March 14th saw the 8th year of the widely acclaimed iRail Challenge giving Year 9 students the opportunity to design, build and test their rail engineering solution and find out about the range of career opportunities on offer across the industry.  

iRail is an annual event and this year all participating schools benefitted from a rail themed STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) day in school prior to today’s event, meaning that over 15 times more students have benefitted from the iRail experience. Also for the first time a Teacher’s “Insight into Rail Careers” session was built into the day to provide teachers and careers advisers with more information about the range of opportunities available, from apprenticeships to graduates, including roles in design, engineering, electronics, software development, operations, finance, business and project management to name just a few.

This is the second year that Derby County have hosted iRail and Finance Director Stephen Pearce joined the final judging panel alongside representatives from the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and an experienced  rail engineer. 

Throughout the all-day event pupils were supported by young engineers from local rail firms. During the morning all the pupils and their teachers visited Bombardier’s famous Derby Litchurch Lane works, where the trains for tomorrow’s railway are being designed and built. They were also welcomed onboard Network Rail’s new maintenance train to witness how the latest technology is being used to help manage the extensive rail infrastructure. 

After some difficult deliberations by the judges the winning school was named as Loughborough High School with Lady Manners School a very worthy runner up. In addition to their trophies the winning teams all received tickets to see the Brian Cox Live show at Derby Arena in May.

iRail first took place in 2010 and was the brainchild of the Derby Railway Engineering Society, which wanted to raise awareness of the exciting careers opportunities open to young people on Britain’s railways.

In 2015 the event was adopted by the Rail Forum East Midlands (RFEM) and is a key part of the Rail Forum’s strategy to promote railway careers as well as the local railway industry, which sits as the heart of the ‘Midlands Engine’.

iRail is supported by world leading railway companies from across the Midlands including:  Atkins, Bombardier, Porterbrook, Resonate and SNC Lavalin. The National Skills Academy for Rail, National College for High Speed Rail and Derby College also supported today’s event as did RAIB – the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.

At their careers briefing teachers heard from High Speed 2 about the breadth of opportunities this major project will bring and the work being done in schools by their education team. Teachers also heard from Network Rail, two Atkins apprentices, software developers from Resonate and CILT.

Local company, Learn by Design, developed the concept of Innovative Rail or ‘iRail’ as a high profile STEM showcase event and outreach programme for regional schools; they continue to work with the Rail Forum East Midlands to deliver the programme as part of the Big Bang Near Me initiative.