An Exclusive Interview With Mr. Michael Baxter – Track International Consulting

Rail Analysis India (RAI) Team reached out to Mr. Michael Baxter (Chief Director at Track International Consulting) to share his perspective on the Railway as well as Indian Railway Project.

Michael Baxter

Chief Director at Track International Consulting



Rail Analysis: Please tell us something about yourself along with your experience in Railways ? 

Mr. Baxter – I have always had a fascination for railways, and later, tramways and LRT. My earliest memories were of standing next to the old railway station near my home in Castleford, West Yorkshire, UK by the level crossing, watching the local passenger-hauled steam trains heading for Leeds and Pontefract. In my teens I was quite a keen “train spotter” using an Ian Allan notebook which listed all the locomotives in the UK. That developed into a keen interest in photography and cine filming of trains and tramways in the 1960’s. As it happened, both steam trains and trams were being phased out in the UK so there was a huge challenge to photograph as much as possible of these forms of transport before they disappeared for ever. (The steam locos were replaced by diesel and electric trains and every tramway in the UK closed down, apart from the one in Blackpool).

My railway hobby developed into a professional interest in railways as a career and I joined British Railways in Hull (East Yorkshire) as a student technician in the early 1960’s. Later I was sponsored by BR as a full-time student at Bradford College of Advanced Technology (now a university) and provided with excellent practical training (based in York and London) in all aspects of railway engineering which has stood me in good stead throughout my career. I also used the annual BR “free rail pass” available to all staff to not only travel throughout the UK for free but also across the continent of Europe where a reciprocal free pass arrangement existed with each country.

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With my wife Susan, 3 days after we married in London (1969), we emigrated to Nairobi, Kenya for 2 years, on a British Government sponsored contract to work for East African Railways as a civil and structural engineer. After that we moved to South Africa where I was appointed as a railway engineer working on a section of a major new 580km heavy haul coal railway construction project serving a new port called Richards Bay in the east of the country through a challenging environment. On completion of that work, I attended the 4-year degree course for Civil Engineering at the University of Cape Town and became a fully qualified professional engineer in the early 1980’s.

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We then moved to Singapore where I arrived at the beginning of construction of the new 67km long Mass Transit Railway system (MRT) where I was in charge of the trackwork and alignment. (1984 to 1990). That was the most amazing experience as a ‘new generation’ of metros was beginning to appear in the Far East using technology previously developed in Europe eg glass screen doors on station platforms and ‘floating slab’ trackwork in tunnels to reduce ground-borne vibration. Singapore was the first new metro system in the world to incorporate both of these exciting new developments. It also included a large amount of concrete slab track, a subject on which I have subsequently carried out extensive research; it is now my specialty.

After that we returned to the UK where I was a trackwork engineer on another mega railway project, this one between England and France, called the Channel Tunnel. The Tunnel incorporates a novel trackform called “Low Vibration Track” (LVT) and I was most fortunate to be able to meet the designer of the system (Roger Sonneville) who described the concept and testing that had been carried out prior to acceptance. This tunnel now carries the heaviest traffic of any railway line in Europe.

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I returned to the Far East to head up the Permanent Way Section of the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Hong Kong, for the new 35km long Airport Railway to the new airport at Chep Lap Kok which opened in 1998. This line is ‘famous’ for its crossing of the 2.2km long Tsing Ma Bridge (the longest combined road and rail bridge in the world) and incorporating the longest rail expansion joint approx. 1.5m long. (expansion +/-835mm)

In 1999 I moved to Taipei to take on responsibility for the Trackwork and Alignment for the new 345km long Taiwan High Speed railway from Taipei to Kaohsiung. That was a very complicated project, especially as the Japanese trackform could not be used at stations for political reasons! The THSR was therefore the first railway in the world to combine German and Japanese slab trackforms and was the first to install high speed turnouts on viaducts. It also has 157km of continuous viaduct (the longest in the world) and without any rail expansion joints.

After completion of that railway (opened in January 2007) I based myself in Hong Kong to operate my company “Track International Consulting”.

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Rail Analysis: We understand that you are a Chief Director with Track International Consulting , please brief us on the projects for which you have worked till now and which among these you feel is the most challenging one ?

Mr. Baxter – The projects that I have been involved with since completing my full-time professional career in Taiwan and operating my sole-ownership company Track International Consulting in Hong Kong have been much smaller than those described above. However, it has resulted in extensive travel to many parts of the world which I would not otherwise have visited. These are:

  • Luoyang, China: Installation of turnouts on high speed line between Xi’an and Zhengzhou. Reviewed installation procedures and prepared audit report
  • Ulan Bator, Mongolia: Planning alignment and structures for a new 225km HH coal line into China through southern Mongolia (south Gobi).
  • Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Planning routes and track layout for new light rail system. (LRT subsequently built by the Chinese; has been a great success!)
  • Trinidad: Planning express electrified railway system for Trinidad extending over 100km from the capital Port of Spain (Not constructed!)
  • India: Chief Track Engineer (JARTS) for the DFC (Western). Preparation of documentation for trackwork tenders, quantities, and cost estimate.
  • South Africa: Gautrain LVT trackwork. Inspection and report on acceptance of LVT trackform despite sub-standard base width in a section of tunnel.
  • Bangkok, Thailand: Design of trackform on long span continuous viaduct beams for new metro line to avoid the use of Rail Expansion Joints.
  • Taipei, Taiwan: Expert Witness: Arbitration case between the project management contractor and the trackwork sub-contractor regarding design and planning conflicts on the Taipei-Taoyuan Airport railway construction.

The last project was by far the most challenging as it involved extensive research into the history of the project which took me over 1 1/2 years. Although I was assigned as Expert Witness, I had no previous knowledge of the work carried out and I had to be briefed by the company of the background to the case. All my work was concentrated on a single interview with 3 arbitrators over several hours who then had to make an assessment of the case.

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Rail Analysis: As we know that you are covering the track work all over the world so what is scope of work you can see in India and what are your future plans to undertake it ?

Mr. Baxter – My main interest in India would be the development of concrete slab trackforms for future metro and high speed lines.  I have no future plans to carry out such work at present.

Rail Analysis: What according to you are the safety measures that to be considered while implementing anytrack project ?

Mr. Baxter – There are several phases of a track project which will require different types of safety measures:

  • Construction: Requires the attendance of independent site safety officers to ensure all workers are fully equipped with their safety kit when entering the site; regular safety briefings for all workers; avoidance of tripping hazards; provision of good ventilation and air quality especially for underground works; checking electrical connections and wiring locatoin, etc
  • Track laying: Railhead access restricted to qualified personnel; track-mounted machinery well-lit and with warning sirens; rail-handling requires rollers and tongs well-placed along the layout route; site of rail welding to be identified and restricted.
  • Electrification and Operation: Site highly restricted to trained personnel. Warning signs and security tape to be placed around the ‘live’ trackwork. Detailed safety briefings required for those required to enter the restricted areas.

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Rail Analysis: How would Rail Analysis India be of any assistance to you if you undertake any project in India ?

Mr. Baxter – It would provide useful background information/history to any particular location where a railway project was likely to take place. This would be very useful for any specialist commencing work in India. Also it may provide information on senior management on Indian Railways who may be involved with a particular project.

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