A day in the life: Atkins signalling project engineer Jon Leach

Atkins' Jon Leach

With investment in major resignalling projects such as the National Signalling Framework and the Cardiff Area Signalling Renewal (CASR), the demand for signalling engineers has never been greater. It is the signalling engineer’s responsibility to design, test and bring into service a new, reliable system. To find out more about the work that signalling engineers do, we spoke to Jon Leach from Atkins who is working as a project engineer on the CASR. 

Leach  joined Atkins’ rail business in 2006 as a graduate and has worked on a range of re-signalling projects from Port Talbot to Rugby and Nuneaton to Newport. He has gained experience in all aspects of signalling engineering.

When asked why he decided to work in the rail industry he said: “While finishing my electronic engineering degree at university I applied for different graduate positions. When I found out about what it would be like to work in Atkins’ rail business I realised that it would be the best fit for me as I wouldn’t be tied to my desk the whole time and there would be opportunities to get out there and work on big projects.” 

 A typical day for Jon consists of a variety of tasks from client meetings to being one of the main points of contact for all technical queries. “My job relies heavily on communication skills,” he said. “I have to make sure that our design, test and construction teams are integrated and communicate the project requirements and any changes to them all.

" I realised the Atkins rail business would be the best fit for me as I wouldn’t be tied to my desk the whole time"

"I also liaise with our supply chain so that we have all the materials we need for each phase of the project and look after all the interdisciplinary checks to ensure everything from civils to signalling works together in a design.”

The CASR project has given Leach and the entire project team interesting challenges to sink their teeth into. Stretching across 192 route miles of track between Newport and Port Talbot, the scheme is one of the first major re-signalling projects to use innovations such as plug couplers and the Frauscher train detection system. As a member of Atkins’ fabric improvements team, which is a group dedicated to investigating new improvements to operations, Leach  wrote the initial business case for plug couplers on CASR as the innovation could save both time and money.

From there, he worked closely with client, Network Rail to develop product specifications and introduce this technology onto the UK railway network.

“Plug couplers are simple in theory,” Leach said. “You attach a plug onto one end of a piece of signalling equipment and then plug it into a location case on the side of the track. This significantly reduces the amount of time that engineers have to spend trackside installing equipment. It has taken us a few years to get to this point but it has been worth it; plug coupler technology was installed for the first time during CASR’s initial commissioning in March 2013 and continues to be rolled out as the project progresses.” 

The introduction of the new Frauscher digital axle counters (FAdC), has also been another technical challenge. Like plug couplers, this product can be installed in just minutes as it does not need to be drilled into the rail web, giving it a huge advantage over solutions which have been used in the past. FAdC requires a modern communications system to work so Leach’s role involved working with the engineering team to draft what the new architecture for the Frauscher system would look like.

As one of the technical points of contact for FAdC, Jon is involved in ensuring the product meets with the contract requirements and reviewing system performance. The new system is designed to meet one failure every 26,000  hours (three years) in the worst case or every 52,000 hours (six years) in the best case. This is a major improvement on the current system which experienced 191 failures over the last 12 months.

Leach  said: “Working on innovations is my favourite part of the job. I get to work across the project from checks and reviews to helping out with the design. I like looking at a system and working out how to make it more reliable.”


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