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An Orange Christmas

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Four students from Newcastle College’s Rail Academy spent Christmas working on the railway.

It’s a fact not often appreciated by the armies of commuters, passengers and freight forwarders, but during the seasonal close down the Orange Army is hard at work on a multiplicity of projects up and down the network.

Being able to close stretches of the railway completely makes for safer working, faster progress and better value for money.

Aaron Richardson, 20, from Gateshead; Ben Shilling, 30, from West Denton; Liam Barrass, 23, from Wallsend; and Robert Hall, 25, from Bensham, work as linesmen on the East Coast Main Line.

The job opportunity came through ISS Labour, which signed a partnership agreement with the Rail Academy earlier this year and has already taken on 10 students in paid placements.

Aaron, Ben, Liam and Robert were selected because of their consistently high standards of work, professional attitude and technical knowledge and ability.

Aaron joined the Rail Academy after working in manufacturing. ‘I was sick of the job I was doing and thought I could come to the Rail Academy and better myself. To be honest, I thought I would just do the course and then have to go out and find a job. I never expected to get a paid placement after a year and then go on to get a job as a linesman.

‘Obviously the money is fantastic, but for me, the opportunity to go out and work as part of a team and actually do the job I want to do as a full-time career is amazing.’

Marc McPake, head of rail at Newcastle College, said, ‘Just over a year ago, Aaron, Ben, Liam and Robert came to us with no knowledge or experience of rail engineering. What they did have was drive and enthusiasm, something which they have applied to every aspect of their studies.

‘The fact that they have now, less than 18 months later, walked into a extremely well paid job which will see them working with experienced engineers is just phenomenal and testament to the fantastic facility that we have built in partnership with industry.’

The Rail Academy opened in September 2014 with support from Network Rail and the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR).