Paloma Zafra Tunon

"If you like engineering, the rail industry gives you possibilities for almost everything."
Woman in hard hat standing in front of train on rail platform
Woman in hard hat standing in front of train on rail platform

Systems Engineer, Systra

Background: Engineering graduate

"I’m quite a weird engineer. I’m very technical, but I’m also a very social person. I scuba dive, I like crafts, and I love sports.

My expertise is CBTC — Communication-based Train Control. It’s the signalling system in which trains communicate to the tracks via radio. The system knows at all times where the trains are, with very little error.

I also work on ETCS — European Train Control Systems. If a train is going too fast, the ETCS applies brakes. It’s a safety-related system.

I grew up in Cadiz in the south of Spain, and moved to Madrid to go to university where I specialised in electronics which is similar to electronics engineering. I was focused on robotics and was  considering  doing a PhD when I attended a recruitment fair . I hadn’t thought about changing career paths but a transportation company offered me good money and a career path.

At first I thought, ‘I have no idea about trains.’ Then I thought I’d give the private sector a go.

Fifteen years later I’m still working in rail and I absolutely love it.

In 2015 I was back in Spain after working in the United States for three years, when someone contacted me through LinkedIn and offered work in Brisbane, Australia. I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to move again.’

Then a couple of years later, someone else in Australia contacted me through LinkedIn and offered me a job, also in signalling. In 2019, a third company from Australia approached me. I thought, ‘OK, life is giving me this. I should explore it.’

So I parked everything and came out here.

When I first arrived, I was working from Brisbane but going to Melbourne to work on CBTC for the Metro Tunnel. In Brisbane, I was doing ETCS on their New Generation Rolling Stock.

Australia is installing signalling systems everywhere.

I work for Systra, a consultant company. My role is on the technical side. At the moment,we’re designing a smoke-alarm system. It needs to interface with the train (and) the tracks. I need to check the overall system part of it, but also the details, such as data sent between different systems.

I also do a lot of work with Queensland’s Transport and Main Roads (TMR). Right now, I’m reviewing technical details from the suppliers of one of TMR’s rail projects: Alstom, who makes trains; and Hitachi, who is developing the ETCS.

My job title is Systems Engineer. There’s not a lot of us considering how much work is out there. I always tell the young engineers, ‘If you like engineering, the rail industry gives you possibilities for almost everything.’

If you look at the world, there’s a lot of trains and a lot of government money being spent on public transport. There’s construction and upgrades, new transportation, new lines. But there’s not enough people who work in signalling."


To learn more about how to become Systems Engineers check out our training pathways pages.