The Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education welcomed 50 Y11 & Y12 students from schools across the UK last week [Monday 20– Thursday 23 July 2015] to experience a taste of railway engineering at the University of Birmingham.

The Railway Engineering Programme is organised by independent charity, The Smallpeice Trust and sponsored by the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering (NSARE) and Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF). The programme forms part of a major initiative to encourage young people to consider railway engineering and railway systems engineering as a possible career in the future.

Students worked in small teams to tackle one of two challenges, either designing and building a crashworthy railway vehicle, or an automatic train control system.

For the crashworthy challenge, students were supplied with two 1:30 scale bogies and a steel plate to represent the mass of the traction package. They then came up with a theoretical design based on their calculations and built a prototype using materials “purchased” from stores. Designs were then crashed to see whether maximum decelerations levels remained within safe limits. The winning team, “Jojamaha”, had a unique mechanical friction based design that was re-useable and used enough resistance to absorb the energy of the crash.

For the control challenge, students had to develop a train control system based on the software, sensors, servo motors and control bricks from Lego Mindstorm NXT kits. They then installed various trackside markers and constructed their test train using materials “purchased” from stores. When tested on the track, vehicles had to remain at a safe distance from the preceding train at all times and stop sufficiently accurately to activate a set of platform screen doors.  

As well as working on the design, build and test elements of the projects, the students developed life skills such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, time management, finance and presentation.  Over the four-day programme, students also participated in a variety of workshops and educational lectures presented by academic staff from the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, as well as industry experts including Colin Morris from Siemens Rail Automation, Matthew Diggle from Hitachi Europe, and Winston Rasaiah who is an Inspector with the UK Rail Accident Investigation Branch.


 Stephen Kent, Teaching Fellow, Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education said:

The Railway Engineering Programme gives students a fantastic opportunity to engage with railway engineering in a university setting. It was a joy to see students’ enthusiasm in both educational lectures and workshops and I was impressed with both their “can-do” attitude and their creative design ideas. I’m confident they have gained an understanding of railway engineering involves, and I hope that they have been inspired to pursue a future career in this fast moving industry.

The Smallpeice Trust are an independent educational charity that runs hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) activities and exciting engineering courses for pupils in Years 6-12. They also deliver Teacher Training Days to bring STEM to life in the classroom.