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Stirling work

Working lives Rail

Irish-born civil engineer Tara Whitworth came to work on the Stirling Alloa Kincardine rail link via road projects and a stint in Canada. Andrew Bolton reports.

Dealing with residents' groups, barristers and politicians in public, in front of television cameras, is what some people would describe as hell. But Jacobs Babtie technical director Tara Whitworth took it in her stride as project manager for the £35M StirlingAlloa-Kincardine railway.

The project involves reviving a disused track to create a new passenger rail link between Alloa and Kincardine in Glasgow via a junction with the national rail network at Stirling. It will also improve freight links between Kincardine and Longannet coalfired power stations and Hunterston deep water port (NCE 4 December 2003).

Whitworth was charged with project managing the bill to enable the project to go ahead. This meant steering it through the Scottish Parliament inquiry. As project manager she represented a group of Scottish local authorities led by Clackmannanshire.

Her work involved giving evidence and being cross questioned during the inquiry which ended this summer, just before the bill received Royal Assent.

'I was being cross examined by lawyers and members of the public, some of whom had legal representation, ' she says.

But it was not until the first day of the inquiry that Whitworth realised that her performance would be filmed as well. Whitworth admits to being slightly disconcerted by catching sight of herself on TV monitors, but says she was able to overcome this once the evidence sessions got into full swing.

Irish-born Whitworth originally took a degree in civil, structural and environmental engineering at Trinity College Dublin, graduating in 1993. She was attracted to civil engineering because 'it gives you the ability to work anywhere in the world'.

This was just as well, as there was little work to be had for engineers in Ireland in the early 1990s. Whitworth was offered a job in Glasgow with what was then Babtie Shaw & Morton. 'Only three of the people on my course got jobs. One in Germany, one in Japan and me, ' she recalls.

In her first six years at Babtie she was mainly attached to the roads department, including a year in Northern Ireland working on the A1 Newry bypass. But by 1999 she felt the need for a change and decided to take two years' unpaid leave to work in Vancouver, Canada.

There, consultant Delcan Corporation seconded her to the British Columbia Transportation Financing Authority where she worked as a claims adviser to the client for the refurbishment and seismic upgrade of the Lions Gate suspension bridge.

This gave her first-hand experience of working with a major project's communications team at a time when it was going through a difficult patch, including a 5.2 earth tremor in nearby Seattle. She also worked briefly on the Vancouver Skytrain project, getting a first taste of the rail sector.

Whitworth returned to Babtie and Scotland in 2001 eager to build on her exposure to rail. At the time the Stirling Alloa Kincardine project was in its infancy and Whitworth grabbed the chance to take on the role of project manager.

Getting the bill through the Scottish Parliament presented new challenges. 'It was stressful, deadlines were tight, ' she says.

During the hectic inquiry stage, time was split between preparing answers to questions asked the previous week and appearing at the inquiry itself.

'I had done presentations and workshops with the public before, but I had never been at a public inquiry, ' she says.

She is now working closely with the contractor First/Nuttall to agree a price for the project ahead.

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