Rail Industry Focus


Exploring the design, construction and operation of railways

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2013

Dr Kevin Stenson, newly appointed chief executive at The Smallpeice Trust, a charitable trust that promotes engineering to young people, explains more about its work and residential railway engineering course programmes. 

The railway engineering industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK, with the demand for qualified engineers at its peak – and yet leading rail companies are struggling to recruit engineers within this fast-paced sector. 

It is thought that a serious STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills shortage coupled with the railway industry’s ‘less-than glamorous’ perception amongst young people are contributing factors, which is why educational charity The Smallpeice Trust has joined forces with organisations including iRail, the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering, to encourage young people to consider railway engineering and railway systems engineering as a possible future career. 

Founded in 1966 by pioneering engineer and inventor Dr Cosby Smallpeice, The Smallpeice Trust is an independent charitable trust which promotes engineering as a career to young people aged 10 to 18 through a range of STEM activities including subsidised residential courses, in-school STEM Days, STEM clubs and teacher training to enhance the delivery of STEM in the classroom. Over the last four years The Smallpeice Trust has promoted railway engineering to over 4,000 young people through their railway STEM Days and residential courses. 

The railway STEM Days see students design and build railway bridges and vehicles, carefully considering a range of factors while tailoring their designs to set specifications. Students not only learn what it takes to become a railway engineer but also develop their problem-solving, team-working and time management skills. 

In addition to the railway STEM Days, The Smallpeice Trust’s residential course programme has seen four Railway Engineering courses for 13 and 14 year olds take place at university locations across the country and a further three more advanced Railway Systems Engineering courses for 15 to 17 year olds at the University of Birmingham. Both courses enable students to explore the design, construction and operational elements of railways and what our future railways could look like while giving them the opportunity to work alongside real-life engineers from leading rail companies such as Babcock Rail, FirstGroup plc, National Express, Network Rail and Transport for London. 

Companies such as these are keen to promote careers in railway engineering as it not only boosts their corporate profile amongst some of the UK’s future engineers, it also demonstrates to young people what valuable careers are on offer within this exciting industry. 

Micaela Briscoe, a student at Oldfield School, described the Railway Engineering course at the University of Bath, saying: “The course was extremely beneficial to me as I learnt loads about how each [rail] company is intertwined with another, how they work together to make our railways safer and how they compromise with each other in order to make our journey that little bit more comfortable and enjoyable…It has shown me that engineering is a growing sector that needs engineers to fuel its growth, and as young students, we are the future for this growth.”

Bubune Anthony from Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle School, who attended the Railway Systems Engineering course at the University of Birmingham, said: “What I liked most about the course was the whole process of designing our train models for the competition. This is because it enabled me to see how train manufacturers go about their jobs, whilst experiencing the work done by engineers specialised in the design of trains. We had to brainstorm ideas, build prototypes, test each one, locate the flaws in our designs and then finally put everything together into our final product.” 

With growing demands for better UK rail services and the proposed plans for HS2 well underway, the railway engineering sector is proving to be an increasingly exciting discipline to work in, with more and more opportunities becoming readily available. 

HS2 alone is set to create over 40,000 jobs over the coming years, which is why The Smallpeice Trust recognises how important it is to expose young people to this vital sector in a bid to bridge the skills gap, and make this type of engineering more attractive and accessible to today’s youth. Thanks to generous support from our sponsors, we are pleased to be able to offer students such a range of railway engineering related activities and hope that we can continue to do so in the future.


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