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2023 Women in Rail Scholarship Recipient: Clare Russell

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Clare Russell is one of the first students to receive the Women in Rail scholarship, supported by the Railway Association of Canada and its Women in Rail 2023 conference. This was the first time in the conference’s history that attendees were asked to pay a registration. When attendees heard about the scholarship program, a record number of participants RSVP’d yes.  

Clare attended the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) where she graduated at the top of her class in the Railway Conductor and Operations Program. 

We spoke to Clare about the ways this scholarship helped with her studies and the work she’s doing now. 

Explain to us what your experience was in the Conductor program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). 

The Railway Conductor and Operations Program at BCIT was a mix of learning rules in the classroom and gaining work experience in the BCIT rail yard. Our instructors were all amazing individuals with real-life experience working with many different railways. Their stories helped us understand the different paths we could take in the railway, how the railway has evolved, and why working safely is paramount. The experience of working in the yard, switching rail cars, and communicating via radio, was a perfect replica of the conductor career and truly set us up for success. My favourite course was Rail 1020, which taught air brake knowledge and the anatomy of railcars. Within the first month working as a conductor, I was able to draw from that additional knowledge and make better decisions regarding safety.  

How did your education journey and beginnings of a career in rail change after receiving your scholarship? 

As a single mom, who left my career to focus on this education, the scholarship relieved stress and allowed me to dedicate my full attention to my studies. As a result, I graduated top of my class, was given the Award of Distinction from BCIT, and was able to land a career with my first-choice employer.  

What kind of work in rail have you done since graduating? 

Since graduating from BCIT, I joined Toronto Terminals Railway (TTR)  as their only female conductor. 

What sort of goals do you have for your career in rail? 

My education and start of employment have been such amazing experiences, and I feel so fortunate. I have reached out to my BCIT instructor to volunteer and have been sharing my experience to inspire future female students. I hope to grow my career with TTR as a trainer and a yard coordinator. 

Why do you think it’s important to offer scholarships like the one you received, and hold conferences like the RAC’s Women in Rail? 

With women only making a small portion of the workforce, it is important to continue education incentives and conferences to correct this ratio and better shape the future of the railway. 

What would you say to other women who are thinking of a career in rail and are interested in this scholarship? 

From the moment I started with BCIT, to starting a career with TTR, I have loved every moment. I am amazed each day at how wonderful my colleagues are, how much fun it is to work in the yard, and how much potential there is for a challenging and rewarding future. I would advise women interested in a railway career to take the leap & start your own adventure!