Frazer Stirling is a Chartered Engineer, with over 20 years of experience in public transport in the UK, Europe and Australasia. He holds a Master’s in Engineering from Newcastle and is a member of the IMEchE and IET.


How did you get started in the industry?

Towards the end of my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne back in 2001, Porterbrook Leasing visited the university in preparation for graduate recruitment. Despite having never considered a career in rail before this point, my lecturer suggested I go and have a chat, which I did. Having recently spoken to a classmate who had just spent a year at Jaguar dedicated to reducing the cost of manufacturing door handles, which as you can imagine was not that inspiring a job, my main query was what a ‘typical week’ looked like at work.

The response I got (from Lee Doggett, now at WMR) was that there was typically a couple of days in the office for meetings and two to three days out visiting clients and suppliers around the country – this was enough to sell the opportunity to me despite a few hesitations about moving to Derby after six years in the vibrant Newcastle.

I joined Porterbrook in August 2001 as their first graduate, and one of the first to join the recently privatised industry, on a scheme set up and developed by Tim Stubbs. Tim subsequently retired and went
on to set up what was then ATOC’s ‘APEDS’ Engineering Graduate scheme (now the RDG REGS scheme), which has seen many very good engineers develop over the past 20 years.

Spending time at Sheffield Super Tram, The Engineering Link, Selhurst Depot as well as time with all the various parts of the Porterbrook business I was given a very good grounding in rail in a whirl wind first two
years. I then took on my first substantive role as a Fleet Engineer in the Intercity team and was responsible for the Cross Country HST sets that were being displaced by the incoming Voyagers, the Midland Mainline fleet and the HST power cars which had just been signed up to Network Rail for the New Measurement Train.

This exposed me to some great projects, from Midland Mainline’s ‘Project Rio’ to refurbish the fleet for services to Manchester during the WCML blockades, to the upgrades of HST engines and the development of the Brush Traction cooler group.

At this time in the industry, the MKI replacement train procurements were well underway, and the largest of these, the Class 377 Electrostar build, was facing a few challenges. I joined the joint Porterbrook/Go-Ahead project management team as a Project Engineer and worked closely with a great team at Bombardier and Southern to help manage the introduction of the fleet, rising to role of New Trains Manager and taking on the role of ‘Joint Project Manager’ under the project management agreement towards the end of the project.

With New Train order’s few and far between in 2007, I took the opportunity to follow the fleet and move to Brighton as Planning and Production Manager where I took on responsibility for managing the maintenance delivery of the majority of the fleet with the significant challenge of moving from Warranty and Maintenance support from Bombardier to a self-sufficient maintenance delivery team. Following a franchise change in 2008, I stepped up to Depot Manager before taking the role of Planning and Performance manager, responsible for establishing the new centralised ‘Fleet Control’ team within the Sussex route control.

Fast forward through some interesting years with Snow/London Olympics/ Landslips/Fleet Introductions/Timetable changes, working in what was as much of an Operations role as Engineering, and another change was looming. The Thameslink programme was gathering pace and rail franchising was recommencing in 2013.

At this time I moved to Go-Ahead group to take on the Head of Fleet role, responsible for the rolling stock and depots elements of the TSGN franchise bid. A period of time which could probably form an article itself with ‘experience’ a-plenty anyone involved in the process for any of the bidders! Govia won this competition and I went on to lead fleet/depots areas of the mobilisation, working with the Engineering Director Gerry McFadden and his team.

With the upcoming franchise bid pipeline I decided to stay on in bidding, and led the rolling stock and depots workstreams for Northen/London Overground/West Midlands/South Eastern franchise bids, before franchising once again was halted ahead of what became the Williams Shapps report.

At the end of 2018, Network Rail Consulting approached Go-Ahead to seek support for a bid to be the System Integrator for ETCS deployment in Sydney, leveraging the experience gained from Thameslink. I picked up this project and worked with Network Rail and other partners to bid and win this project, which coincided with Go-Ahead looking at market entry to the Australasian Bus and Rail operating market. Moving to Sydney in 2019, in the role of Business Development Director, I picked up the consulting work alongside bidding for bus and rail operating contracts in the region.

