19 May 2022

Mark Thurston, CEO of High Speed 2 (HS2), exclusively spoke to staff and students at the University of East London (UEL) about the future of transport in the UK and the challenges that come with delivering Britain's newest high-speed railway.

HS2 is Britain's newest transport network that will connect towns and cities in the South, Midlands and North with faster, easier and more reliable travel. As an organisation, HS2 has around 1,700 members of staff and there are over 24,000 people helping deliver the project.

As part of his talk, Mark Thurston spoke about the benefits of HS2, how the project has changed since the start of the pandemic and the sustainable initiatives of the network which aims to be carbon-neutral by 2035.

David Tann, Mark Thurston and Hassan Abdalla


"The size and scale of HS2 is massive, it's multiple mega-projects rolled into one and the most ambitious programme of new railway construction since the Victorian era. In fact, it is the first new railway built north of London for over 100 years," said Mark.

"Although a lot has changed since we first started in 2009, the fundamental challenges we face have not. We need more capacity on our railways, we need to reduce our carbon emissions and we need to better connect our regional cities.

"HS2 is a fundamental part of the UK becoming a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. Transport recently overtook energy as the country's largest emitter, meaning getting more cars and lorries off the road and more people onto cleaner, greener rail is critical.

"HS2 will run off zero-carbon electricity from day one of operations and the capacity it frees up on the existing rail network, by putting inter-city trains onto their own pair of tracks, can be used to run more local, commuter and freight services," he continued.

Universities are key to sustainable construction.

Mark, who has been CEO of HS2 since 2017, received an honorary doctorate in technology from UEL in 2019.

"As someone who started their career as an apprentice and didn't pursue a typically 'academic' route in my field, it was a huge privilege to be awarded an honorary doctorate of technology from UEL," said Mark.

"I felt very humbled to accept such recognition and I've had great pleasure in continuing my relationship with the University over the years."

Mark Thurston and the placement team at UEL


As the project pushes forward, he now believes universities have a vital role to play in supporting sustainable construction.

"We have ambitious plans to make the HS2 project net-zero carbon from 2035, which means we're changing the way our construction sites are powered.

"It's important to have universities like UEL involved in this as they are hotbeds of research and innovation, both of which are critical if we're to do things differently and leave a sustainable legacy for the construction industry.

"My biggest piece of advice to any student would be to have an open mind and make the most of every opportunity that comes your way.

"No job is too junior or easy - there is always something you can learn from it and learning the basics and building a good foundation will be essential as your progress through your career."

Celebrating our placement students

Each year the postgraduate placement team as part of the careers and enterprise service at UEL, enrols 2,000 students from our engineering and computing courses onto placements with industry-leading employers.

As part of the event, Mark was joined by Professor Hassan Abdalla, provost and Dr David Tann, dean of the School of Architecture, Computing and Engineering (ACE), to hand out awards recognising the achievements of our students who performed exceptionally on their placements.



The winner of the best placement award for civil engineering was Lena Cheshmeh, MSc Civil Engineering, who has spent the past eight months as a placement engineer at international construction company, West Gate Venture.

Lena is pictured with, from left, Mark Thurston, Professor Hassan Abdalla and Dr David Tann.

Lena said: "To hear from Mark was fascinating and I have learnt a lot about what the future might hold for engineering. Winning my award also felt very good as I have never won anything before!

"For my placement I was responsible for the coordination of minors, processing work and ensuring health and safety.

"During a placement every day is about learning. You don't just read books or research things online, you are involved in the work and can ask questions to people who're doing the jobs that you want to do. It is so important for students to gain this type of experience while they're studying."



Another winner was Andrew Umoren, pictured, MSc Construction Engineering Management, who spent his placement working as an assistant area improvement manager.

Andrew said, "I have worked in the engineering industry for 25 years. However so much has changed with new technologies, which is what inspired me to study again and enrol on a placement.

"As part of my placement, I helped identify ways to cut costs while improving our output. This involved arranging training for colleagues and myself, so that we could work with technology.

"I have a son who also studies at UEL and I tell him and every other student that these placement opportunities are so important.

"The Careers Zone at UEL teaches us how to network, write a CV and apply for jobs where we gain key skills for our careers. It is vital that every student makes the most of these opportunities."

For more information see the School of Architecture, Computing and Engineering (ACE).

Images: MJBH Photography

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