Thameslink’s oldest employee who is 82 and still gets up at 4am every day to work the 6am shift

Thameslink’s oldest employee who is 82 and still gets up at 4am every day to work the 6am shift

Getting up at 4am for his regular morning shift at Elstree & Borehamwood Station, 82 year old Siggy Cragwell from Hampstead is the first person thousands of passengers over the past 60 years have encountered right at the start of their journeys. Having just been awarded a second Lifetime Achievement Award for his exceptional commitment to the railway, Siggy now reflects on his own journey, which has taken him not just between London and Bedford like his beloved Thameslink but from Barbados to Sri Lanka to the heights of international sport.

Siggy’s sense of duty, service and determination are instantly apparent when you meet him. His uniform is immaculate. Part of the Windrush generation, he explains his decision to come from Barbados to London to work on the railways in 1962: “In those days, Liaison Officers came to Barbados to recruit people to come and work in Britain, some for hospitals, some for the Underground and some for the railways. I knew exactly what I was going to do before I got here.”

“I went to a sort of school where they taught us everything about life in England for about two weeks: money, traditions etc. Then, they checked we were all ready and we could go. I got here on day one and day two I was off to work. Money was not a problem then, they paid for our travel and then we paid it all back.”

READ MORE:New Thameslink route to run across the capital from May

Siggy works in the station’s platforms team, ensuring passengers are safe, kept informed and that their trains depart on time

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At the age of 23, he began working at Marylebone station, where he remained for 17 years. Despite leaving his own family at such a young age, he found a new family in the railway which nurtured him. “They were all like family, they looked after me because I was very young – that’s what kept me in the railway. I still have got that same feeling now and that’s why I remain here.”

He quickly developed an affinity for the railway he served and started exploring every inch of British Rail. He recalls: “I used to go to Scotland regularly on weekends. In my late 20s and 30s I used to go to France – I would get the train to Dover, the boat and the train on the other side. That changed in about 1989, you can’t do that anymore.”

His railway career then took him to Cricklewood Depot, Bedford station, Luton railway stores and St Albans City station before arriving at Elstree & Borehamwood in 2002. As the Zone 6 station was getting rapidly busier due to the area’s regeneration, Thameslink called on Siggy’s experience to help boost the station team.

Twenty years on, he’s become a local celebrity. After a first National Rail Award in 2020, a local resident nominated Siggy for the Railway Benefit Fund’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which he received in-person at the station from music mogul-turned-railway figurehead Pete Waterman who described him as ‘an inspiration to us all.’

Lisa Minot, who nominated Siggy, said: “Everyone knows Siggy. He’s a local legend, always there, always with a smile on his face and happy to have. He knows what trains are running. I feel everything’s OK when he’s there.”

Locals have filled Facebook groups with anecdotes they have of encounters with Siggy at news of the award. “Some of them I’ve known as children and they’re a lot bigger than me now! I see them going to work and they say hello,” he explains.

“I like to talk to people. If I’m talking to you, I’m learning something. You might not think that but I really am and that’s how I live my life all the time.”

0 Siggy Walk of Fame

Next to the Borehamwood ‘Walk of Fame’ in homage to the town’s film studios, Siggy has become an icon for his Thameslink colleagues and passengers alike

The award is not the first time Siggy has been in the spotlight though. Through his railway career, he was able to join various sports teams, notably in cricket. “Back in the day, the railway had all of these teams: football, tennis, cricket. If you were in one of the teams and you were playing against say Birmingham or Yorkshire you would get two days off to go and play!”

Through his cricketing connections, Siggy has played for the University of London and Thames TV teams, taking him on international test match tours in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Spain. He even made 14 appearances for the England Over 70s squad, including three two-day test matches at Sussex where he beat Australia. “I’m quite happy with that!” he humbly concedes. In his honour, one of the cricket stands at a ground he used to play at in Enfield has now been renamed The Siggy Cragwell End.

Now Thameslink’s oldest employee, Siggy had to pause his railway adventure during the coronavirus pandemic. “It was difficult for me but I did a lot of exercise at home. I used to walk up Hampstead Heath up the hill, ride my bike and keep myself going. It was good to come back.”

It hasn’t dampened his enjoyment of the job by any means though. “It keeps me very active. It makes me feel comfortable because when I go home I am happy. If I was sitting at home doing nothing, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

“I’ll be 83 this year and I’m quite happy doing what I can do. There’s loads of people of my age who can’t do that.”

As he finishes his shift at 11am he heads home to listen to music which he plays on a deck from 1978. He also uses his afternoons for Tai chi, Taekwondo and meditation keeping himself as active, healthy and focused as possible – he never uses an alarm clock for the 4am early starts, as he takes pride his self-discipline and routine: “Since I was a kid, I’ve always liked things done correctly and I’m still going about that now.”

The 4am starts haven’t yet brought Siggy closer to retirement, but he laughs: “I probably would go when they tell me to go! Look, for me, I like moving about. In the summer it would be alright because I could go out and play cricket in the summer but I’m comfortable here now.”

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