up the streetscape making pedestrian areas more accessible, and business districts clean and modern. Not only that, but often people with wheelchairs or parents and carers with kid’s buggies can roll on and roll off effortlessly in a way that cars, taxis, buses and trains do not allow. This makes a big difference to many people’s quality of life.
Would you be able talk us through the size and scale of the project to bring trams to Nottingham and outline the challenges you needed to overcome?
For over ten years NET operated Line One, which was just under nine miles long with 23 tram stops. The Phase 2 project more than doubled the size of the system bringing two new lines and 26 new tram stops also increasing car parking spaces by over 2,300. Throughout this enormous feat of construction changes were also made to Line One with all the tram stop equipment being renewed to match the new Phase 2 equipment.
The project extended the depot including the control room and the team there, who despite walls being knocked down and built around them and new systems, screens and computers being brought in and wired up as they sat at their desks, never missed a minute of service 24/7/365!
How is new technology and the rise of smart cities changing the way infrastructure is being planned?
The heart and soul of a successful public transport system is accessibility and reliability. Many people think that it is the clever stuff like real time information and public address systems. We have all of that and more including customer information help points, and full CCTV coverage. I touched on the accessibility before I still believe that the other important thing is making sure customers can rely on us to arrive on time and to deliver them on time in a smart, bright and clean environment.
To do that we need to ensure that the system is clean and well maintained from emptying the bins to monitoring the automated alarm systems for faults and being ready to respond. We have zero tolerance on tram stop graffiti and for the last two years have a 100% removal rate within 24 hrs.
What is the best advice you received as a woman in engineering?
“Engineering is no place for a woman” – that just made me all the more determined to show they were wrong. I am no different to anybody else and should not be treated any differently as long as I pursue my career with professionalism and passion. I apply the same rules to my team – I don’t care if they are male, female, black, white, pink, blue or plastic. All I ask for is that they are the best they can be, and if they want to work for me they have to be ready to work hard.
There’s a shortage of women in engineering roles. In your opinion, what would make these roles more attractive and encourage more women to get involved?
It’s a long time since I was at school so I don’t know how it is now, but [when I was at school] careers advice [about engineering] swayed between making you think you had to have a brain the size of a planet and making you give up the concept of high heels (heaven forbid!). One careers adviser said, “You may have to spend a lot of time under a car!” Shows how much he knew…
Essentially my job is the most fun and fascinating job in the world. Every day somebody brings me a new problem and I get to help them find a solution. Sometimes those are management questions like how to make sure we have enough people with the right skills available at any time to carry out maintenance and repairs of an entire tramway? Errr – still working on that one..!
Sometimes there are questions like how do we find a new supplier for a component that has just become obsolete? Do we have to replace the whole system or can we find a local business to make and manufacture the component using the broken one as a template?
Who are your female role models and why?
What is coming up for you and NET?
This is the first year of operation of the new lines so we have a lot of new toys to play with, including 22 new trams and some impressive bridges. However, much of it is the same as Line One but it is interesting seeing where the little differences are, including the logistics of getting to new sites, accessing with equipment and making sure that everything is set up to continue to provide the same reliable service for the next 20 years that Nottingham has been used to for the last 12 years on Line One.