First train driver of $25 billion railroad dreads first shifts but loves the work

  • Monika Michalska was the first person to officially drive a train on the $25 billion Elizabeth Line in London.
  • She loves the job and her co-workers, there’s only one catch which is the early morning shifts.
  • Here’s her experience as a train conductor on the Elizabeth Line, told to Insider reporter Kate Duffy.

The Elizabeth Line, London’s brand new railway line which took 23 years to build and opened at the end of May. I was the first person to drive one of the trains for the $25 billion project.

Before becoming a conductor on the Elizabeth line, I had no experience in driving trains. I used to work in hospitality until my husband saw an advert for female train drivers at Crossrail and decided to apply.

I was quite worried before I got into the rail business. I thought culture was not for me. I thought it would be intimidating and unwelcoming, especially for a woman. But it was the exact opposite from day one.

Monika Michalska in front of the Paddington Station sign for the Elizabeth Line.

Monika Michalska in front of the Paddington Station sign for the Elizabeth Line.

Monika Michalska/MTR


After nine months of training, I rolled down the platform at Abbey Wood station in south-east London, ready to drive the first Elizabeth line train to Paddington, a major hub in central London. London, at 6 a.m. Many train enthusiasts had gathered at Abbey Wood station. see the train rolling on the tracks for the first time.

Since it was such a great time for the Crossrail train company, the enthusiasts and myself as a conductor, I did a countdown for the train leaving the station.

Inside the driving cab of an Elizabeth Line train.

Inside the driving cab of an Elizabeth Line train.

Monika Michalska/MTR


I still can’t believe I was the one who had the opportunity to be the first person to drive a train for the line, which was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

Even though it was a huge construction project and required a lot of responsibility, I am not afraid of hard work. I feel proud. I think, “Wow, I’m in charge of this beautiful, shiny train and I’ll take the passengers where they need to go.”

That said, I dread early morning shifts. Every time I see my name on the list for 2 a.m., I’m not a happy bunny. Some shifts are long and you have to concentrate, even if you want to go to bed or are hungry, you have to keep going. It’s hard to organize my life around shifts, especially with the kids, but that’s the only downside of the job. Everything else compensates.

Elisabeth line train.

Elisabeth line train.

Monika Michalska/MTR


Despite what you might think, the job isn’t boring. What I really love about riding the Elizabeth line is the variety I have. There are two different tunnels along the route and some parts have different speeds and dwell times which makes driving more interesting. Other sections, for example in West London, allow high-speed travel, which is fun.

A total of 70 trains pass through 41 stations on the 60-mile route from one side of London to the other. Much of the route – mostly outside central London – is above ground. I like to think that us Elizabeth line drivers are much luckier than the tube drivers who are in the tunnels 90% of the time.

Monika on a platform in front of an Elizabeth line train.

Monika on a platform in front of an Elizabeth line train.

Monika Michalska/MTR


As a line driver Elizabeth, I work every day of the year. The only day we can guarantee we will leave is Christmas. Shifts can be as short as five hours and as long as 12 hours, but on average they last about eight hours.

In terms of pay, trainees earn over $40,700, while first years earn around $61,300 and fully qualified train drivers can earn over $81,800.

Apart from the first shifts, nothing else bothers me. My job is like family to me. I even have a favorite train unit that I love to drive – Unit 12 – which is the very first train I drove during my training.

I feel like I hit the jackpot when I got hired for this job.

Bonny J. Streater