Inspiring the next generation of engineers, it’s full steam ahead at the North East’s first Rail Academy.
Things are in full swing at Newcastle College’s £5m training facility, which opened its doors to students in September.
The state-of-the-art academy, situated just off the Felling Bypass in Gateshead, is the only centre in the region and aims to stand youngsters interested in the railway industry in good stead.
Marc McPake, head of the Rail Academy, said: “Things are going really well so far and students are getting a real understanding of what it’s like to be involved with the rail industry.
“A big focus is on safety because if you’re working on the track being switched on is critical. That is something we are driving home.
“There is a big skills gap in the industry at the moment and that is something we can slide in to.
“We want to be a pipeline for people going on to get apprenticeships and the like.”
The centre boasts six teaching rooms, a mechanical workshop, an electronics workshop and a signalling and telecommunications workshop.
External and internal rail tracks will also be installed in the coming weeks to give the 70-plus students real-life experience of day-to-day working.
Jim Hubbard, director of STEM Development at Newcastle College, said: “We have been very good with recruitment but the amount of students we have also shows there is a high interest in the rail industry, or employment in the rail industry.
“At the moment, we are instilling the importance of health and safety and when the tracks are fitted they will be able to get more hands-on and learn more about the hand skills required.
“There will be signals and overhead wires, so the only difference is there will be no trains coming past you at 100mph.”
It is hoped 800 students will pass through the academy’s doors over the next five years.
After the course is complete, they will be giving the help and advice they need to make the next step on the ladder.
The academy has already received strong interest from Network Rail, which could recruit several trainees.
Student Samantha Davenport, from Seaham, County Durham, is the academy’s only girl but says she feels right at home.
“The academy is ideal and is great for the region,” she said.
“I was always interested in engineering so to have something open in the North East has helped me.”
Liam Barrass, 22, from Wallsend, North Tyneside added: “The course has been great so far and when everything is in place the facilities will be top of the range.
“Hopefully it will open doors into the industry.”