I joined British Rail Research in 1977 where, as a mathematics graduate, I was fortunate to be offered an engineering role in the vehicle dynamics department. BRR arranged for me to do three months Engineering Practical training at Loughborough University but I was not on a formal training scheme. I soon found that railway engineering in general, and vehicle-track interaction in particular, was a fascinating area and gave me lots of scope for an interesting career.
As I didn’t have an accredited Mechanical Engineering degree I had to wait a little longer to apply for IMechE membership and demonstrate experience in lieu of training. I was keen to be registered as a Chartered Engineer to demonstrate that, in spite of the maths degree, I was a ‘real’ engineer.
Within BR Research, and its various successor companies post privatisation, I was involved in the development and application of computer simulation methods, in full scale on-track testing and a large number of consultancy projects. Quite early in my career I was also given an opportunity to get involved in European committees looking at vehicle-track interaction and I have very much enjoyed the discussions with international colleagues who have different backgrounds and experience.
Vehicle-track interaction covers a wide range of topics and I have worked on ride and passenger comfort, derailment risk and investigation (including occasionally on site), track forces and track deterioration, track geometry, vehicle testing and the details of the wheel-rail interface. I have also been responsible for work in related areas such as structural testing, noise and vibration or aerodynamics. I will never be an expert in many of these fields but I have enjoyed learning and I hope I have managed to pick up enough to know what questions to ask.
I have managed teams and departments of up to 60 staff and the associated budgets. I also spent some years involved in rolling stock approvals, assessing the compliance of new or modified vehicles with the relevant standards. This gave me an insight into how standards are applied in practice which I have tried to retain now I’m on the other side of the fence.
I joined RSSB in 2008 and am enjoying the wide range of activities that I am involved in. Standards may sound like a dry subject but having appropriate standards in place in GB and more widely in Europe is fundamental to being able to run a safe, cost effective railway system. As well as technical understanding of the topics being considered it also requires a range of people skills as most standards organisations (and certainly RSSB) make decisions by consensus. This means that differences in approach or particular concerns from other members need to be understood and tackled to avoid stalemate at a later stage. Progress sometimes seems slow but it is worth it if the end result is a useable, practical standard that helps the railway move forward. The research projects that I am contributing to, some GB based and some in a broader European context also demonstrate that there are still plenty of technical challenges in the railway field to occupy me, and future railway engineers, for many years yet.