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Age is no barrier: Meet the oldest person still on Network Rail’s payroll…

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With the relaxing of age discrimination legislation, more and more people are choosing to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. Often, this is to supplement an insufficient pension, but it can also be to keep the brain in gear and remain involved with the latest technology, at the same time offering-up years of experience to the younger generation in the progression of their careers.

One such person is Paul Taylor, who, at 80, lays claim to be the oldest person still on Network Rail’s payroll.

Paul (who has a younger brother Grahame Taylor, the erstwhile editor of Rail Engineer magazine and still a writer on civil engineering matters) has been a signal engineer for all his working life. He comes from a railway family, with his father being the freight manager on Southern Region until 1971 and his grandfather also being a train crew member.

Starting out in 1956 at the then London office of Westinghouse, near King’s Cross, as a technical assistant trainee with a salary of £4-10s a week, he quickly learned the rudiments of relay interlocking and miniature lever frames (Type L) which were being installed on BR’s Southern Region in readiness for the Kent Coast electrification. The last one of these remains in main line service at Maidstone East, but L frames continue in use on some heritage lines, the Bluebell and Ffestiniog to name but two.

Paul also had involvement with the first push-button panel at Beckenham, which controlled the short distance from there to Shortlands.

Westinghouse had won the contracts for Birmingham New Street and Guildford power boxes and Paul became part of the design team for these. Basingstoke power box was another contract at that time, with the initial requirement to rewire the pneumatic points, signals and detection within the existing signalling, another technology that has disappeared.

Joining British Railways

Maybe Westinghouse was not close enough to the ‘real railway’, so Paul chose to join BR Southern Region in 1964 as a senior technical officer (STO) in signalling design, initially at Wimbledon and then on the 12th floor of Southern House in Croydon. During his long time there, he worked on Guildford stage works, learning the rudiments of locking alterations on a Stevens frame.

Paul Taylor worked on the design team for Birmingham Power Box, seen here in operation in 1964.

This was the time of the Bournemouth electrification, where a new box at Eastleigh was being built. The electrification switch-on was the May timetable change in 1967, but the signalling was far from ready. The general manager of the day dictated that nothing must stop the electric trains from running, so the power box was brought into use with the functional testing being done later. Imagine that happening in today’s world – but perhaps Crossrail should take note. The train describer was not finished so train identities were passed along the panel on pieces of paper!

Paul had the challenge of getting the emergency block bells to work during the Dartford box commissioning, but he became the specialist engineer developing signal-scheme plans for the constant stream of little jobs, mainly on the South West division and particularly the Portsmouth Direct Route.

He had a brief secondment with Transmark, which sent him to Ireland to work on planning the DART Dublin suburban network. This was similar signal-planning work for relay-based interlockings but he had the luxury of being granted the overseas spending money allowance of 6 shillings per day (30p in today’s money). He still has the relay-based documentation for Dublin Westland Row (now Pearse) signal area.

Paul Taylor (L) with Clive Kessell.

First Railtrack, then Network Rail

In 1995, with the coming of Railtrack, Paul was offered the chance to take redundancy which, in view of his years of service, was a lucrative package, and so he entered the ‘wilderness’ for about six months. Very soon, the brighter people within Railtrack realised that they had thrown the baby out with the bath water and a recruitment drive was started to get back some of the lost expertise. Paul was offered a six-month work package as a consultant design engineer (signalling) and started his own company (Astwick Controls) to facilitate the employment.

He ended up staying until the demise of Railtrack in 2002 but immediately transferred to Network Rail. His work remained essentially the same – doing scheme plans for small signalling projects around the country – but his previous computer knowledge from the 1990s, based on Windows 3.1, enabled him to adapt to the modern technology with ease. CAD and screen-based working, plus also the basics of solid-state interlocking (SSI), are all part of his portfolio. The use of video images to produce signalling plans has made the work a lot easier and saves having to go to site.

When the use of contractors was being outlawed, Paul was offered the job on a permanent basis at age 64, dropping down to three days a week when 65 and now doing two days a week in Network Rail’s Croydon office. He has no plans to retire, but has a small problem with Parkinson’s disease which does not stop him doing the commute from Bookham to West Croydon and the walk from there to the office. Due to this, he is no longer allowed track side.

He is a Member of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (IRSE) and regularly attends the member’s lunch each summer. Paul has a wife and a daughter at home, the latter being into horses, a very expensive hobby he says.

What advice would he give the youngsters of today? Try to keep signalling scheme layouts simple and easy to understand but learn and remember the basics of signal engineering – flank protection, point-to-point locking but beware of swinging overlaps as they are a mixed blessing.

Is Paul a model for others? Maybe. As indicated in the article on the FRS&TE at Crewe elsewhere in this issue, there is certainly a wealth of untapped experience amongst retired engineers, but this must not be used to negate the need for training the next generation.

Horses for courses perhaps?