Dubai: Years ago, the idea of an Emirati woman whizzing past the city driving a train would have seemed like the ponderings of an over-imaginative mind.
But today, 28-year-old Mariam Al Safar has achieved this milestone of becoming the first Emirati woman to drive a train, not only in the UAE, but also in the Middle East.
Speaking to Gulf News while driving the Dubai Metro, Mariam proudly declared: "I am always open to challenges and I am not afraid to take risks."
"I work hard and my job is my top priority," she said.
Although the Dubai Metro is driverless and is operated from a centralised control room, maintenance works or technical glitches call for the need to drive the train manually.
To demonstrate her skills, Mariam began by opening what appears like a cabinet to reveal the controls of the train and by switching the train to manual mode.
She explained that preparations are essential before embarking on each trip, such as testing the radio devices, communicating the destination with the control room, and ensuring the route is clear.
Further, the brakes, horn and wipers are tested before a confirmation is passed to the control room that the train is now fully prepared for journey.
Dressed in the Metro uniform for Emirati women — an Abaya with designs that match with the prints on uniforms worn by expatriate employees — Mariam said that women in the UAE are constantly breaking free from stereotypes and experimenting beyond the routine nine-to-five jobs.
Safety and security
She currently holds the position of a train attendant at the Metro, and is also the team leader of her group.
Her duties include train preparation prior to arrival and departure, maintaining security measures for passenger cabins and boarding procedures, maintaining consistent customer service and reporting directly to the Metro Controller to ensure safety and security. It also includes preparing schedules for the trains and train attendants, managing the Metro attendants, and ensuring cleanliness on all Metro Cabins.
One of the requirements of her job that may seem difficult to some is the need to work in shifts, which sometimes begin as early as 3am or 4am, she said. But, this is not a challenge once you get used to it, she quickly added.
‘Set a target'
"Being a train attendant has helped me understand how to interact with people and staff from different nationalities and different cultures. This has empowered me to tackle different kinds of situations with ease."
She joined the Dubai Metro in March 2009 as a logistics planner at the HR (human resources) department, after which she got promoted as a PR and marketing executive and later, as a Passenger Services Supervisor before she landed her current role.
Her biggest support comes from her family and friends, she said, urging more women to come forward. "Don't live your life without a target or vision. Set a target and strive to achieve it," she said, describing her motto.
Metro eyes Emiratisation
Strong Emiratisation policies are in place at the Dubai Metro with the aim of increasing the participation of UAE nationals and reducing the country's reliance on foreign labour and expertise, Ahmad Al Qasim, Human Resources Director, Dubai Metro said.
"The number of Emiratis working at Serco, the operator of Dubai Metro, is now over 134, which is 12 per cent of the total workforce employed for the Metro's management and operations. The percentage of UAE citizens employed at top management positions in Serco is as high as 40 per cent, and the percentage of those employed in intermediate management positions is 28 per cent," he said.
"According to a contract with the RTA, Serco will seek to push Emiratisation in the top and intermediate management positions in the Dubai Metro to 50-60 per cent by the end of 2014," Al Qasim said.
In the Dubai Metro, Emiratis currently work in sections such as customer service, train operation and maintenance, ticket sales, etc.