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Mike Roe, Safety and Environment Director

In the latest of our Meet the Team series we introduce Mike Roe, who joined Northern as Safety and Environment Director. In November 2020

Mike’s route to Northern

Born in Blackpool, Mike’s career spans 40 years in rail across a wide range of sectors and large areas of the country. He has experienced first-hand the career opportunities the rail industry can offer, having joined British Rail (BR) as an engineering student and studied for his sponsored engineering degree at Oxford University.

Once graduated, his career path included roles in Derby carriage works, the West of England, Wales and Old Oak Common Depot in London. This taught him how to build and maintain fleets of passenger trains and the responsibilities that go with the associated infrastructure such as depots and stations.

In the latter years of BR, Mike became Depot Manager at Norwich Crown Point which maintained local diesel and InterCity electric fleets.  Then with privatisation on the horizon he joined Anglia Railways, the first passenger operator entity within BR, as Production Director.

After nearly 20 years with BR, Mike joined RFS(E) in Doncaster as a member of the Board of Directors and remained as Engineering Director, with responsibility for safety and environment, when it was sold to US railroad corporation Wabtec.  There he was part of the team that quadrupled the size of the workforce and increased turnover from £16m to £83m in just a dozen years.  His tenure included the 150th anniversary of Doncaster Works in 2003 bringing a host of famous locomotives like Mallard that had been built there along with repainting Flying Scotsman in time for the celebrations.

Following time as Engineering Director at Unipart Rail, Mike returned to his first love of the passenger railway as Engineering Director at Merseyrail, doubling the reliability of their 40-year old electric fleet.  He also expanded his portfolio with responsibility for safety, environment and security.

The role of Safety and Environment Director at Northern offered a move to a larger, more diverse business, and the chance to build on previous successes and seize new opportunities.

First impressions

So have the first few months been?  Mike explains: “It’s been unusual joining a business during the pandemic but Covid aside, much as I knew Northern from being in the industry, it’s not until I joined that I really understood the size and range of the operation – and I think that’s true of others who have recently joined.  It’s such a large organisation, with a real geographic spread so I’ve been adapting skills – many of the issues are similar to those I’ve managed before, they’re just on a different scale!

“With Northern Trains still being in relative infancy, it’s a great opportunity to apply my learning and experience in an evolving organisation.  I’ve been really impressed with the quality of people here, everyone I meet wants to do a good job, you get a real sense of purpose from them.

“There has been some great work on environmental initiatives, particularly in our engineering depots, and I’m really encouraged to see that balance of local, homegrown ideas alongside the direction the business provides in this area. 

“I’m keen that we embed good safety and environment behaviours.  We can support with the right tools but culture is critical to driving sustained improvement.  Simple behaviours or guidelines that are easy for everyone to remember can support positive change.  That is true both for Northern colleagues and our customers.  As customers start to return to the railway there is a lot we can do to support greater use of recycling as an example.

Priorities for the next few months

While the pandemic has meant some uncertainty, Mike is reassured by work undertaken to give customers confidence when they’re travelling, and believes some of the Covid related guidance naturally encourages positive safe behaviours.  However, he’s keen to stress the importance of close monitoring to ensure we meet the challenges that the reopening of the night time economy and the return of staycations bring.

“We are focused on the return to rail to demonstrate to customers that we are ready to support them both at stations and on trains.  As restrictions ease we are prepared for busy locations, working closely with British Transport Police on our plans.”

With the opportunity to build back better and greener, Mike is clear that - while the railway may have a natural advantage as we work to zero carbon - making sure we deliver on this will require focus and commitment. 

“We want to minimise our carbon emissions and while we’ve retired Pacer trains, we still have some older diesel trains which will in time need to be replaced.  It’s issues such as these, and potential wider electrification of the UK rail network, that we’re looking at as we develop our rolling stock strategy.  And I think customers place an increasing value on green credentials, which alongside a safe, reliable and value for money service will help drive modal shift.

“We have made great steps to understand our emissions and potential waste from our own estate, reducing our energy and water consumption on our big sites, but it’s an area we continue to focus on as we seek to minimise resource usage.  We’re also committed to improving the air quality at our stations.”

Mike outside of rail

Although born in Blackpool, Mike now lives on the Wirral with wife Laura and their Bichon Frise dog, Poppy. Home is a Grade II Listed house, and as if his engineering and safety skills weren’t enough, he is also an extremely talented musician playing keyboards in his spare time in an Amy Whitehouse tribute band  and a Soul Funk Disco band.  With their regular festival slots and gigs naturally cancelled last year, Mike’s looking forward to take to the stage as the easing of restrictions allow.