I work for London Underground, on the Sub-Surface Upgrade Project.
This is a major project, comprising the replacement of trains and signals on all of the sub-surface lines on the Underground system, namely the Hammersmith and City, District, Circle and Metropolitan.
I work in an engineering team that identifies and schedules all work necessary to facilitate running the new rolling stock on the railway. This is extremely complex, particularly as the trains are significantly longer than those existing. This has a major impact not only with respect to platform lengths, but also signalling (the new fleet will be running with the old signalling in place for a number of years) track layout and a host of other minor assets.
I started my engineering career with a thick sandwich course – one year in industry before university, all summer holidays with that employer, and one year after. I worked for a bearing company, based in Chelmsford, which has long since closed, as is the case with so many high volume low cost manufacturers unable to complete with competition from lower cost base overseas producers.
I moved on to work, for the first time, for London Underground, where I completed the necessary stages to gain Chartership. At first I worked within the graduate scheme, starting at Acton Works (where all trains were stripped down to component level and rebuilt every ten years) and moving on to Neasden depot. After the training scheme I joined the train test section, responsible for resolving all rolling stock suspension and fatigue issues. This, ironically, forced me to bring up to speed the areas I had fared worst with on my degree course, namely dynamics and pure maths. It was far easier learning in a work scenario where the application and purpose was clear.
I made a conscious decision to keep as technical as possible at this stage, knowing this is a key priority for the Chartership interview panels and report assessors. I wanted to expand my rolling stock knowledge, and moved into the control section, where I was the engineer for the replacement auto-driver box project on the Victoria Line and the availability improvement project for Piccadilly line fault display systems.
A further desire for diversification led me to leave the Underground and join a building services consultancy. My first project, inevitably, was to survey the entire Underground system, all rooms, all stations, all offices and record all assets. My familiarity of the underground was now extensive, but I had also picked up new asset knowledge. After three years, and using this knowledge, I joined Taylor Woodrow as the Engineer for St. Katharine Docks. This diverse role included not only the design and implementation of an asset management system, contract management and capital works engineering, but also the day to day management of the M&E assets about the estate.
In the early 90’s I decided that I would like to be part of a major project, and joined the Jubilee Line Extension team, eventually based at canary Wharf, as project manager / engineer for the works rolling stock: a fleet of locomotives and specialist wagons. This involved all stages from ITT, design review, and progress chasing to management of maintenance and trouble-shooting in service. I was also the fleet manager for the five passenger trains used for testing at Stratford Market depot.
With the JLE complete, I led the team providing engineering input into the PPP design process, advising on the best method to implement the decision to divide the network into separate Infracos. I eventually joined one of the Infracos, where I provided engineering advice to the business planning teams.
However, I needed to get closer to engineering again, and moved to the engineering planning role for the District line. This was a pivotal role, as the Infracos were, quite appropriately, cut organisationally into asset areas – asset knowledge being the paid-for expertise. It was necessary to however to ensure the various asset plans were compatible, and the role fully exploited the wide asset base experience I had consciously gained
When Metronet ceased to exist, I was appointed Engineer – Piccadilly Line Upgrade. This required most of what I leant to date, but also needed a rapid learning of LU’s assurance processes. The project has now been deferred, and I still advise on the best alternative plans to keep the line running, but on a day-to-day basis the Sub-Surface Upgrade project keeps me more than busy.
Like most careers, I have been the victim and beneficiary of circumstance, and like all engineers cannot say that I ever had a plan to get from 18 to retirement, but I have always kept in mind the need to diversify my knowledge base as much as possible. Mechanical engineering is a huge topic, and there will of course be a need to specialise and develop an expertise useful to an employer. However, even within an asset discipline there are many areas of activity – from project management to planning, from design to maintenance. Even if you do eventually specialise, knowing the issues that your colleagues face will be a most useful string to anyone’s bow.