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Heritage & modern rail sectors collaborate in major training initiative

PRESS RELEASE - Thursday 3 November 2022

Heritage and modern rail sectors collaborate in major training initiative

The Kent & East Sussex Railway (K&ESR) has been playing host to the rail industry's fifth prestigious two-day (2 & 3 November) trackwork training event, which this year coincides with National Engineering Day (2 November) 

Practical Trackwork Challenge at Northiam 1

Known as the Practical Trackwork Challenge, the initiative is organised by the Permanent Way Institution (PWI): theInstitution for Rail Infrastructure Engineering, which is the cornerstone of knowledge leadership and continuing professional development (CPD) in this field.
The largest yet and the first time the event has been held in the South East, the Challenge was attended by 32 delegates - about a third of whom were women - from across the UK rail industry and from organisations including Network Rail, Transport for London and London Underground. The track project itself was also designed by a young female TFL track design engineer. 


The Challenge, which was first held in 2017,offers current rail staff, engineering students and apprentices, who have little or no practical track experience, the opportunity to work on a live engineering project in a safe and controlled railway environment.


After COVID delayed almost all trackwork training, which needs to be done with teams working in close proximity to one another, the Challenge is helping deliver a vital round of catch-up experience. It also demonstrates the strong opportunities for collaboration between the modern and heritage rail sectors.

During the intensive two-day event, delegates had the opportunity to meet with and be trained by hugely knowledgeable and experienced rail professionals, along with the chance to observe and contribute to track replacement and improvement projects. No public trains operate on the K&ESR during November making it the ideal choice for the Challenge's first location in the South East.

The programme is not only designed to provide skills training but also to leave the host railway with infrastructure improvements without a bill. PWI member organisations, including some of the UK's largest construction groups and plant companies, have provided equipment, materials and training free of charge while the delegates carried out the work under professional supervision.


This week's challenge involved delegates from 18 companies and organisations with a dozen sponsors donating equipment and expertise. They worked in four teams of eight rotating between theoretical presentations and work on two sites around Northiam: one just outside the station, replacing track and ballast, and the other installing new expansion switches and concrete sleepers at the 120-year-old Rother Bridge to ensure its future strength.

Ballast replacement outside the station

K&ESR General Manager Robin Coombes said: "It is a great privilege to be hosting this important training collaboration and to be the Challenge's first South East venue. There is a long-lasting and permanent connection between the modern and heritage railways and the engineering skills being passed on through this initiative are vital to keep both systems on the rails, serving the community."

He continued: "As a charitable operation which, now more than ever, has to keep a firm hand on our costs, we are incredibly grateful for the lasting infrastructure improvements that this has provided."


Stephen Barber, PWI CEO, said: "The PWI Challenge has proved hugely valuable to both our corporate members and our host railways. Uniquely, the Challenges offer experience in the practicalities of Railway Infrastructure Engineering to corporate members' staff in a low-risk environment, specifically designed to facilitate vital hands-on learning. It's also encouraging to see a higher representation of women and ethnic groups amongst our delegates, reflecting greater awareness that a career in rail engineering is open and relevant to everyone." 


He added "The PWI is, as ever, hugely grateful to those corporate members who contribute plant, equipment, and personnel to the Challenge, and to the Heritage Railways who host our events. Without their generosity the Challenges couldn't take place - and our industry would be poorer without them."



Further photos available on request.

For press enquiries please contact:-

Alison Miles, Press Officer  /  07900 691116

Tenterden Town Station, Station Road, Tenterden, Kent TN30 6HE


Notes to Editors


PWI corporate members sending delegates

AECOM; Amey; Atkins; Babcock; Balfour Beatty; Jacobs; Konux; Mott MacDonald; Murphy Group; Network Rail; ORR; Pro Rail Services; Progress Rail; RSSB; SB Rail; Transport For London; TFW; Van-Elle


Sponsoring companies

Balfour Beatty - Project Management, Yellow Plant and labour

Transport for London - Design and Project Management

Amey - Design

Pro Rail Services - Rail plant

DelkorSite - food and some labour costs

Network Rail - Track panels

Tiflex - Baseplates and fixings

Pandrol - Fastenings and tools

DWG - Spike fast

K&ESR - Materials, plant and transport costs

Thermit - Rail welding material

Speedy Hire - Small plant and site accommodation

The PWI- the Institution for Rail Infrastructure Engineering - is the cornerstone of knowledge leadership for the railway infrastructure industry. The Institution offers comprehensive professional development opportunities including training, seminars, webinars, and more than 200 Section meetings each year to facilitate learning about all aspects of railway infrastructure engineering and management, new technical developments, in addition to networking with other rail professionals. Through the formal independent assessment of the knowledge, skills, professional attitude, and continuing development of Professional Registered engineers, the PWI confirms their understanding of engineering principles, their continuing competence, and their value to employers, clients, and the wider rail industry.  

The Practical Trackwork Challengefirst ran in Autumn 2017 at Didcot Railway Centre. Subsequent events were:

  • Autumn 2018, Great Central Railway (near Loughborough)
  • Autumn 2019, Churnet Valley Railway (near Leek)
  • Spring 2022, Churnet Valley Railway (near Froghall)


The Kent & East Sussex Railwayruns from Tenterden to Bodiam, through 10 miles of the Wealden countryside in the beautiful Rother Valley.The railway was built by Holman F Stephens and was the first light railway opened in Britain under the Light Railways Act of 1896. Today it is one of Britain's most loved and original heritage railways. It receives stunning TripAdvisor reviews and pre-pandemic attracted more than 80,000 visitors a year. The railway is mainly staffed by volunteers. The Kent & East Sussex Railway is operated by the Kent & East Sussex Railway Co Ltd, a charitable company, limited by guarantee and not having a share capital. Registered charity No. 262481.

Heritage railways around the UKcarry over 13 million passengers each year over 560 miles of railway line and contribute £400 million in economic impact. Some 22,000 volunteers and over 4,000 paid employees keep the UK's heritage railways on track, highlighting the significant role railways played through the industrial revolution.