Returning to the UK in 2021 I continued to work on bus projects, including continued support for Sydney as well as Manchester franchising, before taking the opportunity for a new challenge in 2022 to join Enigma Seven.


Tell us about Engima Seven.

Engima Seven was established in January 2022 by my business partner Shane Duffy, and I joined the business in October 2022, to provide services in what we saw as an emerging gap for a small business to provide specialist consultancy services.

The business has two sides to it, firstly supply chain services, which was the genesis of the business. Here we support clients such as CWE, TrainFX, TDS, Holbro, FISA and Modux to grow and expand their business by leveraging our knowledge and experience to navigate, what at times seems like, the enigma of the rail industry.

The second part of the business is in the consulting space, where we offer consulting services to the rail operators and supply chain (predominantly in the rolling stock sector) covering a wide range on needs from fleet strategy to procurement, cost efficiency, bidding, commercial support and anything else where we can add value.

We have just celebrated our first anniversary as partners at the ‘Dinner at the Round House’ event and look forward to growing the business as the needs of the industry develops over the coming years.


What are some specific challenges you face?

The challenges faced by the industry are numerous, with a clear need for change now in existence for a number of years, culminating in the Williams Shapps review and the proposals to establish GBR. This was clearly knocked sideways by COVID and wider political changes, but the need for reform remains and there is a good plan on the table from GBRTT that has been widely consulted.

I would draw attention to two key areas that we see through our work in the supply chain. An operational railway is in many ways an optimisation challenge, from timetables to staffing, to maintenance and renewal. For decades these optimisations were focussed around a fairly consistent demand profile, with peak travel in and out of centres for employment and longer distance business and leisure travel. These patterns have fundamentally changed and to an extent entropy has prevailed, but in time the industry will inevitably re-optimise around demand as this stabilises and once again grow revenues and improve cost optimisation. It is essential that a single guiding mind sets out the vision for the future, so that all parts of the industry can work to optimise and deliver that vision.

Rolling stock policy is central to any optimisation – both literally and figuratively – Infrastructure + Rolling Stock + Operators = Train service to Customers. The lack of a rolling stock policy and plan (for freight and passenger) has several key impacts:

• Without a rolling stock plan, and alignment to an infrastructure plan, the railway system cannot be fully optimised and associated costs reduced and revenues grown from these optimisations – short term decisions on fleet deployments and replacements will lead to continued/ further inefficiency, and increase cost, complexity and risk.

• Without a clear and committed replacement strategy for life expired rolling stock, manufacturing supply risks dwindling, skills will evaporate, lead times will elongate and benefits will slide further away.

• Without a clear fleet renewal strategy, decisions on the maintenance/overhaul/ life extension of the existing fleets that may or may not be replaced will be taken on a short term basis and are likely to not be optimal and could lead to both cost and safety risks and, at some point, withdrawals of fleets without any replacements in time leading to the withdrawal of services.

• The impact on the big manufacturers/ suppliers is well publicised in the press, but much of the impact will be further down the supply chain on the SMEs who support the industry. This is a significant issue both for suppliers to new build programmes and businesses involved in life extension, maintenance and overhaul activities. If these suppliers get into difficulty, costs and timescales for both new build and essential repairs of existing fleets are likely to increase and extend. Quite the opposite of what an optimised and efficient railway needs.


How can Enigma Seven help?

Enigma Seven have extensive knowledge and experience in all these areas and are well positioned to help clients develop, evaluate and implement the required optimisations and to manage any associated commercial risks and issues that may arise directly or indirectly from changes.

Our work with our supply chain clients can also help to identify the opportunities and provide pathways to resolve these through maintenance, renewal, innovation and optimisation. We see that there is significant value to be offered by the supply chain to deliver better outcomes, and we strongly encourage the collaboration and communication between the supply chain and the end customers so that the needs and demands can be best met in an optimal way.