Rail Industry Focus


Gen Y Rail champions crowned

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2014

It’s been a tremendous first year for Gen Y Rail and the UK Rail Industry Training Trust. David Stevenson reports from the last few regional competitions and the national final, and hears from the people from across the rail industry who helped make it all happen.

wo teams from the north west have been crowned the first national Gen Y Rail champions in a fiercely fought contest at Network Rail’s Westwood training facility.

In the under-16s category EBA Bright Lights, an all-girl team from Eaton Bank Academy, took the top honours; and in the over-16s segment, an all-boys team from Stockport College – Total Train Innovation – were named the winners.

During the final, 15 teams from the regional heats, including the north east, north west, east and west midlands, were tasked with taking on a two-part challenge.

First they needed to consider the effects, environmental impacts and the need to communicate with stakeholders in opening a disused railway line; and secondly they were tasked with designing a new station with a limited budget of £30m.

Early in the day, Kash Ratyal and Alice Cooper, both of whom are project managers for Network Rail on the £600m Birmingham New Street redevelopment, discussed the ideas behind the work, the importance of engaging with stakeholders and the long-term benefits the project will bring to the city, in an attempt to give the students some ideas and inspiration for the challenge.

Speaking to RTM about the challenge the students faced, Ratyal said: “They had a budget of £30m to deliver the project, but it was interesting to see how they thought about the challenge and tackled the needs of the stakeholders and all those involved. Once they got going they really got into it.”

As a minimum for the station designs, the students were told they needed to include a roof structure, external cladding, vertical access power, paving, platforms, flooring, entrances and a choice of six shops.

The judging panel of industry experts evaluated the concepts in terms of the understanding of the challenge, showing innovation and creativity, the realistic nature of the proposed solution, and how the teams presented themselves.

Innovative station designs

Proposals included plans to use multi-directional escalators to deal with congestion at different times of the day in the stations, the use of wind turbines and solar panels to make the structures energy self-sufficient, and the importance of keeping stakeholders engaged on the development, commercial and environmental aspects of the programme.

Nick Spall, route delivery director LNW North at Network Rail and one of the judges, said it was difficult to pick a winner. “Certainly, judging it was extremely difficult, especially as the kids are unconstrained from the usual thought processes we have as we get older.”


But in the end, in the under-16s category, Eaton Bank Academy’s team EBA Bright Lights took the national title with their design, which was all about creating a ‘social hub’ station.

They were unable to stick within the £30m budget, going £8m over, but they explained how their design could recoup the money through optimum use of on-site commercial opportunities, including a cinema and rooms to hire for professional and social meetings. They were also keen on keeping the station as eco-friendly as possible using innovative heating methods.

Ellie Harrison, 14, said: “We’re pretty shocked to have won this. We tried to include everything we could in the design without making it boring.

“We were slightly over-budget, by £8m, but we justified it by making it an entertainment and social hub.

“After attending the Gen Y Rail events, I know I definitely want to be an engineer and it has made us all aware of the opportunities in engineering.”

One of the Network Rail people acting as a mentor for the day, Joelle Caldarelli, said how great it was to see the students tackling the difficult challenges, but asking the right questions.

She was also happy to see the mix of boys and girls present in the final. Speaking to RTM, she said: “I think the event is great and it is brilliant to see so many students taking part, especially girls. I really think that promoting more awareness in engineering and the various roles available is key to getting the best talent.”

Jenny Angus, the teacher accompanying EBA Bright Lights, said: “I’m massively proud, the girls have really been fired up by it. The thought of railways and engineering doesn’t really sound particularly exciting but it has really opened up their eyes to what the railway business is all about. There are at least two of them who are very keen to pursue careers in engineering.

“But all round, the events, including the heats, have been great in getting the students to understand what is involved with a major project and then having to present, and organising yourselves to present it – all those skills are transferable. It would be brilliant to see more events like this, and they will go back to school absolutely buzzing.”


In the over-16s category, there was talk of using floor tiles to help power the station by converting energy from high footfall into electricity, and ticket scanners designed to help passengers locate their trains.

But, after much debate, the judges finally decided that Stockport College’s team – Total Train Integration – deserved the top honour.

As part of their concept, the three-man team of BTEC Engineering students wanted to build a minimalistic looking station. They chose a glass exterior to cut down on lighting during the day, while keeping a clean, clear design easy to access for all.

They were also one of the few teams to stay within budget, delivering the project for £27m, with the opportunity to bring the cost down further.

Alex Robinson, 19, said: “It is excellent to win it, the team did really well. There was a lot of tough competition out there, so we weren’t really expecting it.

