Sunday, 7 March 2010

VolkerRail, The End

Friday marked my last day with VolkerRail; made formally redundant. Not a nice way to end your time with a company at all, and sadly I am not the only one either. Uncertainty is something which does really get to me; although I'm odd and like to have variety and not always know exactly what is in store for me, a bit of security is always very comforting. Still not actually sure how I feel - my head's still all over the place. It all seems a long, long way from when I started on the company's graduate scheme in 2007; a time of hope and positivity. GrantRail was a very different compared with VolkerRail - the change coming around a year ago when VolkerWessels bought out Corus. What was once a small company punching well above its weight having secured high profile contracts such as Network Rail's National Renewals contracts, had steadily become a just a small part of an enormous corporate machine.

My time with the company has been, however, a happy time in my life. Right from the start from going out on track with David Philpott, the Engineering Director, and Adrian Haughton I knew this was the industry for me!

I was quite happy to make the most of every opportunity too! When I worked for Safety and Standards Director, Chris Hext, I spent three months investigating ROGS 25 and how it applied to our OTM crews. Now my reasoning behind a lot of this was that since I was investigating working hours then the best way to do this was to go out with the crews - not only would this get much better results and observations but it also meant I had countless cab rides! Including one along the ECML which was a fantastic experience! And the end result of all the work was indeed successful! I do, however, suspect that those around me were fully aware of just how much I was enjoying it all! A very different task was cataloguing a large archive of company photographs - five weeks spent looking through thousands of railway photographs? Not a bad way to earn a living!

One of the highlights for me was a week spent in Wales. The Welsh Highland Railway is an amazing project - perhaps one of railway preservation's greatest achievements - and I was so proud to have been a part of it, even though my own role was only a very, very small part of the overall project.

The week was also a very enjoyable time too! The days were very hard - proper working hours and although it was a volunteer and heritage project there was no room for slack or laziness! I still felt like I was on holiday though! Every night was spent in the pub! (Well apart from the one evening when I disappeared to visit Neil Rushby at his idyllic home!) I even vaguely remember Laura leading me astray with wine - how classy we were? Drinking wine out of mugs!

Travelling along the line through the Aberglaslyn Pass before the line opened to passengers was awe inspiring - I hope to return to witness steam hauled trains along this section of the WHR. I especially would love to see the Ffestiniog Railway's vintage train running on the WHR. It was a magical week and one that I will treasure for a very long time.

Following Wales I moved much nearer home to the Hull Docks Project. It was a strange project in many ways; one which was always great to learn from, though not always for the right reasons! It was an interesting project which had all sorts of different aspects to it - it should have been a wonderful calling card for GrantRail, very much a 'turn key' (as management text books might say) product, but certain aspects of the project meant that it was far from easy to work upon.

Initially I was working with the civils aspects of the work; in hindsight it was good experience to see how the different disciplines interacted but it wasn't the area in which I wanted to work. One of the highlights was working an awful lot on the swingbridge over the River Hull. This was one of the original Hull & Barnsley Railway structures and a wonderful piece of engineering, although it didn't always take kindly to modern additions! Another thing about working round here was rather personal; just down from the swingbridge were the remains of Sculcoates Yard, where my grandfather had been foreman. He died some years before I was born, but this association and working where he did made me feel like I had some real and tangible connection with him.

As the civils work started to tale off I moved across to the p-way side of the project, working a lot with people like Steve Johnson and Mick Clark and I have to say this was when I knew that p-way was an area which really interested me. I never really wanted to do the civils side, despite it being good expereince in the end. I very much enjoyed both the site and office parts of the p-way work we were undertaking - even the countless days spent cant marking! Other aspects like attending the planning meetings in York added to the overall experience and provided a rounded view of how what we were doing fitted in with the railway as a whole. Even after I moved on I still had a few weekend shifts at Hull, thanks to Mick! I did, however, learn to check more carefully as to exactly what is going to be happening and never assuming! I assumed that when I was told we were realigning one of the branches at Hessle Road and then tamper it would involve a tamper and following it holding one end of a tape, but no! It was manualling slewing the track with jacks and then tamping it with an attachment on an RRV! I still enjoyed it though!

I was very upset to leave the Hull project - the way it was sorted out whilst I was on annual leave was wrong - to come home to find a letter that gives you eighteen hours notice of moving across the country isn't really fair. Travelling is part of working for a contractor but even so I felt rather put out. I won't dwell on this move too much, but I felt very short changed not being allowed on site during the three month spell, a time which was probably the low point of my time with the company.

So when I was told I would be moving to the Corus Scunthorpe maintenance contract I was over the moon! Something which would mean I'd be out and about seeing all sorts of things! Within a couple of days Suzi said it was like living with a different person as it was such a positive change! I've previously explained how much I enjoyed the work here, but it really was a good time! It was a fantastic grounding in the basic principles of p-way, doing things without using big expensive machinery. I greatly enjoyed working with all the lads with whom I worked - I'll take some great memories from my time there.

Precision Engineering at Hull Docks!
I have made some very good friends during my time with GrantRail and VolkerRail, one of whom was there with me right at the end! It's heart breaking to see so many of them having to go through this whole process. To all those I worked with I wish you the best of luck, and I hope that VolkerRail can successfully turn things round from the current situation.


  1. An interesting and thought provoking post, James - and it's great that you gained such a positive experience from your time here. Hope something comes along for you quickly, and that it is as interesting and rewarding as this one. Best of luck, Martin.

  2. James, when one door closes, at least another better one opens. I have been made redundant twice in my career, and on both occasions better opportunities opened up. I understand the feeling of wanting permanency, but even in a government job, that too has changed over the years. By your accounts in the blog, you have plenty of work evidence for any future job interviews. All the best in your job hunting and hopefully it won't be far from the region you now live in. But I guess the crux of it is that I would assume railway p-way engineering work is fairly specialised and you have to go where the opportunities are!

  3. All the best, James. I was made redundant back in the eighties, and I know it's not nice. But you are a skilled, intelligent guy and you stand a better than most chance of more worthwhile employment. Good luck and I hope you keep letting us know how you are getting on.

  4. Thank you for kind comments!

    To be honest I think it's better for my own well being to do so - although it's not been easy and it was even worse seeing friends having to go all of this.

    It's odd to have seen so much investment in terms of training across those who have been at risk, made redundant or, indeed, have left over the last fews months just thrown away. Though 'training' in the graduate engineers' case is perhaps in the loosest possible sense of the word!

    So, still waiting on a whole host of applications - will have to wait and see now!