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Metro man bows out

An engineering stalwart who oversaw the construction of the Tyne and Wear Metro’s tracks is retiring after 47 years in the rail industry.

Phil Kirkland, who is the head of maintenance delivery at system owner Nexus, managed the bulk of Metro’s track installation work between 1979-84.

He was responsible for putting in the now-familiar alignments that were needed to carry Metro services when the system opened in phases from August 1980.

Phil, who retires in November, said: “I’m enormously proud to have played such a big part in the history of the Tyne and Wear Metro.

“It was an exciting and a hugely challenging project to work on. It was something that transformed public transport in our region. I think that I’m one of the few staff left who worked on the original construction project in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

“I oversaw the many miles of track installations that were needed in order to make the Metro become a reality. My fondest memory was seeing all of that work come to fruition when the first test trains started operating on the system. It was a vast project. There was acrimony too, at one point there were fears the government of the time was going to pull the plug on the funding, but we got there in the end.”

Phil has worked on Metro in two spells – during its construction up until 1984 and from 2007 in his final job role managing Metro’s ‘orange army’, which looks after the tracks, overhead lines and signalling systems.

He has worked on railway systems in 12 different countries, including spells in Australia and the United States Rocky Mountains, and played a key role in the electrification of the East Coast main line in the early 1990s. 

Phil added: “I’m definitely going to miss the job, but after being on call for over 40 years, and out there on the frontline in all weathers, it’s time for a break.” 

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