“And, having attended the heat and now the final, we have been inspired by what the rail industry has to offer and we are considering the career opportunities available.”

His colleague, Lewis Rodgers, 18, added that before the final, and the Manchester heat, he hadn’t considered a career in rail – but is now.

All of the winning students in each team received a £50 iTunes voucher for their efforts, and their school or college received £200 worth of Amazon vouchers.

Getting into rail

During the day the students had the opportunity to talk with exhibitors, including the University of

Birmingham and telent. They also heard from recent graduate Dominic Mottram, project management assistant at Network Rail, who discussed all the various ways to enter the industry through apprenticeships, degrees, placements and more.

He told them to get as much experience as they could, to help make an informed decision.

After studying for a degree in public transport, Mottram entered Network Rail through the graduate scheme. “It’s really, really cool. I get to build and play with some fascinating technology,” he said.

Julianna Moats, from the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research & Education, also talked about the opportunities to study and develop a career in rail research. She added: “There are a lot of opportunities in academia. It is a great time to be in this industry, and it is a great time to be a young person in this industry.”

Representatives of Gen Y Rail’s partner event in the East Midlands, iRail, now in its fifth year, were also in attendance.

iRail chairman Dave Saunders said: “Tying Gen Y and iRail together has been vital, because we didn’t have the ability within the East Midlands to spread into other areas, although we could see there was a need and appetite for it elsewhere. It’s great to see that the initial idea has been developed to this stage.

“Obviously Network Rail are very much engaged with it, and that is fantastic, but I still feel there are many more companies that need to recognise the need for this, and be prepared to fund it.”


After announcing the winners, Network Rail’s Nick Spall told RTM that hopefully it has sunk in with some of the students that there are great opportunities to work in the rail industry.

“I do hope to see them back here in the future. It was especially heartening to see the percentage of girls who were taking part. In fact, in the under-16s category, it was an all-girls team that won and it was great to see they had a really good grasp of the challenges set for them,” he said.

“If only 5-10% of the students who come to these events come our way, into the rail sector, then it is a job well done. I certainly hope that Gen Y Rail can continue to grow, and with all the exciting developments and investment in infrastructure – particularly in rail over the next 25 years – it is these boys and girls who are going to be delivering it.

“We need to think about catching their interest early, and getting them enthused and planning their careers and further education to gear up for them coming into our industry. We have to do events like Gen Y – and Network Rail are happy to have been

able to support it as much as we have.”

Gen Y Rail was launched by RTM’s UK Rail Industry Training Trust (UKRITT) to inspire and engage young people aged 11-19 about the exciting and diverse career opportunities in rail.

It has received cross-industry support from rail businesses and educational institutions including Network Rail, Hitachi Rail Europe, Siemens, Northern Rail, Manchester City Council, the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, Newrail at Newcastle University, Newcastle College, WMG, AECOM, telent, Pera Training, South West Trains, The Big Bang, Mission Room, Manchester Metropolitan University, HS2, NSARE and many more.

Just a few weeks before the national final, the  last two regional Gen Y Rail heats took place in the West Midlands and north west.

West Midlands heat

At the West Midlands heat – also held at Network Rail’s Westwood facility – more than 20 teams from schools and colleges across the region competed to design a train to meet the challenges of the future.

The ‘futuristic’ train had to transport 100 students, 10 teachers, 20 Network Rail staff and a freight object.

Katie Ferrier, programme manager on the Central electrification scheme at Network Rail, said: “Railway is an old piece of infrastructure, but since 2004 we have run an extra million trains every year, we carry a billion more passengers, and are investing £20bn in the next five years to improve capacity and reliability.

“It is a massive challenge for all of us, and we need the best engineers to come up with the solutions of the challenges in the future to ensure the network is rebuilt for the 21st century.”

Many students told RTM how excited they were to tackle their own challenge, which was extremely complex. Connor Hunt, 18, from City College Coventry, said it had really sparked an interest in rail.

Currently studying electrical engineering at college, Hunt said: “Coming here today has opened my eyes to what rail has to offer. Rail is growing, and there are lots of opportunities with HS2. When I get to the stage of applying for jobs, I think it will be really interesting to see how I can get involved in HS2.”

His team came up with an innovative, eco-friendly train incorporating solar and wind energy.

Although many of the teenagers turned up knowing only the most basic facts about rail, by the end of the day they were talking about articulated bogies, carbon fibre bodyshells, and diesel-electric hybrid engines.

Automated trains were also a favourite with the students, and ensuring passengers received the best service on board during their journeys.

