Inside Doncaster’s new National College of High Speed Rail

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September. Head of Partnerships Beth Curtis. Picture Scott Merrylees
The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September. Head of Partnerships Beth Curtis. Picture Scott Merrylees
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It is the epitome of 21st-century rail providing a stark contrast to Doncaster’s long and proud history with the industry.

The complicated and often dirty work that created some of the world’s most famous steam engines has now been transposed with a state-of-the-art national college to train the next generation of rail engineers.

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September. Picture Scott Merrylees

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September. Picture Scott Merrylees

The first students are set to arrive at the end of this month, and excitement is starting to build as the dream to transform not only education but transport in the North edges closer to reality.

“What we have to recognise is the innovation created here will lead to the transformation of the sector. There isn’t any other industry-focused college or institution in further education that exists in the UK or worldwide in the same way as what we have got here,” Clair Mowbray, the CEO of the National College for High Speed Rail, told The Yorkshire Post.

“We are trying to create new innovation and demonstrate what the future of the rail industry is going to look like.”

At first glance, the futuristic £25m college, which has already won a number of awards for its state-of-the-art design and has a sister campus in Birmingham, is undoubtedly striking.

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September. Picture Scott Merrylees

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September. Picture Scott Merrylees

Encased in glass, the building boasts 76,000 sq ft of multi-function teaching space, including ‘zones’ and ‘pods’, complimented by the latest cutting-edge digital technology.

At its heart lies a vast workshop, which can be seen from almost every part of the college to allow learners to become fully immersed in their trade. Here students can work on a Eurostar power car, which once carried more than 160 million passengers between the UK and mainland Europe.

And steps down to an illuminated trench beneath the 25-tonne car allow trainee engineers to work on the engine’s underbelly. In the coming weeks a virtual-reality driver’s cab will be installed at the front end of the car to demonstrate a signalling set-up. The technology will also feature within the train’s main body.

Towards the end of the year, a Peagase French high-speed rail train will also join the power car, along with a Trimble trolley, which is a track-measuring device, and railway lifting equipment.

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September. Picture Scott Merrylees

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September. Picture Scott Merrylees

Step outside and students can get to work on a 700m length of rail track and a complete set of overhead powerlines, which will increase in height.

“The whole idea is both the exterior and interior can be teaching environments,” said Mrs Mowbray.

“We have also got a bottom cross-section of a carriage coming from HS2, as well as a tunnel cross-section, a mini station and a footbridge, which will all be built out of new materials just coming into the industry to demonstrate how to utilise different types.

“The equipment has been donated by businesses which have bought into the concept of what our national college is about. They recognise the college will get them the workforce they need to make their companies successful.”

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September.CEO Clair Mowbray. Picture Scott Merrylees

The National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster ahead of its opening at the end of September.CEO Clair Mowbray. Picture Scott Merrylees

In fact, donations of specialist kit and equipment to the college from Alstom, British Steel, Trimble, Rhomberg Sersa and Siemens, among many others, have amounted to a value of more than £5m, highlighting the mass support of the sector.

This can be put down to the college being dedicated to plugging the engineering, design, planning, manufacturing and construction skills gap in the industry. It is hoped that it will play a key role in generating the workforce of the future, who will design and build the UK’s new HS2 high-speed rail network and future rail projects. There is a particular drive to attract more women into a sector where only four per cent of the workforce is female.

And with the UK’s first ever Certificate of Higher Education in High Speed Rail and Infrastructure on offer, as well as a bursary scheme and a number of different apprenticeship opportunities, it’s easy to see why interest is piquing.

Mrs Mowbray said: “A lot of people think it’s all about train and the track rather than seeing all of the component parts. They think it’s a manual labour-intensive job, but with digital technology coming in now, that is going to revolutionise the rail systems. There will be power and rolling stock as expected, but also the digital railway, such as signalling and remote asset monitoring. There will be an HS2 design studio here. So there is education based around design and creativity. We need programming and design skills rather than just an engineer with a spanner in hand.”

A timely reminder of town’s proud history

Yorkshire’s loved-up rail enthusiasts who are preparing to walk down the aisle could be given the opportunity to walk down the line instead.

The dream venue for trainspotters in the region could soon be on offer, if bosses at the National College for High Speed Rail get their way.

CEO Clair Mowbray said a wedding fair was taking place at the college next year and revealed plans were in place to obtain a marriage licence for the venue.

She said: “We’ve had a lot of interest from people who want to hold events here and next year there will be a wedding fair. It was certainly not something we put in the business plan.

“We also hope to attract the region’s trainspotting fraternity to come and get married here.

“We know there are a lot of people are interested in trains in Yorkshire due to its railway legacy.

“By the time we do the wedding fair, we hope we will have got a licence.”