New generation of rail engineers unveiled as education secretary opens high tech college in Doncaster

A new generation of rail engineers has walked through the doors at Doncaster's latest college looking to create fresh railway history in the borough.

Day one at the National College for High Speed Rail saw its first intake of students vie for space with the movers and shakers of business, politics and education, as the first steps of building a bright new future in the traditions of Mallard and Flying Scotsman were taken.

Education secretary Justine Greening at the National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster

Education secretary Justine Greening at the National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster

Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, officially launched the college at Doncaster Lakeside on Monday, weeks ahead of the organisation's second site, which is in Birmingham.

The new employer-led college is the largest of five new national colleges created by Government to ensure British workers can learn world-class skills. The development has been supported by Doncaster Council who helped to secure funding for the scheme as well as being involved with the design and construction of the college.

With a second campus in Birmingham, the new college will train 150 learners across both site during the 2017-18 academic year. At full capacity the college will train 1,200 learners a year.

Bursaries to help with the cost of study are available for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and bosses at the college are keen to bring in as many students from Doncaster as they can.

Among the first to take up places at the college was 21-year-old Ryan Weatherill, of Bawtry.

Ryan has a long family history in the rail industry, going back every generation since his great-grandfather.

The 21-year-old applied for the college after doing work for his dad, who runs Green Light Signalling, a railway contractors firm. He has been working with them since leaving school aged 17.

He said: "I'm a signal engineer, and I want to better my skills and learn about new technology. My dad thinks its a great opportunity for me to come in and learn, and working on the railways has been something I enjoy. I'm really excited about it, and my aim to to get an apprenticeship when I finish.

"I have a real family history in the railways. My great grandfather was a signalman, and my grandad wrote the signalling rulebook at Network rail. In addition them, my mum and grandmother both worked in the payroll department as British Rail office staff."

Not all the new generation starting college this week had the railways running through their blood.

Anca Vacariu has signed up for the college for a new start.

Anca, aged 32, also from Doncaster, had a law degree in Romania, but has been working in the borough as a shop assistant.

She sees a bright future in working on the railways and wants to be involved.

She said: "Railways are one of those areas that that they are always improving, and there is always going to be new technology.I want to be in this."

Jack Robins, 18, has signed up after starting work in for one of Doncaster's rail firms. He plans to go to college five days a week, and then get work on the railways at weekends.

"It's the next step to better myself in a career I love," he said.

The campus on Carolina Way in Doncaster been equipped with the very latest in cutting edge technology, including virtual reality training on board a Eurostar power car, an augmented reality classroom, and a dedicated BIM (building information modelling) room.

Bosses say the college will play a key role in generating the workforce of the future who will design and build the UK’s new high-speed rail network and future infrastructure projects. It has recently created the UK’s first Certificate of Higher Education (CHE) in High Speed Rail and Infrastructure, which people in Doncaster can now apply for.

Education secretary Ms Greening said the college gave a whole new range of opportunities to a a new generation of people growing up in the borough.

She said opening the college meant investment in a new generation of young people going into the railway industry on HS2.

She told the Free Press: "That's fantastic, not only for them because there are some great careers in High Speed rail, but also for businesses and businesses who are crying out for the sort of skills that then National College is going to be giving our young people, and I think for Doncaster, and for the Yorkshire region more generally, it's brilliant to have this right here on our doorstep, training up young people from this region."

Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones described the new college building as 'iconic'

She told the launch: "We are really proud of what Doncaster has done in high speed rail the past with Mallard, and we're proud of what we are going to do in the future. We talk about the past with great pride, and we are also talking about the future with great pride."

Backing from rail industry

Rail industry bosses have given their own backing for the new college.

Many firms have contributed the setting up the museum.

Some have donated equipment, ranging from gear boxes to locomotive power cars.

Others have helped with the creation of the courses, and some are providing experts to go into the college and speak to the students.

In the future, more equipment businesses are providing will include a tunnel cross-section, a section of station platform and a footbridge.

Among the experts from the industry at the launch this week was Susie McKirdy, head of talent development at Hitachi Rail, which already has a depot in Doncaster,

She said no one could argue with Doncaster's rail heritage

She said: "This college is our pipeflow of talent.

"We are heavily involved in its development. We have a manufacturing plant in Newton Aycliff, and we are bringing in knowledge of high speed rail from Japan to the UK.

"We need to continue to do that and we cannot do it without people with the right education and skills, the sort of thing that will be taught here."

Youngsters join in for the launch

It was not just present students taking at a look at the college for its opening - among the visitors were youngsters who could be the future students in 10 years.

Youngsters from Bentley High Street Primary School and Rosedale Primary School, in Scawsby, also took part in the launch, with a tour and a chat with the education secretary.

Executive headteacher at Bentley High Street, Janis James, said she had brought in children with an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths, as well as youngsters who were interested in railways.

She said: "They had a look under the HS2 locomotive, and had a go on the virtual reality equipment, which they found very entertaining.

"Most children have a good idea by the age of nine or 10 what they want to do for a job.

"I think they loved seeing this, getting a chance to 'drive' a train in virtual reality, and they asked some really good questions underneath the train."