Peter Moir, head of operations for rail at telent, said: “There have been some amazing concepts. We were quite amazed and surprised about some of the great ideas the students had.

“I’m sure we’ll be taking on some of the ideas ourselves!”

The teams that made it through to the final from the event were 3 Amigos and Team 13 from William Brookes Academy; ‘The Future’ from Sandwell College; and 4 Lions from City College Coventry in the over-16s category. Team Bruce Wayne from Adcote School For Girls made it through in the Under-16s segment.

Team Bruce Wayne, who tried to get trending on Twitter during their efforts in the national final, said they couldn’t believe they’d made it through after competing against so many “top quality opponents”.

As well as reaching the final, all the students received the British Science Association’s CREST Discovery award.

David Ward, the association’s director of partnerships, said that promoting STEM to as many young people is vital in encouraging and stimulating their creativity.

During the day at Westwood, Rhianne Cakebread, project manager at Network Rail, talked about her ‘amazing’ adventure through Network Rail’s advanced apprenticeship programme. She was among those to appear in the company’s publicity photos promoting its apprenticeship scheme back in 2010, as a signalling and telecoms apprentice at Basingstoke.

She told RTM: “What is so good about the scheme is that you get trained, get your qualifications, get paid in your final year, and at the end of it you are guaranteed a job.

“Honestly, I can’t think of a better industry to be working in.”

Tim Priestley, project manager in the central electrification team at Network Rail, added that Gen Y is great because it gets the students working on really complex challenges.

He added: “From my experience of working in rail for the last four years, I can’t imagine working anywhere else. It wasn’t presented to me early on as a career option, but if these events had been around it would’ve helped me make my decision earlier.

“Gen Y Rail can only help encourage people to take advantage of this huge industry that has gone under the radar historically.”

Bill Templeton, Network Rail’s education programme manager, said he was extremely proud of all the students and how they tackled the challenges. He added that Network Rail was also happy to be helping promote the “vibrancy” of the rail industry through supporting Gen Y Rail.

The challenge

The actual concept of designing a ‘futuristic’ train in the Gen Y Rail events had its genesis at the Rail Education Group at NewRail at Newcastle University. Its manager, Dr Marin Marinov, told RTM he wanted to help create a challenge that was reasonably simple, but also entertaining for the age group.

“The students did well and followed the objectives, showing their creativity. Their creative thinking was provoked and they demonstrated they are capable of thinking out of the box,” he said. “I genuinely believe we should keep running the Gen Y events, and it should become a tradition, because it is very important to secure this exposure at the early stage.”

His research assistant Anna Fraszczyk, a STEM ambassador, added that it was amazing to see the response from schools, which were really positive and interested.

She added: “It’s a great idea to have the event rolled out across the country, and we really want to see it continued into next year and beyond – perhaps with a slightly different challenge. We are really positive about it.”

The north east played host to the first Gen Y Rail regional heat back in February – there was coverage in RTM’s February/March 2014 edition.

North west heat

In the north west heat, which took place in Manchester’s stunning Town Hall, four teams made it through to the final: two teams from the under-16s and two from the over-16s.

However, like at all the other heats, trying to pick a winner was extremely hard for the judges. One of the judges, Dr Crinela Pislaru, senior lecturer at the Institute of Railway Research (IRR), University of Huddersfield, told RTM: “The exchange of ideas from across the region has been so positive, and done in an extremely ‘fair play’ environment.

“It has been really refreshing to see the ideas from all of the teams, and I am very glad to see an equal number of boys and girls participating. I am very keen to encourage children to study STEM subjects. These types of events can only help in stimulating interest in these areas going forward.”

Throughout the day, 16 teams competed against each other, with ideas ranging from driverless trains through to e-ticketing, solar power back-ups through to electromagnetised carriages.

The most innovative idea of the day, though, had to go to one of the teams from Stockport College – The Stockportables. The all-boy outfit talked about using a new product called aero-gel, which has extreme insulation properties and is currently being tested by the armed forces, to improve insulation on the train.

Not surprisingly then, the Stockportables was one of the teams to make it through to the final in the over-16s category alongside its college counterpart, Total Train Integration, which eventually went on to take the national title in this segment.

Saima Latiff, lecturer in the engineering department at Stockport College, said: “I think it is great that these events allow the students to showcase their own abilities. They have shown that they are understanding their learning, applying it and putting it into practice.

“You can see the students coming together and bringing their talent together. I think the lads are shocked [to have won], but I’m very proud of them. This event overlaps with so many different partners in the industry, but brings them together under one umbrella.

