In July 2017, KeolisAmey Metrolink (KAM) - a joint venture formed between Keolis and Amey – became the new operator of Manchester Metrolink, the UK’s largest light rail network at almost 100km of track.
KAM’s managing director, Aline Frantzen, talks through her history in light rail and what she’s looking forward to most about the future of the network.
1. Tell us how you ended up working in the transport industry - when and why?
Honestly, I had never seen myself working in transport – I almost fell into it by accident. After studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne, I was offered a role as business analyst at Yarra Trams. The role appealed to my financial background and I began working my way up through a variety of roles across finance, business development, operations and service delivery.
What’s more interesting is why I stayed in transport. The industry is much more complex than people think, there’s always something new to interest you and I can’t imagine wanting to leave it. The size and complexity of transformation projects, like network extensions or introducing new rolling stock, means they can often take a long time to complete - you want to stay to see your hard work come to fruition. Lastly, our industry has a strong community impact, which is extremely rewarding.
2. What does a typical day look like for you?
There’s never a typical day! I need to be aware of the entire breadth of the business so most of my days involve a series of planned meetings with my teams, our clients at Transport for Greater Manchester and other internal and outside stakeholders. These meetings usually fall within two categories, people management or problem solving. KAM has introduced visual management from day one and my work very much evolves around leveraging our analytics to lead transformational changes across all aspects of our work. These meetings are also essential to make sure I’m kept fully up to speed on the network, particularly when challenges occur which, with a network of this size, is inevitable. If a serious incident takes place, I will be the one leading the crisis room and providing support to my teams. Thankfully, these days aren’t too common but when they do occur, any form of planned schedule disappears.
3. What's the best part of your job?
The positive feedback from our customers. I attend regular ‘meet the manager’ sessions and its fantastic to hear that initiatives we’ve worked hard to introduce have actually made customers’ journeys better. I think it’s the most authentic proof that we are doing a good job that we can receive.
4. If you could change one thing about your job what would it be?
Ideally, all of our teams would be based in one location to help us create an even stronger culture but this isn’t logistically feasible on such a large system, where we need to have the two hubs on opposite sides of the network. It just means we have to work harder to ensure everyone feels part of one team.
5. What's the proudest achievement of your career?
While working at Yarra Trams, I realised that the work of our frontline staff, particularly our drivers, risked going unrecognised. This didn’t seem right and I spearheaded the Good Driver Recognition Programme to make sure we could celebrate our drivers’ hard work. We encouraged our business to nominate those who were excelling and held an annual awards ceremony and gala ball to make sure their hard work was rewarded. This was a campaign that I had initiated and watched grow – in our first year we saw 20 drivers attend, five years later it had grown to 75 – and I was immensely proud of it, especially hearing first-hand the positive reactions of our drivers and their partners.
6. What's the biggest professional challenge you've faced? And how did you solve it?
In 2015, while I was Lines Director, Yarra Trams experienced its first industrial dispute in 19 years. This was a significant challenge for both myself and the business, mostly because it was something we’d never had to handle before. However, by making sure all our communications were consistent and our leadership team was fully prepared, we delivered a very fair result. It represented a significant learning curve for the business and ultimately, strengthened our relationships with unions and our employees.
7. What do you think is the main challenge facing the transport sector? And what do you think is needed to solve it?
Embracing new methods of mobility while making sure our existing modes stay relevant. Creating fully integrated transport networks will be essential to supporting growth in passenger numbers and we shouldn’t be afraid to introduce new technologies. The challenge for the industry is making sure this is done in a way that complements and considers existing transport, while providing passengers with the choice and tailored service that they increasingly expect.
8. What's been the most exciting development in the transport industry that you've seen during your career?
It’s been incredibly exciting to see the industry adopt a more customer-centric approach to travel – moving away from the idea of networks being ‘people carriers’ to one that places passengers at the heart of operations. The Keolis group’s ‘think like a passenger’ ethos is one I thoroughly believe in and am proud to represent. Seeing this come to life as we embed ourselves further into the Metrolink network – and across transport as a whole – is something I’m really looking forward to being part of.
9. What excites you most about the future of the industry or the Metrolink network?
Metrolink is incredibly well designed and has all the capabilities to represent a best practice light rail network - not only to Manchester and TfGM but the wider Keolis and Amey groups and the transport industry as a whole. All the groundwork is in place and by building strong partnerships with our stakeholders and communities, we can certainly achieve this. It’s still early days - we’ve not even been managing the network a full year yet - but already I’m looking forward to delivering its vast amount of potential.
10. What advice would you leave your successor?
Whatever the network looks like in the future, maintain our ethos of ‘think like a passenger’, keep our employees at the heart of the changes, and make sure every new development and each new initiative has Greater Manchester at its heart.