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The view from here

September 11, 2017

A positive outlook ‘Down Under’

Jim Claxton has arrived at a sweet spot in his professional life, directing the Australasian Rail Control Systems Team based in Sydney. Best of all, his wife, Wendy, and sons Eric, aged 16, and 13-year-old Lawrence, unanimously agreed to move to Australia – something that doesn’t always happen when families relocate abroad. ‘There is a very positive outlook on life,’ says Brit Jim about the Australian attitude. ‘The whole place feels fresh. It is a positive, vibrant and growing country, and that really comes across.’ 

Jim, a biology graduate, began his railway career as a train driver with British Rail, and was later operations manager with Chiltern Railways before moving on to demanding rail systems projects, including London’s Crossrail. He sees plenty of opportunities to modernise Australia‘s rail systems. Jim is expanding a team of signalling and communications systems specialists, who are undertaking signalling design work in Sydney and Melbourne, advising on Sydney Metro and supporting ‘Crossrail’-equivalent projects in Brisbane, plus Auckland, New Zealand.

Projects in the pipeline

Other projects are in the pipeline and SNC-Lavalin is planning to expand its business further into Southeast Asia from the Australian office – however, it is a tough market in which to recruit. Jim, a 10-year veteran of writing specifications, technical advice and project management on Crossrail, feels Australia has attracted like-minded – and ‘possibly more adventurous’ – expats, many of whom started their careers with British Rail or London Underground. There are also some very talented local rail professionals – which is vital, as building an in-depth understanding of the peculiarities of specific state standards is critical.

Local observations

Life Down Under suits the family; Wendy has a job at a university, while the couple’s sons have settled into local schools and enjoy outdoor activities, such as football (soccer). ‘Compared to living in and around London, people are noticeably friendlier and welcoming, roads and pavements are emptier, people walk slower – and the beer is colder,’ says Jim. ‘It takes a little while to acclimatise, but it’s been fun.’  But, he adds: ‘I miss some of the home creature comforts… for instance, Australian breakfast cereals are awful, they don’t make proper sausages, and they can’t brew proper tea!’ The sports scene is fabulous, though, and Jim has already seen two of his favourite bands – The Stone Roses and Kasabian – perform at the Sydney Opera House.

There is a very positive outlook on life

Jim Claxton

Director, Rail Control Systems


Burlington, Ontario – the latest stop for Dion

Since beginning work as a design engineer with then New Zealand rail operator Tranz Rail, Dion Church hasn’t stood still. After initial experience in his home country, he relocated to the UK in 2002, to work in Derby for SNC-Lavalin (Interfleet as it then was) for four years, before the southern hemisphere beckoned again.

Auckland-born Dion worked as a consultant at Interfleet in Melbourne, Australia, before returning home to do consultancy in Wellington. In 2016, opportunity knocked again and Dion secured his latest role in Canada.

Dion’s job is divided between general rolling-stock engineering and as a specialist in vehicle dynamics – how rolling stock behaves while in motion. ‘I never wanted to be a pure specialist – I wanted to be a chameleon, with a degree of specialism combined with adaptability and openness to branch out,’ says Dion.

High-speed opportunity

Moving to North America adds tri-continental experience to Dion’s CV and he says certain opportunities within the region would have meant a long wait in New Zealand – for instance, high-speed rail.  ‘Apart from that, I wanted to go to North America, to explore the Rockies and travel around the USA – or go to Quebec and practise my French!’

Dion has shown little hesitation when an opportunity to relocate presents itself. Before travelling to the UK he ‘didn’t have an employer to go to. But I jumped on a plane and thought something would work out… I had enough money for a return air fare, and my old employers would have taken me back.’ He has settled in a city forming part of the Golden Horseshoe, on Lake Ontario, and colleagues have been friendly. One of them, Carolyn Phillips, invited Dion to stay in her home to watch an All Blacks game on TV while she and her rugby-crazed husband were away. ‘I was blown away by the trust they extended to me, as I’d only just arrived in Canada!’

‘Well supported’

‘I was very well supported coming from New Zealand to Canada; I was really happy with the relocation.’

Aspects of Canadian life are surprising: ‘Rugby is massive back home. I was a fish out of water as, initially, I couldn’t find any on TV. Rugby is hidden in the shadows – which is surprising given how well the national women’s team performs.’

I was a fish out of water as, initially, I couldn't find any rugby on TV

Dion Church

Principal Consultant

Sweet though Dion’s welcome has been, the Canadian peanut butter brands are less to his taste. ‘Fortunately, I spotted icing sugar in the ingredients before I purchased the jar. For my palate it would have been terrible – so I picked up the next jar!’

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