People are inevitably defined by their jobs, not least because, for a working person, that is a significant part of their life. It defines how they think, their values, their approach to life. I am now retired but I used to describe myself as a Railway Civil Engineer, this is an outline of what I’ve done in my life and the places I have visited and worked.
So, who or what is a Railway Civil Engineer? Well, a Civil Engineer is one who creates, improves and protects the environment in which we all live. We provide the facilities for day-to-day life and for transport and industry to go about its work. The Railway tag comes from my railway experience.
I spent all my working life in the railway industry, firstly with British Rail, then Halcrow-Transmark, and lastly Interfleet Technolgy (now known as SNC Lavalin), an international railway consultancy based in Derby, UK. After cutting my teeth in design and maintenance work with British Rail, I spent several years in multi-discipinary project teams in the UK and around the world, as well as in various teaching and training environments. Besides the UK, I have worked in Tunisia, Chile, the USA, Spain, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa.
During my time with British Rail, I worked in the permanent way (track) and bridge design sections at the Euston headquarters offices of the London Midland Region. I spent time working with the direct labour organisation in Manchester where I was directly involved with the reconstruction of the Preston Brook Aqueduct which carries the Bridgewater Canal over the railway near Warrington, as well as several bridge lifts and reconstructions throughout Cumbria for the electrification of the West Coast Main Line between Weaver Junction and Glasgow. I then spent several years working on track and bridge maintenance and reconstruction projects in the north-east of Scotland before heading back south to work at The Grove, British Rail’s in-house Management Training Centre. From there I joined Transmark, BR’s overseas consultancy arm which was later bought by Halcrow when the railways were privatised.
I attained the majority of my overseas experience with Transmark when the South-East Asian economies were roaring like tigers. I was fortunate to be actively involved in a huge variety of projects, working alongside people with widely differing skills and experience. I learned to see the railways as a system, more than just a collection of co-acting parts. There is now a growing emphasis on multi-disciplinary Systems Engineering and a Systems Approach to the railways, the holistic view. Incidentally, I always considered that it should be spelt wholistic not holistic ... we are looking at the whole picture and a hole is something to dig yourself out of.
So, railways are in my blood.
I spent long enough on several of the projects to be able to make local contacts and to see something of the countries I was working in. I was able to experience the true culture, not just as a visitor or tourist. I drove myself many hundreds of kilometres around Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, and there are not many people who can say that they have walked across the Victoria Falls Bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia as I did in 1992. I have many very fond memories of those times. The South-East Asian economies all went sour in 1997-98 and I came back to the London offices of Halcrow for a couple of years before joining Interfleet Technology at Derby. Sadly, the political situation has changed in many of those countries and it would not now be possible or wise for me to try and return.
Since retiring in 2008 I have taken on the role of Kit Sales Manager for MERG (Model Electronic Railway Group) which is keeping me very busy.
I have shared my long-standing interest in air-cooled VWs elsewhere on these pages.
I have also dabbled with computers, both hardware and software, ever since the first IBM PCs appeared in the early 1980s. I have written applications in GW Basic, Assembly (A86), C, C++, dBase, and now Liberty Basic. During the latter years of the 1980s I wrote and maintained applications in dBase III/IV to manage the administration and scheduling of the courses and the petty cash and invoicing systems for BR’s Management Training Centre at The Grove. In 1989 I designed, specified and supervised the installation of one of the first extended local area networks linked to BR’s “Iron Ring” which connected together their mainframe computers at Derby, Crewe, Swindon and London. Currently, I have a few software applications available for general release.
December 2014 © J S Rastall