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Rail academy construction progressing at pace

Industry efforts to deliver world-class training facilities for the next generation of rail workers are progressing at apace, as government ministers visited two sites this week.

On Wednesday, transport secretary Chris Grayling visited the Birmingham site for the National College of High Speed Rail, which has now completed its roof structure, putting it on track to open in September 2017.

Grayling said: “The UK is highly regarded for its engineering capabilities but we need to do more to attract new talent to the sector as well as improving the skills of the current workforce.

“The National College for High Speed Rail is a vital part of these plans as it will provide the cutting-edge skills we need to deliver HS2 and other world-beating infrastructure.”

It was also announced that Clair Mowbray has been appointed as the new CEO of the college, replacing John Evans. Speaking at iRail earlier this year, Evans said that the college would “transform the image of the rail industry”.

Terry Morgan, chair of the college, said: “I’m extremely pleased to appoint Clair as the new Chief Executive of the National College for High Speed Rail. Her commitment and passion for education and strategic development will be vital as we move closer to opening the college.”

Rail minister Paul Maynard then attended the ground-breaking ceremony at Alstom’s new technology centre and training academy in Widnes.

He said: “We believe Britain can lead the world in the booming global rail industry but we need a modern, highly skilled workforce to achieve this.  That is why this new academy is an exciting and very welcome development for the North West."

Nick Crossfield, managing director for Alstom in the UK and Ireland, added that the company will create it very own rail campus, “bringing together our experienced team with the next generation of engineers and apprentices”.

The €25m centre is expected to open in May 2017 and deliver up to 600 jobs and 15,000 days of training a year. The first project it will host is re-painting the Pendolino fleet of 56 Class 390 ‘tilting’ trains used by Virgin on the West Coast Main Line, and Crossfield said he hoped it could be used in the future to build trains for projects such as the New Tube for London.

Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) annual Rail Lecture this week, Sir Peter Hendy, chair of Network Rail, said the industry needed to develop new skills and develop a diverse workforce.

There have been positive steps in the direction of making up the rail workforce shortfall, such as the launch of a Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce. Hopefully these two new academies will mark a major step forward in encouraging both apprentices and graduates to build a career in the industry.

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