Tunnels, timetables and train simulators


A new year and a fresh start has brought some exciting opportunities for RailSoc. Chair Richard Pengelly explains what the Society has been doing as it heads into its fifth year.

This term brought a thankful return to in-person activities. This allowed RailSoc to get back to what it really does the best, offering all kinds of activities to people interested in railways. It was brilliant to see so many new people interested in RailSoc at both Guild and EPS Societies Fairs we had stalls at in October – and also to also put a face to the names of people who joined last year! It’s so encouraging for all of us on the committee to see so much continued interest in the Society.

We kicked off our events calendar with our guided walks. First, we repeated the customary canal walk. Our Chair described the history of the canal through Edgbaston from the University to the City Centre, and the story of how the parallel railway came to be – while pointing out historical features, remains of long-closed stations, and other points of interest along the way. New for the tour this year was the inclusion of a visit to see the disused railway tunnel behind Stanier House, near the Mailbox. By pure luck we had a chance to actually go into the tunnel and explore! A great opportunity that won’t be quickly forgotten.

tunnel walk outside

tunnel walk inside

Inside and outside the railway tunnel

A week later we went out on a more relaxing trip, walking between two quiet stations in deepest rural Warwickshire. Both of the stations we visited are what are called ‘request stops’ – you have to physically ask the train to stop. You do this by either talking to the guard on board, or by sticking your hand out from the platform as the train approaches. The weather was luckily with us, and at both stations we were the only passengers; it was probably quite unusual for these stations to suddenly see a dozen people turn up at once! It was nice to get out in the country air and a chance for members old and new to get to know each other better.

danzey stationWaving for the train to stop at Danzey Station

We were very lucky to be able to visit Govia Thameslink Railway’s training ETCS simulators in early November. ETCS is a relatively new form of railway signalling that improves route capacity and is able to control trains automatically. After an informative introductory presentation explaining the principles of the new system, RailSoc members were able to drive simulated trains – both under older ‘classic’ railway signalling, and the newer ETCS – using a set-up very similar to a real train cab desk. This same equipment will soon be used to teach real train drivers. This is kind of the unique experience that, four years ago, we set up RailSoc to achieve – educational, providing a chance for our members to learn in-depth about an important aspect of railways – but also great fun! Huge thanks are due to our former President Matthew Teller and GTR for making the event possible.

etcs simulatorsOne of our members concentrating hard on the ETCS simulators

etcssimulators driver view

What the driver gets to see

Our final event this term was our first in-person industrial talk since the start of 2020. South Western Railway came to speak to us in what’s now a tradition of a December railway timetabling-themed talk. This year Andrew Pennington explained how current processes within the industry for producing, validating and implementing railway timetables are no longer effective; he suggested overhauling the system for a more collaborative approach where railway companies are competing with each other less and working together for the best overall solution. There was much interest in the Q&A session that followed, and SWR were also able to provide more information about their upcoming student and graduate placements within their Train Planning Unit. We were pleased to also host our friends from the transport societies at Aston and Loughborough Universities for the talk.

industrial talksAlmost a full house!

In other news, planning continues for our residential trip to volunteer at the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales over a weekend in January. We have been lucky enough to have secured two grants to fund this event, courtesy of the BCRRE and the EPS Culture Fund, so we can offer it to members at a very low cost. At the time of writing, the trip is still booked to go ahead – I for one will be very disappointed should we have to cancel it.

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.

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