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In case you missed it – Bringing track and train closer together

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Digital Railway will bring engineers of different disciplines closer together than ever before. It will demand Within NCB, James is trying a system-wide approach to the way railways are designed and built that is sometimes lacking.

‘It’s prompting conversations that are well overdue in terms of a civil engineer talking to a rolling stock engineer,’ said James Collinson, managing director of the Network Certification Body (NCB).

In December, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced that future franchises will be overseen by joint management teams made up of members of Network Rail and the route’s train operator. This too is an attempt to bring the track and train closer together.

It’s something that James has strived towards throughout his career. While working at Network Rail, he put together the Rail Vehicle Interface Engineers team: a group of rolling stock engineers within Network Rail who were capable of having the technical conversations with the operator that had been missing up until that point.

The team was a precursor to the deep alliances and joint working groups that are now becoming common, although James played down its role. ‘I wouldn’t profess to this way of working being my brainchild alone.’


Within NCB, James is trying to create a similarly diverse team. NCB, while part of the Network Rail group, is an independent assessment and certification body for the industry. Prior to its creation in 2012, infrastructure certification had been carried out in-house, but the evolution of European safety and interoperability legislation was making that arrangement unsustainable.

From a team of around 20, NCB has grown threefold and by the end of CP5 hopes to have a workforce of between 80 and 100 people.

Says James, ‘We had an initial model of what we considered to be the right organisation to achieve what was needed. This has successfully evolved, and we’re now in our fifth year of doing business, we’re almost up to 60 people and we’re continuing to grow.’

One of the highlights for James from the past 12 months has been the growth of the body of work undertaken by NCB’s rail vehicles team.

‘Being part of the Network Rail group means we’ll inherently have a high level of activity in the infrastructure project side of things, but now we’re able to demonstrate we’re capable of doing non-infrastructure type work. Rail vehicle and on-track machine certification and compatibility activities are the success stories for me,’ says James, who himself trained as a traction and rolling stock engineer.

Projects include being the Notified Body and Designated Body for the new Caledonian Sleeper carriages, certifying the new LORAM rail grinders and being the Assessment Body for Hitachi’s Class 385 EMUs for ScotRail, which began dynamic testing just before Christmas.


While studying mechanical engineering at Sheffield University in the early 1990s, James undertook a summer placement at British Rail. It went so well that he was invited to apply for the graduate scheme; he was accepted and spent the next 10 years working in traction and rolling stock engineering roles. In 2000, he decided to ‘change sides’, joining Network Rail (formerly Railtrack) as a contracts manager in the infrastructure maintenance side of the business.

Says James, ‘This type of change of discipline was rare at the time, but it’s happening more and more now. I’m very keen to encourage and promote it as it’s an increasingly important feature of being an engineer in the railway industry.’

NCB’s close association with Network Rail, while a bene t in many ways, can pose some challenges: James says it is sometimes difficult to convince T&RS engineers that coming to work for an organisation that has Britain’s rail infrastructure manager as its parent company is the right career move.

Says James, ‘NCB is adopting a system approach to railway certification and we’re aiming to grow our engineering capabilities across the board: infrastructure, T&RS, electrification, signals etc, so they can seamlessly mesh with the expertise that’s already established within the business.’

He added, ‘I want engineers to see NCB as a place where they can not only practice the discipline that they know and love but have the opportunity to develop and progress by being part of the bigger railway picture.’


As well as ensuring that projects comply with the legislation, part of NCB’s role is to try and shape the standards they’re assessing against. ‘Just because it’s compliant with the standards doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fit for purpose,’ says James, explaining the nuanced approach to assessment that is required – it is as much about ensuring the compatibility of the technology as it is about ticking boxes for compliance.

Brexit, and what it might mean for the current standards and the role of the notified body, will likely make the need for experienced engineers capable of providing this level of service even greater. It’s a concern for the entire industry and one that NCB is addressing where it can.

Says James, ‘It takes time and investment to build up this knowledge and it’s already a scarce resource.’ NCB is able to tap into the rich graduate resource within Network Rail. Graduates join NCB in order to gain an understanding of the role certification plays before going back into Network Rail or elsewhere. It’s one way of cultivating the engineers which the industry will need in the future.

‘We’re helping the industry as a whole by developing these people,’ says James. ‘But we don’t really want to lose them to the competition, so our challenge is to work out how to attract and retain them, whilst allowing them to get what they need from a business that’s quite niche in what it does.’

James says he now feels comfortable about NCB’s position in the UK. He believes 2017 will see the company pursuing opportunities overseas, giving it the chance to promote the same system-wide engineering approach to projects around the world.