Hither Green Depot - Andy McGowan

Andy McGowan

 Andy McGowan – Proud to be DB

Name: Andy McGowan
Role: Safety Assurance Manager
Location: Hither Green

How long have you worked for DB Cargo UK?

When I left school in '83 the UK was in a deep recession. It was pure luck that I started on the railway; I had applied for and got a few jobs in the Medway towns but British Railways was the first to give me a start date. I started in September '83 as a YTS operations trainee with 15 others. Our instructor was an ex-driver. In the short time that we were on the course he was looking out for us all to get jobs on the railway.

Gillingham depot 1983 with my instructor - Andy McGowan
Gillingham depot 1983 with my instructor - Andy McGowan

He was also looking for potential driver assistants and I was one of three of us that went on the footplate. In June '84 I joined Gillingham Depot as a relief driver's assistant. A couple of months later I got my driver's assistant job at Hither Green. Hither Green was the one depot on the South East that did pretty much all the freight. I went everywhere at the front of different types of locos and had an amazing time. I got my driver's job at Grove Park, which  was a mainline depot near Hither Green. I was there for less than two years before my job came up as a driver back at Hither Green. 

Taken at Hothfield around 1990-91 - Andy McGowan
Taken at Hothfield around 1990-91 - Andy McGowan

By this time, the Channel Tunnel construction was in full swing. We provided all of the construction trains for the tunnel. At the turn of the '90s there was a rumour that a depot was going to be opened up for freight through the tunnel. I asked our operations manager if this was true and he confirmed it was. I wrote out my application there and then to go to Dollands Moor.

We went through a tough assessment process for Dollands and I was selected as one of the first  ten drivers to start there. I spent the next 21 years at Dollands. These were exciting times, doing things that had never been done before. We spent time in France learning the French systems and locos.

Lille 1993 (me bottom right) learning the French locos that were used in the Channel Tunnel
Lille 1993 (me bottom right) learning the French locos that were used in the Channel Tunnel

I became a health and safety rep when the depot fully opened and spent 11 years on JSC for ASLEF. I worked with a vast number of the management team on safety cases and certifications - company policies and procedures that are still in place today! I worked alongside some influential and experienced people from the unions and management and was able to cherry-pick all the best bits from these people to use in my current role.

I then applied for a Productuon Manager's job at Dollands Moor and was appointed in 2014. I was then asked to look after Hither Green for a short while. I never went back to Dollands Moor, although I still sit on the Eurotunnel Rules and Procedures Group. The role changed into the Safety Assurance Manager (SAM) which is the perfect role for me. I'm able to work closely alongside our staff, who I have the greatest admiration for. I often go out and get involved with their day to day work.

I spend time representing DB Cargo UK with outside bodies that are essential to the business, including RSSB, ORR, DfT, the French interior ministry and, of course, NR and our customers, to ensure that we can remain operational and future-proofed.

I really enjoyed being part of the UK driver recruitment programme and have seen some great people join DB.

I have been involved in some really exciting projects to see new flows in the South East, including a completely new terminal at Newhaven Marine. I was involved in this project for a number of years, from signal-sighting, planning the layout of the yard with the customer and to finally see the first train arrive in this terminal for over 25 years was really amazing. To top that, the driver was one of the drivers I interviewed and appointed at West London. I was involved with the commissioning of the new Eurostar units along with Nick Edwards and Barry Girt from Dollands, which was really enjoyable.  


My work is area-based and I look after all locations in Kent, Sussex, so get involved in all of our flows including the loco-hauled steam and diesel Pullman trains that we operate out of London Victoria.

What makes me proud

I have been around for such a long time, seen how all our competitors work and seen the railway disseminate into what it is today. I am confident in saying that we are still the best operator - others can only try to get to the quality and standard that we deliver to the freight industry. This is backed up by the many conversations that I have with other railway stakeholders and customers. Our staff are outstanding! I am lucky enough to have worked with some of our staff for decades. I understand what they need each day and help them to deliver.

Favourite memories

This is such a difficult question because I have been involved in so many things over the years, but I think that being an international train driver and working closely with the French has always stuck with me. One of these memories was that I was the first UK freight driver to bring a French loco into Dollands Moor under its own power.

The first 10 drivers at Dollands
The first 10 drivers at Dollands

The cab had a French driver and traction inspector and a UK traction inspector and myself. Another pile of memories that sticks with me was driving the Orient Express (now Belmond) over the years - that is simply the best train to drive!