In the latest instalment in a series showing how Durham is Powered by People, PETER BARRON meets a young man using his love of mechanical engineering to help build eco-friendly trains

HAD it not been for his conversation with a work colleague being overheard in a café, Liam Scott might never have found himself on the right track to achieving his dream.

After graduating with honours from Sunderland University, Liam spent months trying to find a job as a mechanical engineer but every job application ended in frustration.

In the end Liam started work in a call centre, knowing it wasn’t what he wanted, but needing to earn money.

Little did he know that his big break would result from having a voice that carries.

Having gone for dinner with a colleague at a café opposite the call centre, the conversation turned to his degree and Liam’s ambitions to be a mechanical engineer.

“A man at a nearby table came over and explained that he worked for Durham County Council and had overheard us talking,” says Liam.

“He told me to send him my CV and that he’d pass it on to companies the council was working with.”

One of those companies was eco-friendly rail manufacturer Vivarail, which had opened its product support division at Spectrum Business Park, in Seaham, in December 2017. Out of the blue, Liam was invited for an interview and, two weeks later, Steve Rowell, Vivarail’s chief operations engineer, telephoned to offer him a nine-month contract.

“I felt like crying – in fact, I’m pretty sure I did,” Liam recalls. “I started with Vivarail on April 16, 2018 – that date will always be imprinted on my mind because it was the moment all the pieces fell into place.”

After six months, having impressed on a project to install air-conditioning systems into Class 230 trains, Liam was offered a permanent role as a product support engineer and has loved every minute of his career with Vivarail since.

Liam was born and raised in Hartlepool, 17 miles down the coast from Seaham, and had an enquiring mind right from primary school.

“I remember being nine or ten and doing a project mapping out the solar system. It involved working out the characteristics of planets, such as their diameter and gravitational force,” he says.

“It was around the time we got our first computer at home and, suddenly, I could explore the universe on the internet. I plunged in head-first.”

Physics and maths were always Liam’s favourite subjects at school, while his hobbies included model building, table-top war gaming and chess.

“I loved anything that involved working things out and strategic thinking – always trying to stay as many steps ahead as I could,” he says.

Liam initially chose maths, physics and chemistry for his A-Levels, but quickly realised he was more suited to mechanical engineering than chemical engineering, so swapped chemistry for business and computing.

That led to his degree in mechanical engineering at Sunderland University, where his dissertation focused on redesigning the wing system of World War Two fighter plane, the Spitfire, to improve efficiency.

Despite being a high-flyer at university, jobs were hard to come by until the good fortune – or fate – of that overheard conversation in the café which opened up the opportunity of a lifetime at Vivarail.

The company had been formed in 2013 to create commuter trains which offered reduced fuel consumption and lower emissions. Specialising in recycling parts from trains, such as those used on the London Underground, Vivarail was able to save huge amounts of metal from being scrapped.

Seaham was selected as the location for assembling power units, complementing the company’s main site near Stratford-upon-Avon and tapping into County Durham’s international reputation for skilled rail industry workers.

Last year, the company accelerated the expansion of its Seaham site, turning it into a research and development centre and in the process creating more jobs faster than expected.

The company’s move, supported by Business Durham – the economic development arm of Durham County Council – is another illustration of the Powered by People movement which puts people at the forefront of efforts to promote Durham as a great place to live, work and invest.

Having impressed on the initial air-conditioning project Liam is now enjoying a wider role, dealing with a variety of onboard train systems and heading for ‘incorporated status’ with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

His latest project is installing systems that enable the company to remotely monitor the performance of its trains, wherever they are.

“I love it,” he says. “Not once have I woken up and thought: ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go to work’. I want to keep broadening my horizons and Vivarail has been wonderful in encouraging me to do that.”

Steve Rowell said: “The work Liam has done already has been of the best quality – bringing innovation and smart thinking together. Opening our facility in Seaham has brought in so much talent from the region and has been of great commercial benefit.”

Liam certainly personifies the philosophy behind Powered by People and sees the value of the people he works with every day.

“I watch how Steve Rowell creates an atmosphere in which everyone works together and it makes it a great place to work,” he says.

At the age of 25 these are relatively early days in Liam’s career, but he is already considering his next steps on life’s chess board.

“I’d like to have the kind of influence Steve has. I’m not saying I want to do him out of a job – but just to be as successful as him would be fantastic,” he says smiling.

From studying the planets at primary school and remodeling the iconic Spitfire at university, it seems Liam Scott will always be aiming high.

• To find out more about the Powered by People movement, visit


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