Apprentices helping upgrade one of Britain’s major rail routes

Network Rail engineers carry out wiring work on the Midland Main Line

Five Network Rail apprentices are helping shape the future and upgrade one of Britain’s major rail routes, the Midland Main Line.

Network Rail has turned the spotlight on the rising stars during National Apprenticeship Week – which runs until February 11. 

The Midland Main Line Upgrade will eventually see the line from Sheffield to St Pancras electrified as new bi-mode trains are introduced, leading to faster, more reliable and greener journeys for passengers. 

Work is currently being carried out between Kettering and Wigston, south of Leicester.

Network Rail has an established apprenticeship programme which recruits people into various roles across the organisation, from joining on-track teams to working behind the scenes.

In September 2023, Network Rail recruited five new apprentices to work on the Midland Main Line Upgrade – Sam Parker, Edwin Russell, Sam Basudev, Orlando Marr and Sam Wadsley. 

The group are all based at Network Rail’s Trent House in Derby.

Sam Parker, 27, joined Network Rail as an apprentice in the Electrical and Plant team. His main role is to analyse electrical designs submitted by Network Rail contractors to see if they meet the organisation’s standards.

Following on from completing his PhD in physics, he wanted a change and was interested in the apprenticeship after scouting out engineering roles available to him.

He said: “I really enjoy my role because it’s so interesting to see how the electrification plans go from design stage to being implanted in the real world. There’s a lot to learn and so many things that relate to the railway that I’d not considered, but I’m enjoying the challenge.

“My apprenticeship has been great so far and everyone has made me feel so welcome.”

The cohort of apprentices is on courses lasting between three and five years, with all apprentices studying towards qualifications during their time with the organisation.

Edwin Russell is a 21-year-old signalling and telecoms apprentice, working on signal structures between Kettering and Wigston. His role includes creating solutions to any problems that might arise with the installation of lineside signals.

His designs and solutions could form part of the railway in years to come and play a key part in how effectively trains run on the line.

“I love being able to come up with suggested solutions to real-world problems that occur on the railway,” he said. 

“Signalling is such a key part of running trains and it’s so important that signals work in partnership with overhead lines and other equipment on the line to allow trains to run safely and efficiently for passengers.

Sam Basudev, 22, works as an apprentice project manager and is currently supporting other project managers on work being carried out between Kettering and Wigston. He is also helping to design parts of new bridges which will go over the line.

Throughout their time with Network Rail, the apprentices are all individually supported by a mentor who works in the same area as them.

Mentors are there to guide, support and nurture their development, as well as helping to equip them with new skills.

Orlando Marr, aged 18, is the youngest of the MML apprentices and works as part of the project’s commercial team. Alongside his colleagues, he handles business contracts, including for the designing of overhead line and signalling equipment which will be installed on the railway.

Sam Wadsley, aged 18, has also joined Network Rail’s commercial team as an apprentice working on the project. He is mainly involved in sorting payments out on the project and making sure finances are being correctly spent.

Sam wanted to do something different to the traditional university path and says that working as a Network Rail apprentice is enjoyable.

“I knew that going to university full-time just wasn’t for me and I wanted to follow a different path,” he said.

“When I first applied, I wasn’t sure that this role was what I wanted to do, but after a few months working for Network Rail, I feel like I’ve settled and I’m really enjoying what I do.

“Every day I feel like my knowledge is strengthening. I also like the fact that I play a role in a project that will improve the railway for our passengers, as well as creating a more sustainable network.”

The Government-run National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) takes place from February 5-11 and is an opportunity for the education and skills sector to celebrate the achievements of apprentices around the country and the positive impact they make to communities, businesses and the wider economy.

This year’s campaign theme - Skills For Life - reflects on how becoming an apprentice can help develop an individual’s skills required for a new career while also helping businesses develop a highly talented workforce.

Click here to find out more about National Rail apprenticeships. 




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