A former Royal Australian Air Force dog handler and a food salesman who hopes his experience as a part-time coach driver can be of use behind the controls of a tram.
They are the backgrounds of two of the 10 Newcastle light rail drivers that began their intensive Keolis Downer training program on Monday.
Selected from about 800 applicants for the positions, the drivers have started their new jobs with an excitement and enthusiasm about being involved in the city’s historic transformation.
Cessnock’s Dave Jackson says he is proud to be one of the first drivers and is looking forward to establishing a career that can he have until retirement.
“Sitting down with the wife having a yarn one day, I said how exciting it is that in 20 or 30 years’ time my grandkids will be able to say that I was part of the first lot of people that started,” he told the Newcastle Herald.
“I’m expecting it to be exciting. All the people I’ve been talking to that I know, they’re excited to come and have a ride on the tram system and see Newcastle come alive.
“The city’s growing, there’s so many things getting built around the place and it’s really going to bring it to life.”
Mr Jackson, 45, has moved into the role from a full-time sales career and part-time job as a coach driver.
He said this week’s training in the classroom, which has focussed predominately on safety, had some similarities to bus driving.
“It’s a lot to take in,” he said. “It’s full-on this week but its good because we need it. A lot of it’s about customer service, interaction and duty of care, so it does cross over.”
Kirsty Winton, who is originally from South Australia but spent time working at RAAF Base Williamtown, says she was attracted to the role as it was “something completely different”.
“It’s been a long time in the waiting,” she said on Thursday, having applied for the job last July and been told she had it two months ago. “We kicked off on Monday, it’s been full-on and it’s coming to fruition, finally.”
Ms Winton, 40, said it has been a “massive career change” after 21 years in the Air Force. She moved back to Newcastle last year and was hoping to land a job after seeing the Revitalsing Newcastle project develop.
“It’s a whole new thing for us, but it’s also a whole new thing for Newcastle,” she said. “It’s new, so we’ve all got to work together to make it work for the city.”
The drivers were expected to leave the classroom on Friday to begin learning about the tram, building on their new knowledge of customer communication, emergency management procedures and Keolis Downer’s ‘Think Like a Passenger’ philosophy.
Next week, the trainees will start driving in the stabling yard before venturing out onto the light rail line.