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iRail 2017: Hands-on approach highlights wide-ranging rail careers

The eighth annual iRail event took place yesterday at Derby’s Pride Park stadium, giving 12 groups of secondary school children the chance to take part in an interactive design challenge designed to inspire young people into careers in the rail industry.

The bulk of the day centred around this year’s engineering challenge, which tasked pupils with building a paper bridge to go over a curved section of model track underneath it.

The bridge had to be wide enough to allow a model train carrying a tube to safely pass underneath, and students were judged on their designs based on whether they could hold the weight of a model train, as well as how cost-effective they were (teams had the choice to buy additional materials to improve their models) and how innovative their designs were.

The two top teams, Loughborough High School and Lady Manor were invited to present their completed designs, whilst explaining their choices and evaluating their work in front of the judges.

The eventual winners of the day were Loughborough High School, who were praised for thinking about using cylindrical and triangular shapes to make their structures stronger, as well as for opting to spend £100,000 of their budget on a ‘test’, allowing the team to analyse their bridge to make adjustments before handing it to the judges.

Earlier in the day, pupils were given a tour of Bombardier’s Derby facility, where they were taken through the manufacturing process behind rolling stock construction, as well as Network Rail’s base, where they were given a tour around the infrastructure owner’s mobile maintenance train.

iRail revolves around giving young people a hands-on approach to learning about jobs in the rail industry and making apprentice schemes visible to them, whilst also hosting a number of exhibitors including Network Rail, the RAIB and HS2 Ltd, among others.

Speaking to RTM, Simon Lidgett, senior HR business partner at Network Rail, said: “iRail is a great event, it brings young adults who have an interest in engineering out for real-life experiences like being shown around the mobile maintenance train where we can show them close-up what engineering is all about at.”

Lidgett also emphasised that rail careers do not have to be entirely about engineering, as he described Network Rail as “more than just an engineering company”.

He said: “We have financial, commercial and HR divisions, even though iRail is aimed at the engineering industry, it’s good to remind young people that there are other careers in rail as well.”

A number of engineers who had once been apprentices themselves were also attending the event as role models for the teenagers, discussing the positive impact these schemes can have on their career.

“Both Katie, our secretary manager of the mobile maintenance train, and Albert, an IP project manager, came in as apprentices,” Lidgett said. “Within Network Rail we have an apprenticeship scheme and graduate scheme so we are constantly looking to get young people in with energy and drive to be the next engineers.”

Alaistair Dunn, an assistant head teacher at Leeds Brook Community School, added: “It’s a fantastic opportunity for the pupils to see rather than get told what happens in these facilities.

“The visit to Bombardier and the rail repair facility allows them to get a hands-on look at what happens rather than be told by their teachers who don’t really know.

“I have seen people being inspired into engineering who may not have thought that engineering was a career for them. Seeing things being made makes such a difference to pupils.”

One pupil, Max Slater, 13, from George Spencer Academy in Nottinghamshire, told RTM he had enjoyed his experience at iRail: “I’ve found it fun. It’s challenging and definitely teaching us about things that I never thought I would have known before.

“I am thinking of being an engineer in the future and this is definitely helping me with making that decision.”

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