“We need more events like these.”

Making rail an easy decision

One of the team members of the Stockportables is also about to start his career the rail industry. Stephen Kelly, 19, has now been accepted onto Network Rail’s apprenticeship scheme, after going to Stockport College to do his BTEC in engineering.

He told RTM: “Originally I applied for the programme at 16, but I didn’t have the right qualifications as I was doing economics, law, psychology and biology. I didn’t like the subjects, and so decided to go to Stockport College to do my BTEC in engineering. I applied again and got through.

“I’m doing the electrification programme, but you can choose track or signalling as well.

“If I had been given a chance to attend an event like Gen Y Rail before I went to college the first time, I would

have made my decision sooner. If you’re in a company like Network Rail there are chances to move around. They’ve actually already told me that once I have the qualification you can move from electrification to track, signalling, whatever. Once you’re in, you’re in.”

In the under-16s event, eventual Gen Y Rail champions EBA Bright Lights made it through after presenting a very professional business case, and Chorlton High School’s Chorlton Carriages also made it through.

The event had kicked off with Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, addressing the audience. He kindly ensured that space at the Town Hall was donated for the event, which he strongly supports.

He said: “We have just entered a new golden age in the railway industry, passenger numbers have grown massively, and all predictions are that this will continue. This means that there are fantastic career opportunities for people to enter the rail industry – and not always on the railways themselves.

“If you go down to Manchester Victoria station at the moment you will see a fantastic new roof being built there, and this has led to lots of construction jobs. But with the electrification of the railway line between Manchester and Liverpool, and the start of the Northern Hub project, which is freeing up more space for more services, lots and lots of jobs will be available.

“We will need graduate and apprentice engineers to build this new infrastructure. And then there is HS2, which is estimated to create 50,000 jobs across the network. As well as building the railway lines, we’ll need people to maintain, operate and service the trains. There is a skills shortage and we need more people to enter the professions. Hopefully today will have opened your eyes to the careers in operating and maintaining our railway.”

At the event, where Alstom and Northern Rail were among the exhibitors, Alstom apprentices also discussed how they got into the industry through university, college and apprenticeships. Emily O’Connor, assistant project manager at Colas and a judge at the event, also highlighted how she made it onto the company’s graduate scheme and how the programme has also helped her work towards her IMechE chartership while also working in various areas of the business.

She added: “I’m extremely happy to be working in a diverse industry, where no two days are the same and the possibilities are endless.”

Going forward with Gen Y

Jim Hubbard, director of STEM development at Newcastle College, also told RTM that all the people involved with the Gen Y Rail events have found them beneficial and have really enjoyed the days.

“I think this event could catch on going forward. The kids have had a great benefit from the event and it gave them an opportunity to think about rail and look at rail in a different light.”

Anna Holness, managing partner of passenger services practice at O2, said the students at these events are the future and the ideas they have come up with are fantastic. “Events like Gen Y are what we need in the industry to keep the ideas fresh and bring on the next generation of talent.”

Network Rail’s Marian Molloy, HR business partner for  Infrastructure Projects (Central), was one of the people who helped make the event a success, and she remarked on what a “fantastic” idea Gen Y Rail was. She helped arrange both the West Midlands event and the national final at Westwood.

RTM’s Roy Rowlands, Trustee of the UK Rail Industry Training Trust and Gen Y Rail organiser, said it has been a “fantastic journey” with all the Gen Y events this year, and it has been fascinating to see the interest, ideas and innovation displayed by both the students and industry at the events.

He is extremely keen to keep promoting Gen Y and, hopefully, expanding the programme in the next year. “In the first year we have seen there is a genuine interest and appetite out there for these types of events. I just hope we can do more of the same, but even bigger and better going forward. The best way we can do this and take Gen Y forward, though, is with even more industry involvement.”

Schools and colleges in the final

•  William Brookes Academy

•  Sandwell College

•  Derby College

•  Adcote School

•  Eaton Bank Academy

•  Chorlton High School

•  Framwellgate Academy

•  Oxclose Academy

•  Bemrose High School

•  Westpark High School

•  Stockton Sixth Form College

•  Stockport College

•  City College Coventry

West Midlands competitors

The West Midlands teams were drawn from:

Adcote School For Girls

Sandwell College

City College Coventry

William Brookes Academy

North west competitors

Westhoughton High School

St Peter’s RC High School

Whalley Range 11-18 High School

Southern Cross School

Eaton Bank Academy

Neston High School

Riverside College

Chorlton High School

Wigan UTC Acadmey

Stockport College

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


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