Students volunteer as modern-day navvies

Undergraduates broaden their skill set on heritage railway project

Date posted

2 March 2016


STUDENTS seized the opportunity to get away from their desks and benefit from the experience of working on a live rail construction project.

The civil and transportation engineering team developed their technical skills and health and safety knowledge while helping the Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SRPS) overcome a series of tricky challenges.

Thirty undergraduate volunteers from Edinburgh Napier University responded to a call for help to replace track at the Bo’ness and Kinneil heritage railway.

The five-mile long heritage railway, operated by the SRPS, runs from Bo’ness in West Lothian to a junction with the Edinburgh-Glasgow mainline at Manuel. Operation and maintenance of the railway is predominantly undertaken by volunteers.

The SRPS wanted to upgrade six 40-foot long panels of wooden sleepered track with a more resilient concrete sleepered equivalent on a heavily-loaded curve. Various maintenance tasks in the surrounding area were also required. 

To achieve this in the proposed one-week programme, a significant amount of volunteer manual labour was needed.

To assist the SRPS in their aims, a team of 30 volunteer students from the Civil and Transportation Engineering programme was assembled and spent a week working at the railway. The exercise was organised by Richard Llewellyn and Mark Taylor of the School of Engineering and the Built Environment.

As well as learning valuable skills in health and safety and working on a live railway, the students also developed their technical skills in civil engineering and were required to use initiative on site to solve the various challenges presented to them.

Richard Llewellyn, Lecturer in Transportation Engineering, said “This was a unique opportunity for students to get fully involved in a real-life railway construction project. By being immersed in a live railway environment, they were able to experience a depth of learning that surpassed anything that could be created in a traditional classroom.” 

Dean of School, Professor Ian Smith said “We include events for students such as this in the course as we strive to offer an outstanding experience during their studies. From this they gain an incredible opportunity to boost employability skills and to enhance their CV.”

Students interested in continuing their studies in railways will do so in the 4th year of the programme through the Railway Engineering module, led by Richard Llewellyn.