WORK has started on a £500,000 railway academy in south Essex which will pave the way for future engineers.

Prospects College is creating a new training centre at its campus in Luckyn Lane, Basildon.

There, experts will train up technicians to work on high-profile projects such as HS2, Crossrail and the modernisation of London Underground.

The new base will have its own replica railway station, track, signalling systems and control room.

It will open in September initially to 100 advanced apprentices, with a further 350 pupils set to benefit in the next two years.

It is hoped the centre will help address a major skills shortage in the industry in the wake of recent Government investment.

Lee Bland, from Prospects who is working on the project, said: “The railway industry is a vibrant part of the economy with a number of high-profile infrastructure projects being undertaken and in the pipeline.

“We are working with the National Skills Academy for Railway Engineering and other key employers to provide the skills that are needed. There is a big demand for skilled workers.

“There is fierce competition for jobs in the railway industry.

Up to £500,000 has been invested in the centre, creating a unique learning environment with the capability to provide training.”

Prospects is one of only six colleges in the country which was awarded a Government grant to develop its facilities.

The centre already has financial backing from such industry heavyweights as Atkins, Thales, Bombardier, Serco and possibly Carillion and C2C.

Apprentices will qualify as technician-engineers in areas such as signalling installation and design, telecommunications, and stock maintenance.

Applicants can be aged between 16 and 24.

The basic requirement is five GCSEs at A-C, including maths and science, or ‘A’- Levels.