Anna Fraszczyk, John Roberts and Janene Piip round up the year in rail education and look ahead to next year

Just like the whole of 2018 the final quarter is busy with rail events and courses.

In October Mahidol University students started a new course titled ‘Introduction to Railways’. The course was requested by final year undergraduate engineering students who see rail as a career opportunity in Thailand.

The course is actually attended by undergraduate, Master and PhD students interested in the rail system basics. In addition to the lectures on various topics delivered by a mix of academics and professionals (e.g. guests from Bombardier), the students were challenged to design a rail STEM activity for the public.

Twelve small groups were formed and each worked on a different 30-minute activity explaining a basic rail concept to a general audience. Topics cover a wide spectrum of issues, from rail ballast to rail signaling to metro maps.

A one-day transport seminar on ‘Metro operation reliability and passenger crowd management’ will be delivered at MU by two guests from University College London, UK in November. As part of MetroExchange project, a two-day course on ‘Metro operations performance and benchmarking’ will be delivered at MU by two guests from Tyne and Wear Metro, Nexus, UK.

In addition, ‘Rail Skills Development’ forum will give an opportunity to rail academics and professionals to discuss the urgent topics of skills gap in rail workforce and innovation in rail education.

The STEM activities delivery takes place in various environments on and off the campus. The two campus events involve an Open House day and an engineering event while the off-campus event is a primary school visit.

MU staff, students and external guests plan a technical visit to Hong Kong in December to learn about their rail system, transport planning approach and metro operations. A set of ‘STEM careers in transport’ cards featuring people involved in MetroExchange project will be available online. Rail STEM activity resources will be also put online with a free upload option to promote the rail topics to the general audience.

At Kasetsart University the academic year ends with graduation week which celebrates the achievements of all students at all levels. However, work does not stop for the academic staff as we prepare for the year to come.

We need to congratulate the Mechanical Engineering Dongtaan Racing Team who competed in an international cross university completion during typhoon conditions in Japan.

Next year will see a rail based equivalent where KU will be taking part in a competition to develop a prototype environmentally friend rail-based transport vehicle.

The MEng course majoring in rail technology has, for the second-year students, entered the project phase. These projects have been agreed between their companies and mentor whilst the first-year students continue with the dissertations on various rail-based topics as a foundation for their future project work.

As we begin the first semester of the new academic year the popularity for the elective course for mechanical engineers as an introduction to the field of railway technology has increased. This will be continued in the first quarter of 2019 with courses in such topics as rail vehicle structural strength, rail vehicle dynamics, noise and vibration and infrastructure.

KURail has received numerous requests from senior executives in Thailand-based rail businesses to establish a series of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) courses. The CPDs will include such topics as Rail Policy and Practice, Railway Freight Management, Transport Logistics, Commercial Development of Stations, Rail Vehicles, Rail Infrastructure, Rail Signalling and Telecommunications, Rail Safety and Security and Rail Marketing.

This will enable rail related businesses to focus staff training on specialisms which maximize the commercial benefit for their establishment whilst raising the profile of its personnel at all levels.

2018 = busy
What a busy year it was! We started collaborating on an eLearning project in spring 2018, but also went on various journeys in rail education and research area independently. Here we report on what we have been doing and observing in rail, academically and professionally, this year in Asia Pacific and beyond.

Short courses
Short courses for rail professionals and enthusiasts are becoming popular. A number of organisations in Southeast Asia offer these in English. For example, MTR Academy (Hong Kong) runs ‘Basic Signalling’ or ‘Human Factor Issues’ courses, while TUM Asia (Singapore) offers ‘Rail Planning’ or ‘Rolling Stock’ or many other modules delivered in the majority by their German professors.

Mahidol University was involved in a number of rail and metro short courses in 2018 delivered by university and industry partners from the UK (UCL, Nexus), Germany (TU Breunschweig) and Japan (Tokyo University). These courses are usually one or more days long and are open to both students and professionals.

Online learning tools have been infiltrating the rail education market slowly. Although large companies, for example, Bombardier already show their VR (Virtual Reality) tools at large rail exhibitions, these are not really used much in the classroom yet.

Since spring 2018 we ran an online survey on ‘Barriers to digital learning in rail’ and wrote few scientific articles about it. One paper was presented at the ISRET event in the UK in April 2018, and two more are expected to be out at transport conferences in 2019. We are still working on the final report and recommendations, which we plan to publish and share by the end of 2018.

In addition, in October we did a small experiment at MU and invited two colleagues, based in the UK and Australia, to deliver eTalks via Skype to our students gathered in a classroom. The technology worked well, and we had good conversations and Q&A sessions with people the students would not have an opportunity to ‘meet’ otherwise. Plus, some extra career advice was given, as we felt this aspect is sometimes still missing, especially in the variety of rail careers context.

We have been experimenting with rail outreach and encouraged MU students to work on a new assignment: a rail-inspired STEM activity for the public, which was included in their ‘Introduction to Railways’ course work. Engineering students from various programmes, including mechanical, industrial, civil and others, formed small groups and designed brand new activities based on new knowledge they gained throughout the course.

The majority of the activities targeted primary school children and explained the basics of rail signalling, metro operations or metro map design while some activities addressed university students in thinking about their travel choices.

The STEM activities are part of a larger MetroExchange project, co-funded by Newton Fund (UK) and OHEC (Thailand), and the free resources will be available online in early 2019.

Transport and talent events
Railway Talents initiative, driven by UIC, continues worldwide and a number of training and networking events took place in 2018. The events are usually organised along large transport gatherings and attract UIC members and colleagues involved in HR and other talent activities.

In September the Talent event took place in Germany at Innotrans, a large international rail exhibition, and in October in Latvia at Riga, hosted by State Joint Stock Company ‘Latvijas dzelzceļš’. These events give an opportunity to discuss strategies and initiatives to recruit and retain talents within the railway sector as well as to train individuals on various professional aspects.

The event attracted around 70 rail professionals, HR staff and managers from across Europe, Africa and Australia.

We both attended SITCE in Singapore in July 2018, where we took part in a panel discussion about human resources. We discussed the digital learning in rail, the importance of technology and soft skills and highlighted that ‘digital natives’, ‘digital immigrants’ and ‘digital dinosaurs’ have different needs and require a different approach to learning at work.

Plans for 2019
We plan to continue exploring eLearning in rail from various perspectives and collaborate regionally and internationally with colleagues with similar rail education and research interests. We will be involved in training events and promoting transport and rail careers to the next generations, using both STEM and soft skills. We are open to new suggestions, so if you would like to get involved in rail education and training or discuss ideas for rail-related research do get in touch via LinkedIn.