Metro engineering boss bows out after five decades of service

Phil Kirkland
14 October 2019

The man who oversaw the construction of the Tyne and Wear Metro’s network of tracks when the system was first built is retiring after a 47 year career in the railway industry.

Phil Kirkland, Head of Maintenance Delivery at Nexus, managed the bulk of Metro’s track installation work between 1979 and 1984.

Phil, 64, of Stocksfield in Northumberland, who officially retires in November, was responsible for putting in the now familiar alignments that were needed to carry Metro services when the system opened in phases from August 1980 onwards.

When he leaves Nexus for the final time Phil will bring the curtain down on a career that has spanned five decades and has taken him across the globe.

He said: “I’m enormously proud to have played such a big part in the history of the Tyne and Wear Metro.

“It was an exciting and a hugely challenging project to work on. It was something that transformed public transport in our region. I think that I’m one of the few staff left who worked on the original construction project in the late 70s and early 80s.

“I oversaw the many miles of track installations that were needed in order to make the Metro become a reality. My fondest memory was seeing all of that work come to fruition when the first test trains started operating on the system. It was a vast project. There was acrimony too, at one point there were fears the government of the time was going to pull the plug on the funding, but we got there in the end.”

Rail and Infrastructure Director at Nexus, Michael Ellison, said: “Phil has given outstanding service to the Tyne and Wear over many years.

"He was one of the original staff who oversaw a key element of the Metro construction project – its tracks. His knowledge of the Metro system and of railway engineering is second to none. He is going to be a big miss. I would like to wish Phil all the best for his retirement.”

Phil has worked on Metro in two spells - during its construction phase up until 1984 before returning in 2007 to head up infrastructure maintenance, which involves managing Metro’s ‘orange army’ of workers who look after the tracks, overhead lines and signalling systems.

He added: “I’ve really enjoyed my 47 years on the railways, and particularly both of my spells working on Metro. It’s been a tremendous career. With all of the works I have seen and done over the years it feels like I’ve built the Metro system twice over.

“I’m definitely going to miss the job, but after being on call for over 40 years, and out there on the frontline in all weathers, it’s time for a break.”

Phil’s has worked on railway systems all over the world, including spells in Australia and America’s Rocky Mountains. He has completed rail engineering projects in no fewer than 12 different countries. In the early 1990s he played a key role in the electrification of the East Coast Mainline.

And after such a diverse career, what about the future of the railway industry?

Phil said: “There is certainly an engineering skills shortage but I think that the industry has recognised that. More than ever we need to engage with industry players here and abroad to ensure the skills and knowledge is passed on to the workforce of the future. Nexus has recognised that that is needed and it is going down the right path.”

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