Alex enjoys her baptism of fire

Alex Mitchell, who appeared on an episode of the BBC2 documentary The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway.
Alex Mitchell, who appeared on an episode of the BBC2 documentary The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway.

A woman who grew up in Morpeth is on the road to a bright career in engineering after working on sections of a £15billion project.

Not long after graduating from Leeds University, where she was sponsored by current employer Taylor Woodrow, Alex Mitchell was seconded to the Crossrail initiative that will provide a new train service from Reading and Heathrow to Shenfield and Abbey Wood via central London.

She was part of the team that breathed new life into the Connaught Tunnel – a disused Victorian rail tunnel in the Docklands area of the capital – and was among the workers that appeared in an episode of the BBC2 documentary The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway, which aired again on Sunday.

They needed to deepen, strengthen and widen the structure and remove 135 years of coal and soot from the steam trains that originally used the tracks.

The television episode focuses on the time when dam walls were installed in a section of the docks and 13 million litres of water were drained so the central section of the tunnel could be worked on. The team faced a race against time to get everything done before they had to put the water back in to allow ships to pass through for a nearby trade exhibition.

Alex said: “It didn’t seem to be that big of a project when I first started because we were just getting things off the ground, but the size and scale soon became apparent once we started the refurbishment.

“It was fantastic that my first job out of uni was so interesting, although it did come with challenges and I had to make some on-the-spot decisions.

“For example, the nature of the works meant alarms for gas evacuations went off a few times and I had to decide whether or not to go ahead with the procedure. Also, we came across a pipe that wasn’t in the old drawings and water came flooding out, so I told the workers to put a machine bucket over it to contain the water whilst I went to get the manager to take a look.

“The work on the central section went down to the wire and I clearly remember frantically calling construction companies on a Friday afternoon for a couple of wagons. We urgently needed more concrete to finish it off because we had to put the water back in on the Saturday.

“I absolutely loved the experience and even though I didn’t expect the amount of attention I received from within the industry and the national media, I ended up enjoying that as well.

“I don’t think my friends knew exactly what I did so they were surprised to see me on television wearing hi-vis jackets and wellies.”

The 26-year-old, whose family home is in the village of Hebron, also joined Crossrail’s Thames Tunnel team and she is currently working as a section engineer on the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road in East Sussex for Taylor Woodrow.

“The link road is progressing well so far and I’ve been able to take what I learned from Crossrail into this project, particularly the health and safety procedures that had to be stringent in the tunnels.

“I’m really pleased that I chose to do engineering as a career and hopefully I will return to tunnelling projects in the future.”

The programme featuring Alex (episode two of The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway) is currently available on BBC iPlayer.