Knowledge Hub / Introducing Sarah Disborough, Senior Product Manager at SilverRail

Introducing Sarah Disborough, Senior Product Manager at SilverRail

The author: Isabella Hales


Written by Isabella Hales

At SilverRail, we’re not just about trains and tech- we’re all about our people. We’re a key player in the rail industry, not only leading the way in transforming the way people move but also placing a strong emphasis on the happiness and the growth of our employees. In a field where innovation is paramount, we stand out not just for our advancements but also for our commitments to building a vibrant and inclusive company culture. We are dedicated to empowering and championing our workforce, employees are not merely contributors but integral members of a tight-knit community.

We are thrilled to highlight the wonderful individuals we have at SilverRail. Each team member brings unique skills, dedication, and perspectives to the table, contributing to the overall success of our organisation. In this blog, we will shine a light on Sarah Disborough, Senior Product Manager at SilverRail. Sarah has worked at SilverRail for over 21 years and enjoys running, yoga, countryside walks and socialising with friends.

What do you do at SilverRail?

I am a Senior Product Manager at SilverRail, responsible for the UK side of our ticket issuing system called SilverCore. I work with our UK Train Operator partners and retailers to ensure our product continues to meet their needs, discuss industry developments and any new features they might be interested in, analyse the options, ensure industry regulations will be met, then write proposals. Once a project has been agreed and scheduled into our roadmap, I break the solution down into an agreed set of requirements for our development team to implement. For example, early last year I worked with Virgin Trains Ticketing to implement split ticketing in their app, which can provide great savings for the end user whilst still meeting industry regulations.

Having previously worked within our 'search' team too, building and enhancing our UK Rail journey planner and our door-to-door multi-modal journey planner, my understanding of these tools and the underlying data at a technical level is a pivotal part of my contribution towards solutioning and identifying more ways in which we can provide better support and information for the end user- the rail passenger. I'm working on a separate innovation project at the moment that brings all of these aspects together to showcase what can be achieved to make it easier for the passenger to understand and navigate our complex public transport system in the UK.

What is the most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?

In my first job after University, I worked for a company building rail ticketing systems, ie the ticket vending machines, ticket gates, ticket office machines and the rest of the backend system. When we were finishing the project for a new railway line, I moved to Malaysia to help with the last bits of deployment, finishing, fixing and handing over of the support and maintenance to our client's staff. After being involved in building the system as part of the development team in England, it was a valuable insight to be immersed on the customer side, seeing it through their eyes in their environment and realising the difference between the requirements written down on paper and what was needed in the real world. It was a very interesting and rewarding experience and taught me to analyse every new feature we build not just from the perspective of the engineer but also through the eyes of the client and the eyes of the end user.

What are you most excited about in your role?

I love fixing things and finding solutions to problems and I get to do both of those in my role: identifying improvements to our existing product and working with our partners to help them achieve their goals. I am also passionate about the environment and what we can do as a society to reduce our carbon footprint and exist more sustainably. The work we're doing at SilverRail to help make rail more attractive and convenient to encourage travellers to travel via train rather than planes or cars, contributes towards that goal and it's exciting to be part of making that change happen.

And what’s the biggest challenge?

As most product managers would say, the juggling of priorities is an ongoing challenge, balancing supporting my colleagues across many lines within the business whilst also meeting the needs of our partners. Working in the UK rail industry itself is also definitely challenging- it needs modernising, simplifying and streamlining to make it more efficient and cost effective for both the operators and their passengers. It’s a big challenge but I feel we're making headway and I am positive about the direction it's heading.

What is your rail background?

I've worked in rail ticketing my whole career. I started initially as a software engineer before expanding my role into client support, project and product management, defining and building software for the ticketing equipment and gates at stations, the complex algorithms of journey planning and fare calculation, distribution and after-sales functionality. In my first job I was deeply involved in magnetic stripe tickets, building software for machines to encode the data onto the magnetic stripe and other machines to decode it. When I started my second job I was tasked with supporting their new client, my previous employer, to enhance the journey planner software to support magnetic encoding for ticket sales, resulting in the journey planner becoming capable of supporting ticket sales and the client's ticketing system was enhanced with journey planning capabilities to better support on-station staff and their end customers.

Where do you see the future of rail?

Rail is such a brilliant way to travel and move masses of people around in a more environmentally friendly way. The roads took over from the rails, but I hope rail will eventually take the traffic back from the roads. We are already seeing trains moving back into favour to reduce environmental impact. I think Maglev for frictionless movement and hydrogen fuel are really exciting innovations that could really futurise and decarbonise rail networks around the world. Frictionless movement of people within the system is also essential especially as numbers increase. A tap-and-go style of ticketing would help achieve this, but it needs to be such that the passengers never pay more than they need to, and without losing money-saving incentives such as group discounts or being able to plan and book in advance.

Describe what you were like at age 10.

At age 10 my favourite place was in the branches at the top of the tree in our front garden where I could see across the whole village. Despite being shy, I also had a grit determination and desire for adventure.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Anything outdoors to get away from my desk and the laptop! I love going out for a long run at the weekend and long countryside walks with friends and their dogs. For guilt-free retail therapy I'll spend a few hours foraging in the local charity shops and occasionally find a real gem to triumphantly take home. And I also do regular yoga and meditation to keep things in balance.

Do you have any interesting facts about yourself?

I like to challenge myself - without challenge and pushing beyond your limits you don't grow. I've backpacked around the world "on a shoestring" staying with locals and in hostels and campsites, making numerous memorable experiences. I did a tandem skydive when I was in New Zealand and whilst at University I abseiled off the top of the 14-storey tower block with no training (for charity, of course). And when I returned to the UK from Australia, thinking it would only be for a year I wanted to do something memorable and British - so I signed up for, trained all year and ran the London marathon!

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