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RailStaff profiles NCB conformance engineer Matt Bower, whose commitment to his own professional development has made him a leading figure in the field of electrification.

Education ends at college or university for many. The thought of fitting exams and essays around work and family isn’t an appealing one, so why do some people do it?

Continuous education or professional development, as it’s sometimes referred, can be mandatory. Competencies need to be renewed, particularly in the rail industry. But some people do choose to learn, either to enhance their knowledge or fulfill some personal goal.

Matt Bower is an engineer at the Network Certification Body (NCB), which acts as a full-service certification provider to the industry.

Matt, who was highly commended in the Rail Engineer of the Year category at RailStaff Awards 2015, is currently the conformance engineer for the North West electrification programme, having successfully overseen the conformance testing for phase one of the scheme – the first interoperable electrification project in the UK – between Manchester and Newton-le-Willows, which was completed in December 2013. Matt’s role, put simply, was to ensure that the electrification works between Manchester and Liverpool complied with international standards on interoperability. It’s a role that he owes to continuous education.

Matt started his career in 1997 as an engineering apprentice at Froude Consine, a manufacturer of test equipment in Worcester – his home town.

Following this successful start to his career, Matt began a degree in 2001 in electromechanical engineering at Aston University. Following his graduation in 2004, he joined Network Rail on a two-year structured graduate engineering programme, deciding to specialise in the electrification and plant discipline. Upon completion of the engineering programme in August 2006, he took up a permanent role as project engineer in the electrification and plant section of the Infrastructure Investment team.

In 2010, he moved across to the maintenance function at the Sandwell & Dudley depot and in October 2011 he moved again to what has become his specialist subject of OLE (Overhead Line Equipment) reporting to the senior design engineer in Birmingham.

Matt joined the Network Certification Body (NCB) in December 2012 as a senior infrastructure conformance engineer. With little knowledge of the current European standards defining electrification programmes, Matt decided to undertake a Further Learning Plan, with the aim of achieving professional membership of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers within six months.

This plan has involved writing a learned paper, requiring 300 to 400 hours of his own time, on the technical principles related to the ‘Interaction of Pantographs and Overhead Contact Lines’ to deepen his technical knowledge to Masters level.

At 35, Matt is now recognised as an industry expert in energy technical specification for interoperability (TSI) conformance assessment. He has been invited to represent UK Notification Bodies on the RSSB Energy Standards Committee, working with senior rail industry technical experts to define UK rail standards for electrification – a fast growing and essential feature of the future UK rail network.

Matt has also developed an industry approach for assessing electrification infrastructure compliance without the need for extensive testing, making substantial savings on time and cost when introducing electric trains to newly electrified railways. Matt was invited to present this approach to UK and European technical experts, including the ORR and DfT.

On his time working within NCB, Matt says ‘NCB is a fantastic place to work. The team is really supportive and have given me the opportunity to grow as an engineer. I am working on a variety of projects around the country and each has its own challenges which I enjoy tackling. It has made a huge difference to my career and what is most rewarding is being trusted to work autonomously and represent the company at European and UK forums.’

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