Clair Mowbray: Town that gave us Mallard can rebuild railways

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History tells us that when specialist industries are placed into clusters, incredible things can happen. The great town of Doncaster – it should really be a city – is, with its railway legacy, a perfect example of this.

Doncaster was a hive of engineering for Britain’s first railway network in the 19th and 20th centuries. It benefited from good access to raw materials and excellent trading links by road and river.

As such, Doncaster could compete on the national and even international stage. The feather in its cap was the Doncaster Locomotive and Carriage Building Works, otherwise known as “The Plant” which was built in the town in 1853 and lasted for more than 150 years. In the 1920s and 30s, The Plant famously gave the world the Flying Scotsman and Mallard – the original high-speed trains.

This context is all-important because the cluster of industries that led to Doncaster’s success is still supporting the town’s economy today. There are now more than 20 rail businesses based in Doncaster, many with international operations including Rhomberg Sersa, Hitachi and VolkerRail. They represent a significant proportion of the railway engineering firms based across Yorkshire.

While these modern engineering firms have been a positive driving force for Doncaster over recent years, it can be argued they have lacked a common link with the town. This used to be the role of The Plant, but it has been closed for the past decade.

This is one of the reasons that Doncaster was selected to accommodate the new National College for High Speed Rail. While the college is not involved in the mass manufacturing of railway stock and equipment, it has the potential to become a hub of railway knowledge and expertise again, ensuring the skills and knowledge earned in Doncaster help to build Britain’s railways in the 21st century.

The UK prided itself in the great railway network created during the Victorian era, but there is now a new challenge to modernise the network, making it faster, more reliable and with increased capacity.

Never has the strength of the UK’s economy been so important; with the prospect of Brexit hurtling closer, we must focus on maximising economic growth which will depend on a skilled workforce and increased connectivity.

Britain has now entered its biggest rail revolution for generations. The National College for High Speed Rail will play a transformational role in bridging the skills gap within the industry.

The college is paving the way for an alternative form of education by working closely with industry leaders to create a tailored curriculum giving the next generation of workers specialist training in sectors like rolling stock and track systems.

The National College for High Speed Rail is the largest of five new national colleges being created by the Government to ensure British workers learn world-class skills.

The Doncaster and Birmingham campuses will allow the college to train and educate 1,000 people a year who will have the skillset to allow them to hit the ground running in business when they graduate. Those who join us in Doncaster can benefit from a variety of higher education courses, including the UK’s first ever Certificate of Higher Education in High Speed Rail and Infrastructure, as well as a number of different apprenticeship opportunities.

With a record sum of more than £500bn worth of UK construction and infrastructure projects in the pipeline, there has never been a better time for young people to begin such a career.

Despite the challenges within the industry, I am confident that the college will provide a unique opportunity to not only increase the workforce but to also create greater diversity in the rail industry. I am a champion for diversity and while women account for 20 per cent of applicants to a wide range of courses, I hope the college will encourage more females into the engineering sector.

The Doncaster campus is a shining example of what can be expected for the future in terms of education and there is no place more fitting for it to be introduced – a hive of rail activity for this new generation of rail professionals. Our relationship with the industry is invaluable, and as such we are asking for its support in terms of equipment donation, taking on apprentices for permanent positions or work experience.

Yorkshire, we need your support to create a 21st century rail cluster in Doncaster. In return, you will receive expertly trained employees who will fill the gaps identified in the sector, allowing British companies to prosper in this time of immense change.

If we all work together we can create a world-class rail cluster that both Doncaster and Yorkshire can be proud of.

Clair Mowbray, Chief Executive, National College for High Speed Rail