High Speed Rail: A World of Opportunity



As we celebrate the opening of the National College for High Speed Rail campuses in Doncaster and Birmingham, my third blog will explore the career potential for those who are just starting out in our industry.

Continuing the theme of my previous blogs in observing the changes in apprenticeships since I took mine nearly 30 years ago, this one is going to be about opportunity. The vision for the national college is to upskill the workforce of the future to ensure that, as a nation, we have the skills and capabilities to design, build, operate and maintain a national high speed rail network. While this on its own is exciting and visionary, it doesn’t paint the whole picture.

High speed railways are a truly global phenomenon. In the UK, we know that programmes such as HS2 have the potential, building on the investment in new rail infrastructure represented by flagship schemes such as the government’s Intercity Express Programme, to signify a renaissance in UK rail engineering. This unprecedented investment in the skills development of the next generation of rail engineers does not just provide superb career opportunities in the UK for the learners who will be passing through the doors of the college for the first time this year; it will also mean that they will have an enviable skill set and the ability to work on flagship schemes overseas.

According to the UIC (the body that represents railways across the world), since the advent of the first high speed railway in Japan in 1964, global high speed rail lines have grown to over 30,000 kilometres of track, carrying 1,600 million passengers annually (half of which are in China alone). But that’s just what’s already built and being operated. Looking at the plans for the future, there is much more to come. A further 15,000 kilometres of high speed lines are currently under construction, with another 4,000 kilometres in the detailed planning stages. Yet even that still doesn’t paint the full picture, as most countries have longer term visions for an even bigger high speed rail network which will see the design and build of an additional 15,000 kilometres of track.

With a total of 90,000 kilometres of global high speed rail lines in operation, under construction or in the detailed or long term planning stages, the statistics speak for themselves: an apprenticeship with the National College for High Speed Rail will open opportunities for work across the UK, but it will open up many more across the world. What an amazing time to get involved!

This article was written by Ben Dunlop, practice director – Energy Systems, Transportation at Atkins.