6 February 2023

Keep on Trucking…

Ferne Jones is 31-year-old women who loves her horses and dogs almost as much as she does her new role at Total Rail Solutions.

Ferne joined TRS recently as a Class 1 HGV driver, after 10 years trucking the highways and byways of the UK, and as it turns out, most of New Zealand.

TRS hire out plant and operated plant to the rail industry, Road Rail Vehicles (RRVs) provide adapted excavators that work from rail tracks on various rail infrastructure projects.

Rather surprisingly, less than 2% of all HGV drivers in the UK are women, from a total driver workforce of some 260,000. With this number falling from the previous year by 53,000, and down from the peak of 321,000 during the summer of 2017. 

With the number of women in rail standing at 16%, Total Rail Solutions is delighted to welcome Ferne to the business and rail industry.

Ferne began her HGV career over 10 years ago, when, as a keen horse owner, she realised how much easier it would be if she could drive her own truck. This led to an opportunity, via the job centre, to an NVQ class 2 qualification, which in turn led to level 4 and ultimately a class1 licence.  All gained at college over a period of 6-months on a government sponsored scheme.

In fact, Ferne is quick to point out she would not be the driver she is today, had it not been for that job seeker scheme that got her in the cab and on the road. On leaving college Ferne began work as a driver and has never looked back.

The diversity of role and opportunity begins on a humble road sweeper, through to class 2 lorry work for local plant hire companies such as Crynant Plant, where every vehicle in the fleet was driven at some stage. From skip lorries to beaver tails, where Ferne had her first experience of loading and carrying plant, before progressing to articulated wagons where steel was the payload.

The next move all happened quickly and some 12,000 miles away in New Zealand. The government was, in 2014, recruiting, as a recent earthquake meant they were rebuilding and looking for HGV drivers.  Within 1 week of enquiring, Ferne was on a plane heading down under, with a 2-year visa in hand and an amazing adventure ahead.

On her return to the UK Ferne went self-employed, working for a number of agencies and hirers.  It was then a chance encounter with two TRS HGV drivers, who were so encouraged by what they saw that they set up an interview, leading to Ferne joining the business.

With 6-months service completed Ferne is loving life at TRS and to use Ferne’s words…”all the boys are helpful, respectful and look after me”.

This however has not always been the case, as Ferne has witnessed misogyny and sexism during her time as an HGV driver. Whilst Ferne is keen to point out that so much has improved and that there is more of a positive attitude, this alas has not always been the case, with stereotypical comments about women drivers and attitude common place.

This meant for Ferne that she felt she had to work three times as hard to prove she was as good, if not better…a situation that naturally led to anxiety and frustration.

Ferne genuinely believes that nowadays she is not given any special compensation and is treated as one of the team.

It does however make Ferne ‘smile’ when even now, she will take a call from a customer, who has delivery instructions, with the caller asking her to tell the driver that when he comes, he must do this or that… Attitudes, it is fair to say, do change when Ferne pulls up on site (having followed the instructions).

The biggest change Ferne has seen in the last 10 years

Here Ferne is unequivocal, it is about being accepted as a female HGV driver and treated no differently. In addition, Ferne points to the legislative change to digital tachographs being the biggest change in both the cab and behaviour, a move that Ferne warmly welcomed.

With the ever-increasing cost of fuel driving down margins, the way Ferne drives has also been blended with the support of Eco mode technology, cruise control and a change to more fuel conscious driving and idling. With the data provided to support drivers to become more fuel efficient.

What still needs to change

Facilities, facilities, facilities is the answer from Ferne. Whilst there are a growing number of facility improvements at truck stops, such as female showers, progress is slow. For many years the only option to shower at truck stop was to use the men’s showers. So, we are seeing improvement but there is still a long way to go.

Life on the road

Ferne, in her current role is away from home (and her 5 horses and dog) for 4 nights. Sleeping in her cab is the nightly routine, she is comfortable, after growing into the role over 10 years, with her own company and recognises this as part of the role and lifestyle.

With a microwave, fridge and TV for company and the security of the very latest Scania tractor unit (Ferne’s favourite as it turns out) the feeling is one of relative comfort and assured security.

Whilst the latest Scania truck units are automatic with built in innovation to make the life of a driver safer, and dare we say simpler, Ferne (given the choice) prefers a manual gearbox, having been brought up on traditional rigs.

What would Ferne say to women thinking about taking an HGV licence

Ferne said, “I would encourage women, life on the road is never the same, you meet some real characters and see some amazing sights…but it’s not for all, it’s hard work and sometimes long hours”.

Ferne typically works 4 days on and 4 days off. Which delivers a really good work life balance, as it allows time spent schooling Ferne’s young foals and, in the summer, competing in various competitions.

What’s the best part of the job

Getting paid to do the thing you love and travelling around the UK to see all the great places the country has to offer. 

Best UK Truck Stop

This would have to be The Stockyard just off the M18 in Rotherham, with the Formula 1 services heading up towards Scotland close behind, with Café V8 getting an honourable mention in Inverness. With Ferne adding The Chippenham Pit Stop to the list, as it provides improved female facilities, and I am reliably informed hair dryers.

It was interesting speaking to Ferne and whilst so much has improved, and more and more companies are doing so much more to create the right environment, there is still more in the mind of some male drivers perhaps that need to change.

Hearing Ferne comment that even today, whilst looking after the rig she is driving, there is still a little of ‘having to work harder than the men’ attitude, in that she always pays extra attention to the maintenance of both the interior and exterior of the cab to be accepted by her male counterparts.  

As for the future, this is what Ferne loves doing, it has become a way of life, a life that will continue into and very probably beyond the foreseeable future. We trust more will join her and recognise the world of rail is diverse, safe and a sustainable place where careers can prosper, and lives can be built.