Meet Senior Civil Engineer Konstantina Vasilopoulou, whose childhood awe of impressive civil structures ignited a lifelong passion for engineering. Konstantina’s journey, from taking part in STEM activities from an early age in her home country of Greece, to her current role in London as a Senior Civil Engineer at WCS, shows the power of determination in achieving your career goals.

We catch up with Konstantina as she talks about her current work with rail infrastructure, her experience progressing from a Graduate Engineer to a senior role at WCS, and her mission to contribute to a more sustainable, diverse, and low-carbon world through civil engineering.

What drew you to structural and civil engineering?

My passion for structural and civil engineering began in childhood, sparked by family road trips where I would marvel at structures such as skyscrapers, tunnels, and bridges. I remember asking my parents who was responsible for designing these structures, and they said engineers: I knew then what my future was to be.

This fascination, combined with my inclination for maths and physics, made engineering a natural choice for me. My parents were incredibly supportive of my aspirations, and encouraged me to take part in STEM activities throughout high school. After completing my bachelor’s degree in Greece, where I’m from originally, I completed a Masters in Structural Engineering at the University of Sheffield in the UK.

What I love about engineering is the sense of fulfilment in knowing that you’ve contributed something significant to society, something tangible that people can see, use and appreciate.

Do you specialise in any one area at WCS?

I specialise in rail structures. When I started at WCS in March 2020, I supported the technical team on a project involving the strengthening of three footbridges, which introduced me to rail structures. Alongside, I worked on smaller-scale power projects, managing civil works and undertaking designs for substation projects. As our team grew, I transitioned to focus predominantly on rail structures, while also providing support for temporary works and helping the team with other structural projects when needed. I find this specialisation particularly engaging and fulfilling, and I feel it’s where I thrive best within the company.

What projects are you involved with right now?

One of the larger and more complex projects I’m leading on at WCS is the Downs Park Road Bridge replacement. This project commenced a few years ago and involves the removal and replacement of the entire deck of an existing bridge. From the early stages of presenting proposals to the client, through the selection of the option by Network Rail, and into the design and detailed design phases, our team has been deeply involved. Right now, we’re at a crucial juncture where the bridge is scheduled to be demolished and reconstructed by the last week of July. My role currently extends to the approval of Approved For Construction (AFC) design documentation, supporting the contractor with technical queries and reviewing detailed fabrication drawings for compliance with our specification.

This project has been an incredible learning experience, demanding both technical expertise and effective coordination across various disciplines. I’ve managed a team of colleagues, led design efforts, and utilised software for bridge design analyses. Coordination with highway, geotechnical and Overhead Line Equipment (OLE) engineers, as well as other stakeholders, has been a key part of this project, particularly concerning aspects like construction methodology, safe removal of existing elements and road safety audit and detours. With approximately 70 drawings produced at AFC stage, the scale and complexity of this multidisciplinary project have been immense, requiring not just technical proficiency but also strong managerial and coordination skills.

In addition to the Downs Park Road Bridge project, we recently completed a temporary works project at the Beckton Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Depot. Tasked with designing the temporary works to enable the installation of new cable troughs and LV cables for upgraded power supply to accommodate new trains, this project proved technically challenging due to space constraints and numerous obstructions. As the temporary works designer, we worked closely with our client, UK Power Networks Services, to navigate these complexities swiftly and effectively. It was an enriching experience delving into temporary works, coordinating with suppliers, and conducting certain analyses for the first time. I’m very keen to work on more temporary works projects in the future.

Tell us about your passion for sustainability

My passion for contributing to the development of a sustainable, diverse, and low-carbon world is deeply ingrained in both my professional ethos and personal beliefs. At WCS, I’ve taken on the role of spearheading efforts to calculate carbon emissions, a task that has positioned me as one of the most experienced individuals in the company in this domain. This journey began four years ago when, as a graduate, I was tasked with a project involving the strengthening of three footbridges, where the client initially requested a detailed assessment of carbon emissions for each stage of the project. This ignited my curiosity and motivated me to delve deeper into sustainability within engineering.

I believe that engineers play a pivotal role in achieving net-zero emissions, and our design choices can significantly impact a project’s carbon footprint. To contribute to this goal, I familiarised myself with tools such as the Rail Carbon Tool, mandated by Network Rail for estimating carbon emissions in rail projects. I not only mastered the use of these tools myself, but also shared my knowledge with colleagues.

Throughout the lifecycle of a project, I continuously assess and revise our carbon footprint calculations, leveraging evolving information and design details to optimise sustainability outcomes. This involves considering factors such as material sourcing, construction methods, and machinery usage, with a keen focus on minimising environmental impact.

To stay up-to-date with the latest developments in sustainable engineering practices, I participate in courses and seminars offered by institutions like the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE).

I collaborate with my colleagues at WCS to create educational initiatives for our team, such as lunchtime seminars and CPD sessions, aimed at raising awareness of sustainable practices. Looking ahead, I’ve set ambitious goals for myself, including obtaining recognition through ICE’s Sustainability Champion program.

How has your experience been joining WCS as a Graduate Engineer and progressing to your current role as a Senior Civil Engineer?

My experience joining WCS as a Graduate Engineer and progressing to my current role as a Senior Engineer has been incredibly rewarding. Over the past four years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow significantly. Being part of a dynamic SME has allowed me to take on responsibilities and work independently from an early stage. Witnessing the company’s growth firsthand has been both exciting and fulfilling. I’ve been given ample opportunities for career development, with full support from mentors and management. From attending courses to participating in various business events, I’ve honed a diverse set of skills that have helped my career progression. Moving from the graduate scheme to a senior level position is a testament to the trust and belief that WCS has placed in me, for which I am truly grateful.

Do you have any advice for graduates starting a career in engineering?

My advice would be to always be curious and proactive. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek further understanding. Take advantage of the knowledge and experience of senior colleagues by engaging with them and learning from their expertise. Remember that they are there to help and support your growth. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions or propose ideas, even if you feel nervous or unsure. Confidence in expressing your thoughts and contributing to discussions will develop over time, so embrace every opportunity to learn and contribute to your field.

You are the Chair of IstructE Surrey Young Members’ Group – tell us about this work

As Chair of the IstructE Surrey Young Members’ Group, my involvement revolves around fostering a vibrant and supportive community for young structural engineers. Our activities include organising technical talks, social events, pop quizzes, and in the near future, we hope to arrange site visits. We also collaborate with other groups to support initiatives like selecting the best dissertations from universities in Surrey and Kingston University.

This year, our main focus is on attracting more young engineers to the group and exploring opportunities for STEM activities with secondary school students. It’s been a rewarding experience contributing to the development and engagement of young structural engineers in our region.

Looking ahead, do you identify any interesting challenges and trends in the rail and power & energy sectors?

It’s encouraging to see sustainability becoming a key criterion in project selection and evaluation, both by regulatory bodies and clients. This shift towards prioritising sustainability aligns with my values and WCS’ values, and also presents exciting prospects for the future development of engineering. I’m very positive about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

If you would like to discuss a project in the rail, power & energy space, please get in touch by emailing or calling +44(0)20 3581 7847.