John Jenkins spent 16 years in the Merchant Navy working his way up to the position of chief engineer before coming ashore10 years ago, initially to work for Docklands Light Railway.
Jenkins is now line delivery manager for a section of the professional engineering department of London Undergrounds rolling stock and signals division. He is also nearing completion of an MSc in rail systems engineering from the Advanced Railway Research Centre based at the University of Sheffield.
I have undertaken this course to answer two needs to gain a qualification that is recognised on shore and to provide myself with a framework in which to place all of the knowledge that I have gained while working for Docklands Light Railway and London Underground.
The course covers engineering in its broadest sense in the railway industry and develops a very clear understanding of the environment in which it operates, says Jenkins.
Global economics are a very important part of the course. Engineers have to find innovative ways of using the resources available to them. The course has been developed to teach engineers about the whole picture including socio economic and political influences and how to put forward engineering solutions that are relevant to todays environment and have a business case to support them.
Jenkins was among one of the first intake of students to the course in October 1995 and he has now completed his study which was carried out on a part time basis by attending the university for eight individual weeks between October and March for two years. He has also submitted a thesis which he completed during his third year of study and he now awaits his results.
Students studying for the MSc in rail systems engineering have to complete eight out of a possible 10 modules, six of which are compulsory. They include technical subjects such as rail technologies and signalling systems and train control and more political and management orientated topics including railway strategy and economics, rail operations and management and rail transport of the future.
The modules in the MSc programme have been designed to provide an integrated overview of the whole field of railway engineering and management, says MSc programme director at the Advanced Railway Research Centre Dr Felix Schmid.
Each module is also available as a self contained unit with an individual assessment and completion certificate so they can be taken to satisfy the requirement for continuous professional development prescribed by the UK engineering institutions.
Jenkins says he presented a business case to his superiors at London Underground supporting his reasons for wanting to attend the MSc programme. This led to his employers granting him full sponsorship for his studies and LU is now benefiting by gaining the system that Jenkins produced as his thesis.
The system is a technical management one that I developed with the Trains Delivery Group of London Underground very much in mind. It allows the engineer to demonstrate flair because it is less restraining than other technical management systems. It defines what the outcomes to be achieved are without setting out how they are to be reached. The system has been well received by my employers and Lloyds Register of Quality Assurance has accredited it to ISO 9001 which is greatly satisfying.
Jenkins says on a personal level he hopes gaining the MSc qualification will lead to him being awarded chartered engineer status from the Engineering Council and membership of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.
In terms of the business, London Underground will benefit from the application of the tools and knowledge that I have learned while studying for the qualification. I have also built a network of contacts through the other students of many different nationalities attending the programme which will also benefit the company.
Felix Schmid says the MSc programme in rail systems engineering came about due to the privatisation of railways in the UK and throughout Europe creating many small and medium sized operating and service businesses.
The new railway industry and the UK engineering institutions identified the need for a rail systems engineering programme. Engineers working in the modern rail industry have to be aware of new approaches to meet more competitive financial and time constraints. They now have to be able to understand not only individual aspects of rail technology but also be equipped to manage projects involving technologies and methods outside their traditional area of expertise.