Natalie Smith

HS2 highlights landmark women in rail achievement

As the rail industry approaches international women’s day, HS2 is shining a light on a landmark story in the sector – Natalie Smith, the UK’s first ever female rig driver.

Natalie previously worked as a forklift driver in warehouse operations, but joined SB3, the Bachy Soletanche and Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering joint venture, after wanting a change.

She joined SB3 as a trainee piling operative, a skilled role which involves driving steel columns into the ground.

After initially applying in June 2022, Natalie was on a one-year training course with accreditation just three weeks later – something she eventually passed with “flying colours” and became a fully qualified rig attendant.

SB3 then funded her training to go from rig attendant to rig driver, where people take charge of the 86-tonne BG33 piling rig and drive 20-tonne steel rods into the ground.

Natalie Smith

By September 2023, Natalie had completed the course and received accreditation from CITA, confirming her status as the UK’s first ever female rig driver.

She says she is “really proud” of her achievement and feels at home in a “supportive” rig team, despite being the only female member.

“It’s great to be doing something different,” said Natalie. “To play a part in building this new railway, that will stand for years to come, means I’m part of a moment in history and I love that idea.”

Natalie Smith is currently working as part of a 14-person team on the HS2 route between Saltley and Curzon Street in Birmingham.

HS2 wants to encourage more women into the rail and construction sectors, as does its partner for the West Midlands, Balfour Beatty VINCI, which is marking international women’s day by launching a ‘women’s only’ introduction into construction training course.

Starting this June at Birmingham’s South and City College, the course will give women the skills and accreditation they need to start a career in construction in just six-to-eight weeks.

Image credit: HS2

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