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James Clayton Prize ‘runs in the family’

Institution News Team

Bridget Eickhoff
Bridget Eickhoff

Rail specialist Bridget Eickhoff CEng FIMechE is proud to be the second mechanical engineer in her family to receive the James Clayton Prize.

The prize is awarded to a member of the Institution who has made an exceptional contribution to mechanical engineering and related science, technology and invention – by way of research, invention, experimental work, a paper, engineering design or services to engineering.

Bridget is Principal Infrastructure Engineer at the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB). Her expertise and experience are in the wheel-rail interface and vehicle track dynamics areas, including damage and deterioration. She explains the family connection:

“The James Clayton Prize was awarded to my great-uncle, Professor Herbert Walker Swift (1894-1960), in 1952. He was a professor of mechanical engineering at Sheffield University from 1936 until his retirement in 1955; and a Member of Council of the Institution from 1946 to 1952. Although I never knew him, as he died when I was very small, I know his daughter and grandson very well. When I told them about receiving the same honour, 65 years on, they were delighted.”

Professor Anson Jack proposed Bridget for the James Clayton Prize 2017, praising her leadership abilities. He said: “She will finish her career having left a significant and lasting legacy.”

She responded by saying:

“Leadership by facilitation and encouragement is something I really enjoy, it’s a characteristic of my role at RSSB. I spend a lot of time bringing together people, each with strong views, backed by experience and technical knowledge, but where there may be disagreement. Finding consensus is another form of problem solving.”

Bridget, who has worked in rail for 40 years, is proud of two key elements in her career.

“One aspect is the technical quality of projects that I have delivered, which have always been team efforts. DynoTRAIN, the recent pan-European project, is a really rewarding example. We analysed three Terabytes of vehicle and track dynamics data gathered by a test train traversing rail networks in four countries to improve vehicle approval processes. One of the papers that we subsequently published was awarded the George Stephenson Gold Medal in 2016.”

“The other achievement is more personal: I was proud to be elected Chair of the Railway Division of the Institution, 2012-2013. That is special because it signifies recognition by one’s peers.”

Bridget is an important player in the division’s Railway Challenge; and in its popular international Annual Technical Tours. This year she was co-leader, taking members of all ages and experience on a visit to railway systems in Portugal, Northern Spain and Southern France.

She says that rail, like other engineering sectors, faces difficulties recruiting a new intake of professional engineers and technicians, as the current workforce is ageing:

“We need to attract engineers and technicians into the profession, with a different set of skills to those required 30-odd years ago. It’s an ever-evolving sector, so people who want stimulation, who are pragmatic, and are open to change, are vital. We face many challenges, from increasing network capacity to finding financial efficiencies.”

She says that one thing is guaranteed: 

“Rail works best when done collaboratively. British railway standards and specifications are in common with most of Europe, so sharing ideas will always be essential.”

Read more about the James Clayton Prize 2017.


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