Skip to main content

‘A home away from home’: Northern staff who served in the military urge people leaving the armed forces to consider a career in rail

Northern staff who have served in the military claim the railway offers “a home away from home” to those who are looking for a new career after leaving the armed forces.


Ahead of Armed Forces Day on Saturday (29 June), four employees have shared their experiences of taking on rewarding and challenging jobs on the railway.

The train operator employs dozens of people who have previously worked in the military or currently serve as reservists, putting their skills and experience to use in a wide range of roles.

In 2021, Northern signed the Armed Forces Covenant, a commitment to supporting the employment of veterans and recognising military skills and qualifications across our business.

Lee Walker – A conductor based in Newcastle who left the Army in 2001 after serving as an infantry soldier with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers for 10 years and completing tours of Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

He joined Great North Eastern Railway as a train dispatcher later that year and worked in various roles for the operator before joining Northern in 2018.

He said:

“Leaving the military is hard and it is a big adjustment. It took me a few years to adjust but I just had to get on with it,”

“On the railway you find the same sort of people and they give you uniform, training, structure and a purpose.

“You’ve got to be on time, on task and following a routine, just like you do in the army.

“I would definitely recommend it to people who have left the military, it’s a great industry to work in.

“People who have served in the forces bring a lot to the table so they’re definitely worth taking on. They’ve got a can-do attitude and just crack on with the job.”

Rob Brown – An on-board systems service technician who has been an active army reservist with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) for the last two years.

He said the railway is like “a home away from home” for people who have served in the military, because they work as part of a close-knit team within a clear structure.

He is deputy vice chair of Northern’s Armed Forces Group, which connects and supports staff who have previously served in the military, and is also part of the team which reaches out to servicemen and women considering a career in rail during recruitment drives.

He said:

“It is difficult for people when they leave the military and there’s a lot of panic, but we can ease that pain by offering them a chance to start a new career with Northern,”

“For those that are with us, we’re always looking to help, because the camaraderie in the military is second to none and when you leave and join a company you can lose that.

“A lot of them have the right skillset and mindset for the railway – if you give them a job, they’re doing it and they’re not just here to collect a pay packet.

“It doesn’t matter what rank you are in the military, when you come to Northern you will find your fit because there are so many different roles.”

Debra Park – A former conductor, who now works as a customer service assistant in the ticket office at Whitehaven station, was in the Army Reserve for 22 years before she left in 2002.

She said:

“I was a heavy goods driver, a medic and then became part of the training team and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. Even now I miss it and I made friends for life,”

“A lot of people who leave the military are looking for structure and the railway offers that. You need to run to time, be disciplined and be able to take and execute orders.

“I would definitely recommend the railway to people who are leaving the forces and I think the railway benefits from having them.

“They understand that sometimes you need to stay late and go the extra mile to make sure we can get our customers where they need to go.”

Richard Hinds – Northern’s finance director, who was appointed last year, served as a platoon commander of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment for four years before he left the military in 2000.

He said:

“Forces life is quite different to civilian life. It’s more than a job and you’re living alongside the people you work with so there is a real comradeship,”

“In the railway you get some elements of civilian life, but also some elements of military life. It feels like a family and there’s a certain culture and a togetherness.

“Both are underpinned by strong values – discipline, integrity, a strong work ethic and taking pride in what you do.

“There are also lots of commonalities in the skills, knowledge and ways of working – particularly for those who come from a military engineering background and who now work in our TrainCare Centres.”

If you have left or are in the process of leaving the military and are looking to put your skills and experience to use on the railway, please register for job alerts on the Northern website at:

Northern is the second largest train operator in the UK, with 2,500 services a day to more than 500 stations across the North of England.