James Collinson

I work for Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain’s rail infrastructure.

James Coliinson My current position involves the management of engineering teams responsible for the maintenance of rail infrastructure assets such as Track, Signals and Power Distribution.

I have carried out various engineering roles within the rail industry since joining British Rail in 1992, following my graduation from University with a BEng (Hons) degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Since becoming Chartered, I have never stopped learning and developing as an engineer, but the biggest benefit has been the professional recognition from peers and managers it brings.  This has provided me with opportunities to make big changes in my career direction and has often been the deciding factor in job applications I have made. These opportunities for learning and career progression to a position of senior responsibility and significant autonomy meant that I was invited to apply for and was accepted as a Fellow Member of the IMechE in 2010.

In 1992, British Rail (as with a number of large companies at that time) had an engineering graduate trainee programme that was well established and accredited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

I saw British Rail’s programme as an ideal opportunity to get the engineering experience and skills I needed to achieve Chartered status, then use this as a springboard to move to another industry to broaden my engineering horizons.  However I have never looked back and have never needed to leave the rail industry to get the engineering challenges I thrive on.

I applied for Chartered Engineer status when I was 25 years old, having had training, work placements, then permanent positions in jobs such as Industrial Engineer and Shift Production Manager.  This variety gave me the balanced set of skills and experience vital to being a well-rounded professional engineer.

For three years after becoming Chartered, I continued to apply my engineering knowledge to the assets I had been trained on, Traction and Rolling Stock; focusing on train maintenance and overhaul.  I ended this part of my career on a high, as the Depot Manager of a large train care facility in Leeds.

In October 2000, I felt it was time for something different - engineering management of track and infrastructure assets.  Being a Chartered Engineer, meant it was recognised that I had the ability to transfer my skills and knowledge to these fixed railway assets.  I spent two years, gaining an invaluable engineering insight into the railway as a system - trains on tracks.

This enabled me to take on and develop a role - now common in Network Rail - that of a Train/Infrastructure Interface Engineer.  This is a Network Rail employed train engineer, who works with train operators to optimise the engineering interfaces between train and infrastructure systems, for example, wheel and rail, signalling and current collection.

The development of this role, and ultimately my appointment as the Engineering Professional Head for Plant and Trains in Network Rail, took me back to being responsible for detailed engineering design activities. Engineering changes made by my teams had a national impact on the railway in terms of system reliability, performance and sustainability.  Being able to influence the industry in this way was extremely rewarding and way beyond the expectations of the British Rail graduate trainee I started out as!

I am now in what I would consider the ‘third stage’ of my engineering career.  I work at a senior level in the company as a general manager of maintenance and engineering functions - reporting directly to Group Directors.  I continue to use my engineering skills and knowledge, but at a high level and across a wide range of disciplines including Electrification, Plant, Signalling, Telecommunications and Track.  Being a Chartered Engineer plays a vital part in what I do and how people recognise my capabilities.  I can honestly say that I do not think I would be here today without it.

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