ASLEF started organising for equality in 2000, but before this the railway had started to change.
Black and Ethnic Minority Workers
In 1962, Wilston Samuel Jackson became Britain’s first black train driver. He experienced direct racism on his first day in the job, but was fortunate to have a foreman who stood up for his right to be there. You can read more about his life in this Black History Month news story.
The first woman driver on the mainline was Karen Harrison, who was appointed in 1977 after refusing an administrative job that she was offered when recruiters realised she was a woman.
This 1980 short film from the British Film Institute archives talks about the first women train drivers, and the changes their presence began to bring to the railway.
It’s hard to know when the first LGBT+ drivers joined the railway as it was relatively recently that a significant number of people felt able to come out and fully be themselves both in and outside of work.
Homophobia and transphobia still exists on the railway, as it does elsewhere, and ASLEF maintains a confidential LGBT+ mailing list so that members don’t have to disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation to colleagues or branch officers if they don’t want to.
Train Drivers have to be 21 to fully qualify, but it is possible to become a driver on the London Underground from the age of 18. ASLEF is currently campaigning for a reduction in minimum age to 18 for the mainline in order to make train driving a career that school leavers can embark on straight away.
While some people think that it’s not possible to be a disabled train driver, ASLEF’s newly created disabled members forum shows that this is not the case. With the necessary adaptations or equipment, physically impaired people are able to drive trains. There are also many people with hidden disabilities ranging from mental health issues to gastric stomas to HIV+ status.