Stephen Turley is a Lead Mechanical Design Engineer for Tube Lines. Here he talks about the enormous challenge of making travel in the capital safe for all.
Why did you choose to get into engineering?
I always liked fixing up bikes and restoring cars. After completing my GCSEs I started an apprenticeship at a Ford garage and got a HND in Automotive Engineering before backpacking for two years. Returning to London I decided to undertake an engineering degree. I enjoyed it, so applied for engineering jobs in the London area.
What does Tube Lines do and why is it a good place to work?
Tube Lines is responsible for the maintenance and upgrade of the trains, stations, signalling, tracks, lifts, escalators and more on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines on the London Underground.
I like working at Tube Lines because there are many young, sociable people, it’s in a good location and there’s lots of encouragement for personal development and challenges in terms of improving engineering practices and processes we inherited from London Underground.
What does your role involve?
I completed the Tube Lines mechanical graduate scheme and am now the Lead Mechanical Design Engineer for station upgrades. I am responsible for a team of eight mechanical engineers and for ensuring we deliver all mechanical services design work during station upgrades. We regularly design heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Our main focus is safety, value engineering and the environmental impact of the equipment being installed. Half my role is design work, including station surveys and site visits, half is team management.
It must be exciting doing work that has such an impact on people in London. Do you enjoy that added responsibility?
Yes, I’ve always lived in London so know what an achievement it is to transport so many passengers around with few disruptions. The amount of planning and complex engineering to keep the Tube network running is immense.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me involves cycling to work, showering and getting to my desk at 09.00 to catch up on emails. Tube Lines is sociable so the team usually catches up on interesting developments over a cup of tea. I tend to be involved in several projects all at different stages of design so attend different meetings to talk to people in other disciplines and report on progress. I sometimes have to present to the client, London Underground, and brief my team on new projects. Some days I visit sites for a scoping survey or visit one of our construction teams at a station to resolve unforeseen issues with the installation of a mechanical plant. Visiting site is usually interesting, as most of the work is back of house where the public has no access, like tunnels, ventilation shafts or disused platforms.
Some time each day is spent producing design work like CAD drawings, scopes of work and specifications or calculations. Some work is particularly challenging, but I can always get help from the experienced engineers in my team. I also spend time coaching graduates and keep an eye on progress to ensure we are all delivering to programme.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy being able to improve the way we do things and making a difference, whether it is to do with design or management processes. It is down to me to ensure members of our team bring about improvements and complete quality work on time. I also like using new technology and equipment to reduce installation and energy costs.
Another aspect I enjoy is coaching graduates. I have experienced some of the placements around the company that they are thinking of, so can offer guidance on how to benefit in terms of achieving recognised competencies with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
What do you find most challenging?
At the moment, I find managing the team the most challenging aspect of my job. We have quite a spread of characters, all at different stages of their career, so ensuring I have the right people on each job is important. If I don’t get the balance right, people get demotivated or struggle to deliver on time because they’re out of their depth.
I also find some of the design work challenging. I didn’t know much about mechanical services when I joined and I’ve still got lots to learn. When designing or checking other people’s designs, I try to figure out any show stoppers that may prevent us from installing the plant. Giving feedback constructively can be tough but it’s important to iron out design issues before starting work on site.
The Olympics is coming to London in 2012 and will have a massive impact on transport systems in the city – how has it affected the work you do?
I’m Lead Mechanical Engineer on the project to install lifts at Green Park station, making it easier for people with limited mobility to use the station. This has to be finished by September 2011 in plenty of time for people travelling to the Olympic park in Stratford. It’s a complex job because of the existing station structures and surrounding buildings like The Ritz and Buckingham Palace.
What do you feel has been your biggest achievement so far?
My biggest achievement so far has been my recent promotion to Lead Mechanical Design Engineer. I was up against senior engineers, so I feel I’ve done well. I also get a sense of achievement regularly when I see one of our designs installed or get one of my designs signed off for construction.
What qualities do you need to succeed in engineering?
Self-discipline is important. To become a professional engineer (Incorporated or Chartered) or even pass a degree, you need to produce reports and evidence, often in your own time so it’s easy to slip behind if you lack motivation. Team and communication skills are also essential; engineers often become very focused on the specifics and being in a team can help you understand the wider picture. Analytical thinking and taking the initiative are also important qualities.
What lessons have you learned since graduation?
To listen and learn from people who are doing well and make the most of role models. Also, that you get out what you put in and must always act professionally. Tube Lines encourages employees to treat people with respect and work safely – if you don’t think something’s safe, then it probably isn’t and you shouldn’t take the risk.
What’s the biggest myth about working in transport?
That you are a trainspotter, although I could name a few in the building! On a serious note, I believe some of the technology and safety precautions we implement in transport rival those in the aerospace industry. When you think about the volume of passengers we move each day, it is understandable.
What does the future hold for you?
I am hoping to become a Chartered Mechanical Engineer within the next few months. To become Chartered you need a Masters Degree and to complete a four–year mentored development programme, which I have just finished. All I need to do now is write a final report and attend an interview. I’m going to have a few beers when it’s over!
Beyond that, I would like a future role where I practice my leadership skills and perhaps continue to work in an area where I can improve the carbon footprint of the building services sector.