James Barlow

James Barlow

What have you been doing since finishing your studies? What are you doing in terms of your career? 

I graduated in July 2014 and after enjoying my final summer off I started with Network Rail as a graduate engineer in September 2014. 

What company are you working for, what is your role and what does it involve?

As a graduate engineer at Network Rail I have the opportunity to rotate around the company. I have spent time with the various parts of the company on short placements learning about how the rail industry works. This varied from the train operating companies, to the signal boxes and out on the tracks with the maintenance "gangs". I have then undertaken long term engineering placements within drainage asset management, construction management and project engineering. I have a placement in design coming up. This is done to give us a rounded experience of the different priorities Network Rail have and also how the different engineering disciplines fit into that picture. Ultimately then shaping our career as we apply for jobs in our preferred area of the business in the summer of 2016. 

- Drainage Asset Management

Custodians of the current assets. I was responsible for assessing drainage issues and scoping up works to remedy them. This included response to flooding. Drainage in general is vital to the safe operation of the railway as faulty/inadequate drainage can lead to premature track faults or earthwork failures and flooding. 

- Construction Management

Most large scale railway infrastructure work is undertaken by contractors. Network Rail employs people to monitor the sites and ensure the contractors are sticking to the design, ensuring health and safety of the workforce and running to schedule as well as checking on the quality of the work. I was part of the team that did this and also included time spent on a tunnelling machine at Farnworth. Here a new tunnel (larger than the Crossrail tunnels) was dug underneath a major dual carriageway to allow for electrification. 

- Project Engineering

Project engineers work on enhancement/renewals projects and act as principle designer. Checking the designs to ensure compliance with Network Rail standards and ensuring construction plans are in place. I am currently spending time with this team and have worked on flood defence schemes, drainage and parapet works as well as visiting larger scale sites. 

What experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped with your career/will help with your future career?

The large amount of project work which gave me experience in writing technical reports. A large part of any graduate engineers time. The modules in construction/asset management were also very helpful as that is a large part of working for a client organisation in the engineering sector. 

Looking back, why did you choose to study your particular course and why did you choose to study transport engineering modules?

I chose civil engineering as I felt excited by the prospect of being involved in projects that help keep the world going. 

I wanted to work in the railway industry due to my interest in both engineering and the railways themselves. Transport makes up 2 of the top 3 largest sectors of civil engineering in the UK and so this also contributed to my decision to go into transport engineering. Leeds was one of only two universities I was considering with specific modules in transport and rail engineering. As I was sure the transport sector is where I would like to start my career Leeds really stood out as the place to study. 

Do you think studying transport module/s helped you in your career? If so, how?

The transport engineering modules and particularly the railway module helped me by giving me the knowledge required to be able to apply civil engineering to the transport sector. Especially given the wider consequences and influences on a transport scheme, being able to take a wider view is very beneficial. Working on transport is hugely different to just building a building, you can have hundreds of neighbours and run through so many different areas on just one project. 

What was the best aspect of the course/the University and why? Any highlights?

The large amount of project work was a highlight for me, much more closely represented how you work in a professional environment. Fortunately lots of them were travel related with various projects including an airport rail link and the HS2 Leeds leg. Also there is quite a bit of freedom to do your dissertation in your areas of interest. 

Having a rail specific module was another highlight for me, it is the 3rd largest civil engineering sector in the UK and deserves more focussed learning fore graduates wanting to go into the industry.

What other activities outside of your studies were you involved in?

I volunteered at the Keighley & Worth Valley Heritage Railway while at university. Volunteering within the civil maintenance department I was involved in track & infrastructure maintenance as well as large scale renewals and bridge repairs. The experiences gained there have helped me in my job at Network Rail in giving me basic hands on knowledge of how to maintain railway infrastructure. Since joining Network Rail my knowledge and experience has led to me taking on tasks which are helping me towards chartership. These have included an earthworks inspection, remedial works to a landslip, leading a flood review and controlling the departments Safety Management System. Getting this involved has been very rewarding by allowing me to take on responsibility early in my career. 

What would you say to students thinking about studying a civil engineering course with Transport at Leeds/thinking about the same career?

If you want to do Civil Engineering then transport is one of the most exciting sectors. Huge spend on infrastructure is required to meet the growing population. Projects such as the Northern Hub, HS2, Crossrail 2 and the smart motorway schemes are key to the UK's economic success and being a part of that is very satisfying. As is working as part of the vast team of engineers who keep what we have running, safely every day. The degree available at Leeds gives you a fantastic base of knowledge in which to go out and contribute to the industry. Don't get me wrong there is still so much to learn but knowing something to begin with is invaluable.