Rail engineer's dangerous line work

NEVER mind leaves on the line - for one Colchester railway engineer there have been mines, bombs and 70-ton tanks to worry about.Ian Hammond, 47, works for Network Rail as an electrical control room operator but he is also a Sergeant Major in the Territorial Army's 507th Specialist Team Royal Engineers.

NEVER mind leaves on the line - for one Colchester railway engineer there have been mines, bombs and 70-ton tanks to worry about.

Ian Hammond, 47, works for Network Rail as an electrical control room operator but he is also a Sergeant Major in the Territorial Army's 507th Specialist Team Royal Engineers.

And he has spent the past few weeks out in Iraq, helping to get the country's rail network running again after it was badly damaged during the war.

The group have inspected and repaired more than 200 kilometres of track around the port city of Basra in the south of the country. Now, thanks to their efforts, train services are back in operation - transporting both aid and passengers, and paving the way for life to return to normal.


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"My job has been to run the team and ensure that tasks that we are given are finished to a satisfactory standard and within time," said Mr Hammond, who lives in Colchester with his wife Yvonne, 41, and their three children.

"It has been a fantastic experience - you always train for this kind of thing, but training only goes so far. It's also given me human management skills that I wouldn't get in my job at home."

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The restoration work is being run from the railway yard at Um Qasr docks, where the British Army first landed in Iraq, extending 50km north up to Basra itself and then towards the neighbouring city of Nasiriyah. Because they had to assess a vast tract of rail in what was then still hostile territory, the initial assessments had to be done by helicopter.

The preliminary inspections showed that much of the track had been damaged by bombs and gunfire, while elsewhere parts of the line had been blocked by defences and artillery pieces or badly crushed as tanks crossed over it.

In some places, they were astonished to find that powerful armour-piercing rounds had managed to pierce straight through the metal railway lines themselves.

The team also had to use a special rail repair train, complete with a couple of "sacrificial carriages" at the front, to test the line for booby traps or bombs that hadn't gone off.

Mr Hammond explained the on-site repairs, with the help of other soldiers and local Iraqi workers, were not so easy. Everything had to be done under armed guard and wearing body armour weighing 12 kilos - a tough prospect in temperatures of 100F and more.

Despite initial fears that the job could take up to six months, the team have managed to get a service up in running within one month. While the working conditions have been very different from those at home, all of those involved feel they have learned from the experience.

He said: "I'm not sure I'd have a package holiday out in Iraq just yet, but I would certainly like to come back and see how things progress over the years once the railway is fully up and running again.

"We've also made a couple of good Iraqi friends and it would be nice to see them again."

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