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Well, if I had to pick a word to describe the second term it would be ‘challenging’! To carry on what RailSoc does well and ride out the difficulties of the pandemic we’ve focused on industrial talks, holding a record number this year. 

The first event of 2021 featured John Robson, currently West Midlands Regional Director at CrossCountry. John has had a varied and fascinating career; he discussed with us his life on the railway, starting out at Wolverhampton Steel Terminal. He helped to design a new layout to allow trains to be loaded faster and more efficiently, he was even allowed to name a locomotive. John has also been involved with the very recent Class 69 project, converting Class 56 locomotives. John also discussed with us how he helped keep CrossCountry moving during the pandemic.

One of the most exciting projects John has worked on was an automated mining railway in Chile, that runs for many miles underground and in a volcano no less! The project involved making the railway more efficient, as the amount of ore that could be moved was limited by bottlenecks. John used his operating experience to devise a system of running the railway that increased the amount of ore that could be moved. 

The layout of the mine railway loading and unloading points


Finally, we heard about how John is involved in the local community of Hixon, a Staffordshire village that was the scene of a very unfortunate and devastating rail accident in 1968. The work John has done includes supporting the creation of a commemorative stained-glass window in the local church and tending to a public remembrance garden. 

March saw the third of our industrial talks for this year. The theme was on the modernisation of the Island Line on the Isle of Wight, with a particular focus on the rolling stock, which has been converted from old London Underground trains. RailSoc played host to Chris Field of South Western Railway and Dave Horton from VivaRail. It proved an enlightening look at how you refurbish an old tube train from the ground up. 


Some of the interesting issues faced include the intricate task of ‘gauging’ - ensuring the trains fit the unusually constricted tunnels and bridges along the route. Improvements VivaRail made to the structure of the trains were demonstrated by a spectacular crash test, showing their crash-worthiness had been dramatically improved since their days of running under London.

By James123pilbeam at Wikimedia Commons, shared using a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Cropped.


The same month we held our AGM, discussing such ‘exciting’ things as the annual membership fee and rewording of the constitution! The upshot is that we’ll be keeping the same fee as we have had since 2018 and we will be investing the income we gained in 2020 into exciting new activities for next year. We also elected our new committee and said goodbye to the old committee, many of whom have been with RailSoc for a very long time and have always been very active members of the society. They will be missed as they go their separate ways, but I have every confidence in their successors. 

We rounded off the AGM with a viewing of the 2010 film ‘Unstoppable’. This is based on a real-life incident in the US where a train ran away on full power! The movie plays a little fast and loose with the technicalities of train operation, but still proved to be a fun watch. Thankfully, no-one was seriously injured in either the real world or the film!

Hot off the press as I write this, is news that RailSoc has been shortlisted for the Industrial Award in the annual EPS Societies’ Awards. We’re very pleased that despite this year’s limitations, our commitment to giving our members opportunities to gain experience and understanding in the field of railways has been recognised.

RailSoc’s fourth year has been a learning experience for all of us and especially for me with regards to chairing RailSoc. Nonetheless, I’ve really enjoyed being Chair this year and I will bring the lessons I’ve learnt into what I hope is a far more promising and exciting year!

Richard Pengelly
RailSoc Chair

To find out more about RailSoc visit their society website.

There are 41 student groups in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. To learn more about their projects and activities head to the EPS Societies homepage.