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Rail-relevant research from Next Generation Rail

Next Generation Rail brought together the best of academia and industry. RTM’s Kate Ashley reports from an engaging RRUKA event.


he Rail Research UK Association (RRUKA) hosted its fi rst Next Generation Rail

conference at The Crystal in London on July 16 and 17, enlisting academics and engineers from across the rail sector to help promote rail to a younger audience of researchers and students.

The conference aimed to bring them all together to offer networking opportunities for a career in rail. A series of presentations showcased the variety of projects academia throughout the UK is currently working on, with a high degree of relevance to everyday problems faced by the rail industry.

Chaired by Southampton University’s William Powrie, a contributor to Rail Technology Magazine, the event saw graduates compete for prizes in the best poster and best presentation categories, as well as designing promotional materials to help encourage more young people into rail.

Blues skies

Powrie opened the conference with a call for “blue skies thinking for real world problems”. He described the rail industry as a “diverse” sector, with huge opportunities to meet people from different disciplines. The RRUKA aims to bring people together to boost research relevant to the railways and therefore employment and growth in the UK, he explained.

The Next Generation Rail conference would help to encourage young people to become involved in rail, thus meeting huge demand on infrastructure projects and new services.

Next it was the academics’ turn, with a series of speakers presenting their work and demonstrating how it can be applied to rail.

The presentations covered a wide range of rail research, from regenerative braking to masonry arch bridges, how rail can learn from other industries and models to predict asset failures.

The winner of the best research presentation was Nicole Badstuber from University College London for her work on the introduction of aerospace materials to rail.

22 | rail technology magazine Aug/Sep 13

She received a placement with Alstom and £100 cash prize.

Jonathan Powell, from Newcastle University, won the best poster competition for his design of railway systems for low energy transport and received a £100 cash prize.

Making strides

Sue Gill, project director for NSARE, highlighted the UK as “the fastest growing overground railway in Europe”, with passenger numbers growing year-on-year and freight activity “booming”.

She set out the need to act now to avoid a growing skills gap, with an estimated 2,500 technicians and engineers needed over the next fi ve years.

New, skilled people will be needed in all areas, but especially in traction and rolling stock, which has a particularly skewed age profi le.

In short, there are “huge opportunities and huge demand”. The ageing workforce is another factor to consider, as is the shocking lack of women working in rail engineering – just 4%.

Sector skills council People 1st estimates in its ‘State of the Nation Report 2013: Passenger Transport and Travel’ that the entire rail industry (including drivers, on-board staff and station workers, for example) is split 80%-20% men to women.

NSARE has been making strides to help the industry address these gaps, as reported in RTM over the past year.

The current initiatives requiring focus are: a new national traction and rolling stock academy at Siemens’ facility at Northampton King’s Heath; a feasibility study for the need of skills to support ERTMS; and further development of SkillsID, the new career and training record for all rail staff.

Gill ended her presentation with a challenge for the young researchers: what is the best way to show how exciting the UK rail industry is?

Next Generation Rail

It’s a question that fi t perfectly with the RRUKA challenge, and recognised that delegates are in an ideal position to design and develop promotional materials to attract the next generation to follow in their footsteps.

They have far more in common with the target audience than the average rail worker, and can use this knowledge to tailor an approach that works, getting schoolchildren and undergraduates excited about working in rail.

The prize for encouraging primary school children into the railway industry went to the New Railways team, who created a ‘How would you build HS2?’ exhibit for the Big Bang fair, where it will be displayed next year.

‘The Massive Statistics’ won the prize for a video aimed at university graduates, presenting rail as an accessible career from a number of different disciplines. The video is now live on the RRUKA website.

Huddersfi eld University, winners of this year’s IMechE Railway Challenge, presented their entry and delegates also heard a fi rst-hand account of a career in rail from Amanda White, senior route engineer with HS2.

RTM’s Roy

Rowlands was a keynote speaker on the second day of the event. He explained why RTM has launched the UK Rail Industry Training

Trust (UKRITT), a charity that encourages young people to consider a career in rail, which has been given £5,000 start-up funding by the magazine and which will also be the recipient of 20% of the proceeds from next year’s UK Rail Industry Awards (UKRIA).


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