NINE promising apprentices from the South West have begun a three-year programme to become skilled maintenance engineering technicians at Network Rail.

They are among the 200 successful apprentices from nearly 8,000 applicants for Network Rail’s award-winning advanced apprenticeship scheme.

The apprentices will spend a year training alongside the Royal Navy at Europe’s largest engineering training facility at HMS Sultan in Hampshire.

Here they will learn both the technical skills required to work on the railway and develop leadership and teamwork behaviours which will make them more effective in their roles.

They will continue their training for two further years on-the-job at depots in Swindon, Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Par, returning to HMS Sultan for additional courses.

The apprentices specialise in track, signalling and telecoms, electrification and plant, property works and mechanical locking.

This year, Network Rail is also training apprentices for its national delivery service and for the channel tunnel rail link teams as well as providing two places for one of its contractors Balfour Beatty.

Patrick Hallgate, route managing director at Network Rail said: "Our apprentices will be part of a 34,000-strong team helping three million people get to work and home again; to their day or night out, to their holiday or to their university or school. It’s challenging, rewarding and of great value to Britain and its economic success.

“In the future we expect the railway to become more popular and we have big plans for making it more reliable, efficient and better value for money; our apprentices will play a big role in that.”

“We now have the building blocks in place so that beyond their apprenticeships, our engineers can undertake a higher national certificate, a foundation degree and then a full degree in engineering. They can earn while they learn and go as far as their aptitude, attitude and ambition can take them.”

Emma Taylor, a second year Network Rail signalling apprentice from Salisbury and based in Swindon depot, commented on the scheme’s benefits: "After looking at many different apprenticeships, Network Rail had so much more to offer than others. The facilities are brilliant and the instructors are passionate about what they teach us.”