Don's Diary

February 20, 1998


Personal administration has piled up in six months of trying to cope with two jobs. I am a senior lecturer in rail systems engineering at Sheffield University but have been seconded to the Community of European Railways for two (long) days per week. Get through piles of expense claims for three organisations (prospect of Pounds 2,000 but no interest) and write ten letters. Self-assessment tax form stays safely at the bottom of the pile. Plough through railway research programme put forward by major international organisation - have I not seen many of these ideas years ago? Write to potential contributor to learned journal edited by my boss.


Manage to catch 05.53 train from Manchester to Sheffield. A "heritage" unit, springy seats, very warm and womb-like. But it arrives on time at 7am. It is a module week, one of nine, and postgraduates on the rail systems engineering programme start to arrive before 09.00. "Have you read my dissertation proposal?", "Any feedback on the draft of the first assignment I sent last week by fax?" and "Are the dates for the European Study Tour fixed now?" Yes, no, yes. Urgent reminder from Brussels that I have promised to write letter to a committee of the European Council of Ministers. Email with draft press release for joint research programme arrives. 22.10 train home.


Leisurely start. Help out with lab sessions at Manchester Metropolitan University. 13.39 train to Sheffield to sort out paperwork and collect files for the part-time job. Back to Manchester Airport on the 18.10 train and 19.55 plane to Brussels. The CER is the eyes, ears and voice in Brussels of the railways of the European Union. My task is to ensure co-ordination of the railway research agenda for the Fifth Framework Programme.


Spend most of day writing three-page "informing and influencing" letter (the word "lobbying" attracts VAT) for the Committee on Research of the European Parliament. Quite proud of the result although effort was punctuated with MSc-related phone calls and the need to save colleague's family from the white slavers of Brussels Central station (he was marooned in a major meeting). Representatives of the international Union of Railways and the European railway industry arrive at 17.00 to discuss letter and strategy. Agreement reached by 19.30, too late for the cinema. Stay at office till 22.30 to revise three-page letter down to two-and-a-half and to try out software of a Sheffield project on the much faster computer at the CER.


Resumption of meeting at 09.00. Brief discussion on joint rail research priorities and decision to go for a punchy one-page letter in support of amendments to the draft of the Fifth Framework Programme. Promise to fax new draft to all parties by lunchtime. Train to Nationale Luchthaven just in time for the flight to Glasgow. 15.30. Collected at the airport by MSc student, a senior manager with Scotrail. Travel by car as there is no rail link to the airport. Very rewarding meeting about dissertation topics with three students from widely differing academic backgrounds. Commitment and interest wipe out all the differences. Agree over pizza to provide rapid feedback to outlines. Catch the last train to Manchester at 18.50. The problems of our industry become manifest when half the train has to be left at Carstairs, unserviceable. Seat occupancy rate rises to 125 per cent, - I try to correct an unfathomably poor dissertation at a table for four with a woman and her five children, three months to nine years of age. It is possible since they are probably the best behaved group of people I have met in my travels.


Day at the office starts on the 07.16 train with a bit of marking. Deal with queries from applicants for next year's intake, interspersed with discussions with final-year students working on rail and bicycle related projects. Paper on tilting trains has arrived back from reviewers - where do I find good pictures? Meeting with administrator and later dress up for the annual dinner of the Metallurgical Engineers at Sheffield's Cutlers Hall. The last train gets safely to Manchester by midnight.


07.40 train to Buxton and 08.55 bus from Buxton for Hartington and Biggin. Driver and the (two) passengers debate whether to show destination Biggin, confusing tourists, or Hartington, confusing locals. Get off at Hulme End, unfold bicycle and cycle to Alstonfield to meet walking group. Six hours later arrive back at the car park in the dusk after a great walk, at times soaring above the Manifold Valley, a drink in the pub and many chats. After a meal together in Ashbourne it is time to join the 18.15 bus to Manchester. Public transport works.

Felix Schmid, Senior lecturer in rail systems engineering at the University of Sheffield.

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