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iRail: knocking down walls and building bridges

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Building a bridge isn’t easy. Meticulous plans need to be sketched, materials need to be sourced and bought, engineers need to work together as a team. Then comes the most important part: the testing.

School children from across the East Midlands experienced what it is like at iRail, which was organised by Rail Forum East Midlands (RFEM) at the Derby Conference Centre on March 13.

Not only did the structures, which students had 90 minutes to build, have to support the weight of a small model railway train, but its supporting structures needed to be wide enough to allow for a 75cm-long load to pass underneath on a curved track – the same as the previous year’s challenge.

Much like the real world, these potential engineers of the future weren’t given a blank cheque. Building materials – sellotape, blue tack, paper, card, lollipop sticks and even a tape measure – all came at a cost, only the track on which the train sat was provided free of charge.

Judges marked each of the 13 teams’ creations on how it performed against each challenge alongside how much money was spent on the bridge.

One group savvily sold excess material back to the vendors, others sought to replicate real-life designs and another deemed it “not a bad loss” for wasting materials to the value of £40,000 (Not real money). None chose to spend £200,000 to test their bridge out and that was unsurprising when you realise one of the cheapest bridges cost £120,000 to build.

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Allan Jones of the Derby Rail Engineering Society judges one of the group’s bridge designs.

In the end, Derby Manufacturing University Technical College’s (UTC) team was crowned the winner in a close-fought presentation pitch against last year’s winners, Loughborough High School.

RFEM general manager Elaine Clark said: “iRail is all about raising awareness of the opportunities in the rail industry. It’s about trying to inject a bit of enthusiasm in the younger generation about working in the rail industry because people have no idea of the opportunities and the types of jobs that are available.”

Porterbrook was the event’s main sponsor. Head of communications and engagement Rupert Brennan-Brown added: “Porterbrook is delighted to work with Rail Forum and Learn by Design on the biggest iRail ever. It covers the whole of the Midlands Engine, with events in Derby, Birmingham and Crewe. A fantastic opportunity to get young people involved in engineering.

“Some of the designs are better than I’ve seen on the big railways. It was brilliant to see how innovative the kids could be in a short space of time.”

Now in its ninth year, iRail 2018 continues later this year with events in Birmingham and Crewe. The winner from each will go head-to-head in a grand final.

By giving the opportunity for small six-person teams of young men and women to design, procure, construct and build bridges iRail emphasised that, with a little guidance, a career in the railway is within reach for all.

The winning team from Derby Manufacturing UTC. L-R:-Junaid Shakar, Mubasher Rasool, Ellie Lawrenson, Sheza Noor, and Javine Coleman.

Read more: Rail Partnership Awards returns for 2018



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