Amy Lezala Zahr

Chief Engineer – Rail | Department of Transport

  • Change agent
  • Future focused
  • Sustainability advocate
Based in: VIC
Modes: Rail
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"Rail is the absolute key to sustainable cities as the most environmentally friendly mass people mover."

Current position

  • Chief Engineer – Rail, Department of Transport (VIC)

Previous positions

  • Engineering Manager LXRG, Metro Trains Melbourne
  • Head of Engineering – Rolling Stock, Metro Trains Melbourne
  • Section Lead – Through Life Engineering, SNC-Lavalin
  • Performance Lead HCMT Bid, Bombardier
  • RAM Specialist, Bombardier
  • Train Performance Manager, Bombardier
  • Project Engineer, Bombardier
  • RAMS and Fire Safety Engineer, Bombardier
  • Materials and Fire Safety Engineer, Bombardier (UK)
  • Graduate Engineer – Services, Bombardier (UK)
  • Member, Young Leaders Advisory Board (Y-Lab), Australasian Railway Association

Career snapshot

Amy Lezala Zahr has been in rail since she graduated in 2007. In that time she has worked in maintenance, design and delivery. She started her career in Materials and Fire Engineering, she then worked in RAMS and Through Life Engineering. 

Amy has been in Engineering Governance for over five years, bringing together her learned experiences. As a people leader, Amy focusses on enabling the individual to deliver for the team.  

Across her career, Amy has focussed on a ‘whole of life, whole of system’ view. She has a passion for sustainability and finding the balance for people, planet and profit.

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In her own words

As a child we moved around the world a lot as a family, including relocating from the United Kingdom to China when I was eight years old. My Dad worked in rail with ABB and it was the very early days of China opening the doors to expatriates. Honestly, I had such a great experience from a diversity point of view. There were 57 nationalities in my school, so we were all a minority and we celebrated each of our different holidays. I was in China until I was 12 so I was old enough to remember it all and young enough for the experience to leave an impact.

I did my high schooling and university in the UK having determined at age 15 that I would be an engineer. My Dad and Uncle are engineers and both my Grandfathers worked in engineering fields so I was very exposed to the profession and it helped a lot.

When I was at high school we were assigned teachers for mentors, and my mentor was my physics teacher who would build cars in his garage. We helped him and he encouraged me to do my high school thesis testing the efficacy of car brake pads at certain temperatures. He still has the testing rig I used. He was a wonderful mentor.

After university I was keen to get into the workplace and joined Bombardier in Derby, a very engineering focused town. I had worked with Bombardier as an intern in my university summer breaks and knew it would be a good fit.

I did a graduate scheme for two years working at the depots and looking at maintenance and operations. It was so much fun as I was literally crawling under trains and I even got to drive a train at a depot. The team were fantastic, throwing me into everything. When I embarked upon my Masters I was focussed on fire safety engineering and Bombardier supported me. I love fire engineering – it is still where I get my nerd factor going.

While studying my masters part time and working full time, my manager was Dave Tooley, a legend of the industry. He saw I was young and eager, and he put me forward to represent the UK in the development of the European Rolling Stock Fire Standard in Brussels. I was only around 24 – it was an unbelievable opportunity.

A move to Bombardier Australia followed as I was already involved in its Adelaide projects and was also able to contribute to the writing of the Australian Rolling Stock Fire Standard. 

I alternated between fire safety engineering and working on RAMS (reliability, availability, maintainability, and safety) and was nicknamed the ‘the translator’ because I could interpret both the engineering and business aspects of a project and distil the information succinctly. It was a huge compliment.

My passion for sustainability led me to Paris to study, before returning to Australia where I grew my career in a diversity of roles in Melbourne. 

I interviewed for my current role as Chief Engineer – Rail, Department of Transport when I was 36 and a half weeks pregnant and was offered the position the day I gave birth. The Department then held the role while I completed my six months of parental leave. They were fantastic giving me the comfort and support to enjoy my parental leave and then join them in an executive role. In the Department 45% of the workforce are women, and this is across the business as 44% of senior employees are women.

The opportunity to lead

When I was studying in Paris the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals were signed off and I realised how rail is the absolute key to sustainable cities as the most environmentally friendly mass people mover. When I returned to Australia, I found there was little awareness or interest, so I took it upon myself to use the opportunities as a founding member of the Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) Y-Lab initiative to get the message out.  We pushed to use sustainability as a tool to rebrand rail and attract a younger generation and the ARA Board were very open to it. The Y-Lab work led to the formation of the sustainability team within ARA.

I often say health and safety used to be a ‘nice to have’ and now everyone is very au fait about it and understand the benefits; to me sustainability is on the same journey. Rail has a real fighting chance to be a leader on sustainability and increase the diversity of its workplace culture. Anytime you are looking at urban design, rail needs to be included because you can have all the electric cars you like and you will still have traffic. You absolutely need rail. 

Flex for life

To shift the dial on diversity and inclusion we need to stop talking about helping women and start helping everyone. This isn’t a women’s problem; this is a societal problem.  I feel society has moved very far forward in accepting women in the workplace, but we haven’t moved far forward to accepting men at home. We need to give all people the flexibility to be able to make the choices they need to achieve a balance in their lives – whether that revolves around family, friends or hobbies. 

I have been fortunate to have great mentors throughout my career and I advise people when given an opportunity to take it – even if it is terrifying and might not be exactly what you thought it would be. Always be yourself and remember you are equal to others around the table; you have earnt your place.

My vision for the next five years is …

…rail is strongly recognised as a sustainable solution, and we are far more efficient and effective in our governance across the industry in order to be more economically sustainable.

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