Tom Keighley

Full-scale tracks and signalling equipment to train engineers at Rail Academy

Full-scale tracks and signalling will be used to train future rail engineers at NCG’s forthcoming £5 million Rail Academy in Gateshead.

Plans were announced earlier this week, and Bdaily spoke to Newcastle College principal Carole Kitching to find out details of the project, which is already generating huge interest from students and employers.

Due for completion in September, the Heworth site will house classroom space alongside working tracks and signalling systems for students to get their hands on.

Two years in the planning, the academy was not predicated by HS2 developments or the news of Hitachi’s Newton Aycliffe manufacturing plant, Carole insists.

She said: “Suddenly this has become a very buoyant sector, but the basis for the Academy is actually rooted in long-term need for rail skills, both in the North East and nationally.

“The training that will be provided at the Academy is very much around rail infrastructure and the significant plans to upgrade this, regardless of the HS2 decisions.

“Our real focus is electrification, plant, signalling and telecommunications. In that sense it complements what Hitachi are doing at Newton Aycliffe, and the proposed University Technical College in the same area.

“The focus of training areas will grow and develop as the demand becomes clearer over time.”

Around 100 students will pass through the Academy in the first year of operation, a number that Carole expects to grow as the facility becomes established.

Carole added: “Students will come in at all levels, from GCSE stage basic engineering skills up to increasingly specialised training and up to foundation degree level.

“It’s really important for us to focus on building people up to higher level skills. There’s not hundreds of people just waiting to start a degree in rail engineering, but there are a lot who want to progress into that.”

The facility and its business model builds on the success of Newcastle College’s Aviation and Energy academies - both in the North East.

The Group are working with partners such as the National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering (NSARE) and Network Rail, and are now looking for private sector employers to build partnerships with.

All money so far has come from the Group’s own coffers but the aim is to develop tailored courses and partnerships with employers that will ensure its long term profitability, along with Government money drawn down from Education Funding Agency and the Skills Funding Agency.

London Underground have already provided some equipment for use and it is anticipated that other businesses will come on board with similar support.

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