Associate Director at Whitfield Consulting Services, Ioannis Iliadis, shares his experience as a civil engineer, his pride in the rigorous standards and emphasis on safety in the UK rail industry, and why supporting the next generation of engineers is vital.
What about the engineering profession prompted you to pursue it and move to the UK?
My passion for learning led me to study engineering – and to come to the UK because of the quality of tertiary education; I completed my BEng at Kingston University and secured an academic scholarship for my MSc. Practical experience during summer placements at an engineering company back in Greece was invaluable.
I stayed in the UK for work, and my curiosity and dedication eventually led me to become a Chartered Engineer in 2018. For young engineers interested in pursuing this – I’d recommend getting involved in as many types of projects as possible. It was that commitment to gaining knowledge and breadth of experience that contributed to my being able to achieve chartered status in 4 years. I know many fantastic, experienced engineers who are not chartered – but for those early in their careers, I think it’s a valuable recognition of your professional achievements.
How did you join WCS?
Relationships sit at the heart of the WCS way of working – and that comes from the top, our MD Asa Whitfield, and it is what led to me joining the company.
I met Asa when he was working on behalf of my client providing design assurance, everything went well on the project, and we kept in touch. We often saw each other, commuting in on the train. So, rail helped, and now most of my work is on rail projects!
In 2019, Asa offered me a position. WCS was clearly a great team, was growing fast, and had a reputation for excellence, so I happily accepted.
You mentioned rail. Tell us about your work.
Probably, 90% is in rail. WCS has a depth of experience in delivering civil engineering design for power and electrification and civil and structural rail projects. Over my time here I’ve worked across both, but the majority is focused on the civil and structural work we do. That might be a new infrastructure element like a station ticket hall, Civil Asset Maintenance projects, strengthening and repairs, or inspections and surveys – for example involving bridges, culverts, or retaining walls.
One particular thing I would note about the UK rail sector is that safety standards are very high. Rail here is a great grounding for an engineer: everything is rigorous, but of course must be cost-effective and constructible. If you can balance that, you can tackle anything. I’m not from the UK originally, but I’m proud to be part of UK rail.
See our blog for an earlier piece involving Ioannis.
You’ve always been a design engineer. Do you ever work trackside or on site?
Yes, absolutely. I had to complete my Personal Track Safety course. There are increasing numbers of remote tools for gathering information these days, but trackside attendance remains of value, and informs design.
In rail, it’s really important to be on top of your planning and know the procedures backwards. Network Rail may open a section of track for maintenance work for a fixed window once per year – for perhaps just 58 hrs. If you’re not ready, the work might be delayed by twelve months.
Sitting down with clients and partners is so important. We conduct safety workshops, going through all of the identified risks and agreeing how we will mitigate them. Coordination and collaboration with other disciplines and stakeholders is a necessity throughout the projects to ensure successful delivery.
Are there any projects or moments that remain with you?
I did some work recently at Ipswich Depot. There was a potential of failure of a retaining wall, which would have impacted the line and neighbouring homeowners’ properties. We had to address the issue fast to avoid freight trains being taken out of operation. Not only did this project keep the railway and surrounding community safe, it is also strategically important – freight is a key revenue stream for the railways, and one of the ways rail is so central to the UK economy.
I’ve also been involved in the civil aspects of emergency works when WCS are brought in to consult – memorably being called out on New Year’s Day. In these cases, we often respond after a specific incident – for example a lorry hitting a bridge. It is fulfilling to see my work contribute to the quick and safe resolution of these situations and to make recommendations that help prevent future occurrences.
Network Rail’s CP7 period starts next year, and one of the things we learned from our attendance at Rail Live this year, it appears that maintenance and safety will be a focus. I’m looking forward to taking these skills and my experience forward to new projects.
Is there anything about working at WCS that you find particularly inspiring?
Yes, bringing on the engineers at the start of their careers; that’s legacy. I would say it’s in our DNA to train young people. Certainly, I would recommend UK engineering to anyone: standards are high, and people are looked after. We host school-age learners for engineering work experience. My colleague Natalja Petkune did a talk at a school recently, encouraging girls to consider engineering.
We have a number of brilliant female engineers at WCS. It can be good to have a mix of people in all sorts of ways, whether national background or gender or people’s personal journey. Everyone’s an individual, and diversity really adds to the team, and to the strength of the work delivered.
Ioannis Iliadis, Associate Director
Ioannis Iliadis is a Chartered Civil Engineer, a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a specialist in rail civils and structures. His experience involves working with a wide range of UK public and private sector partners, including a number of the UK’s largest contractors, and encompasses everything from new construction to emergency permanent and temporary works.