David Waboso is the Director of Engineering at London Underground and a key player in a multi-billion pound investment programme which will renew the tube over the next decade. He holds one of the most high profile, challenging engineering jobs in the country.
It was a school careers master who picked up on David Waboso's love of travel and the great outdoors and suggested a career in engineering. David went on to study engineering at Coventry and Imperial College, but his first job – as a civil engineer designing the M63 and M66 – left him wondering if it was the right choice. "I was sitting in front of a drawing board working on designs and I thought 'I don't want to become a bloke with leather patches on my jacket elbows.'" he said.
So in 1980, he became a maths teacher in a tough, inner London school in Stoke Newington. Today, he strongly believes that you can only rise to the top in engineering if you have good communication skills as well as technical talent – and it was in Stoke Newington where he first cut his teeth in communication.
"You really have to come up with solutions when you stand up in front of kids who dislike authority and find maths uninspiring. Teaching is all about how to communicate complex principles, clearly and simply, and how to grab people's attention. You could be the best engineer in the world, but if you can't communicate ideas, concepts and instructions, you'll struggle. My loving of communicating …has …featured strongly in my engineering career. I've always been comfortable with the spoken word" he says.
David Waboso returned to engineering to work on the M25, and several other projects followed. Driven by a belief that engineering can bring real social change, he went to West Africa to work on water and transportation schemes. He worked on the Kaduna water supply scheme in northern Nigeria and first came across railway engineering while investigating options to move oil products around the country. Africa also gave him his first taste of taking charge; while the boss was away, David Waboso ran the show.
By the early 1990s, David was focusing on railway engineering and developing his fascination with railway controls and systems. In 1995, his career took off when he won the prestigious UK Project Manager of the Year Award in recognition of his work re-signalling the DLR. From then on, the projects and the challenges grew exponentially. He was a major player in the Jubilee Line extension, one of the largest construction projects in Europe, which opened to plaudits in time for the Millennium celebrations in London's Docklands. The project confirmed his reputation as a man who could produce results. Next was a stint with the Strategic Rail Authority and the delivery of an Automated Train Protection System to improve safety on the rail network in the wake of serious mainline crashes at Ladbroke Grove and Southall. His success on this project secured him the post of Executive Director, Technical at the SRA.
David Waboso took up his current role as Director of Engineering at London Underground in April 2005 and it fits perfectly with a man who relishes a challenge. Over the next decade, LU will upgrade the oldest underground rail system in the world and increase passenger capacity by a quarter. For his part, David Wasabo is determined to come up with the goods. As he explains, "…challenges don't deter engineers – they love to rise to them. Looking back through history, you can see that the best solutions and technology are developed in the face of significant challenge. When it comes to railways, it's the system that matters – getting the trains and the signalling, the stations, the passengers flows and the customer information to work. …Engineering excellence is fantastic, but it's only when that makes a positive impact on the customers in a cost-effective way, that engineering really achieves its full potential."