DC Fit Masthead

Women at Work: Emma Thomas

Laura Peppas

For someone responsible for one of Canberra’s largest projects, Emma Thomas seems relatively relaxed.

The Project Director of Capital Metro, who has been overseeing Canberra’s controversial light rail scheme for the past two years, has copped her fair share of criticism in that time but is adamant locals will “grow to love” the change.

“We’ve seen in Adelaide, when they did the light rail extension, it had massive media attacks for ages and it was very controversial,” she has previously said.

“The day it opened, it changed…people got very excited.”

In 2016 the Yarralumla resident will finally begin to see her vision come to life, with the first phase of construction to be completed.

And while she is passionate about the 12km project linking the city and the northern town centre of Gungahlin, Emma doesn’t see it as the “be all end all.”

“I think it’s a really good thing we’re doing, but I don’t want people’s choice for public transport to be light rail or nothing,” she says.

“It’s really important we integrate a public transport system so people can ride, walk, catch the bus or drive and park – I want everyone to have options. We’re part of the community too and I would really love to see a public transport system that gives us those choices.”

Emma Thomas.

Emma Thomas.

Originally from Adelaide, Emma grew up in Perth where she says she saw first-hand the benefits of public transport.

Her keen interest in engineering spurred from her father, who would routinely watch space shuttle launches when Emma was young.

“It was what people did during that time, so I was quite fascinated by it all,” she says.

“From a really young age I was pretty desperate to study aeronautical engineering.”

Emma learnt to fly in her first year of university; and by her final year she had joined the Royal Australian Air Force as an engineer.

Her time in the air force led her to senior roles such as the Vice President at Boeing, General Manager of RoadTek, State Rail Commissioner for South Australia and the Deputy Chief Executive of the Department of Main Roads and Transport in Queensland, where she gained extensive experience in helping to deliver large road and rail projects, including involvement with the Gold Coast Rapid Transit Project.

A highlight of the role was leading $5 billion worth of procurement, contracts and construction work in Queensland, including major road programs around post-flood recovery.

“I’m passionate about public transport for people in general, and giving people choice,” says Emma.

“I think it’s really important for us to cater to everyone.”

Artists impression

An artist impression of the light rail scheme.

Emma says working in a male-dominated industry had its challenges but believes times are changing.

“It’s hard to not notice when you’re the only girl in the room, but in recent years I’ve noticed more women are getting involved in the industry,” she says.

“I’ve got a really good bunch of women in the team. I think women have less boundaries now; and I’ve been really fortunate to have a good career in the air force.”

The challenges ahead for Emma and her team are substantial, with one of the most pressing to curb as much disruption as possible during the construction process.

“It’s about being able to answer the public’s questions to make sure we’re available enough for everyone, and about managing [any disruption] so people are not overly affected,” she says.

“It’s so exciting to be part of what the future will be, and to see the city flourish. Our primary task ahead is to make sure this system is something that is going to operate well for 20 years, and years to come.”


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author