Darren Astbury, Chief Technician at National Express West Midlands, was named Road Transport Engineer of the Year at a national award ceremony held in Birmingham, for his work getting to the root cause of breakdowns.

The 41-year-old, from Kings Norton in Birmingham, has been recognised for his diligent work in protecting customers and staff and for consistently producing excellent results.

Darren was nominated due to his interrogation of vehicle breakdowns. His dogged determination ultimately led to a 47% reduction of breakdowns across National Express West Midlands’ 1,600-strong bus fleet.

Through detailed root-cause analysis he was able to develop and implement preventative long-term fixes, ensuring vehicles remain out on the road serving customers. 

National Express West Midlands has 29 full electric double deckers on routes across Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry, helping customers to play their part in protecting our planet by making greener, more sustainable travel choices. 

Behind the scenes, Darren improved the energy efficiency of these buses by 30%. He developed a solution involving the fitting of biofilters to the onboard system that heats and cools the interior of the bus, so customers can travel safely and comfortably with the windows shut – reducing the amount of kilowatt energy used per kilometre operated. 

The Society of Operations Engineers’ Safety and Sustainability Awards recognise excellence in safety and sustainability across the road transport, plant, environment and surveying sectors. 

During the pandemic, Darren developed a seating map to support social distancing, ensuring customers and drivers could continue to travel safely. This seating map was held up as an example of good practice by others within the bus industry.

Commenting on his award, Darren said: “I was a little surprised and am extremely grateful to the SOE for this award and recognition. I’ll be the first to admit that as engineers we tend to just get on with the job that we love, but this serves as a timely reminder of the important role that we play in the bus and coach industry – and that it should be celebrated.

“If I think about where I started 24 years ago and where I am now, it’s been quite the ride with all of the projects and challenges I’ve worked on and the knowledge and skills I’ve gained. 

“There are so many brilliant opportunities for engineers to make a difference in public transport. With the introduction of zero-emission vehicles and the advancements in technology that are becoming increasingly important, it really is such an exciting time to be an engineer.”

Darren started his career with National Express 24 years ago as an Apprentice Diesel Fitter before moving to the company’s central engineering team as a Technical Assistant in 2001. 

As a keen and proactive problem solver, Darren gained extensive skills while developing positive relationships with engineering colleagues before becoming a Systems Engineering Manager in 2014. He briefly explored new challenges elsewhere in the coach industry before rejoining National Express in 2017 to lead the central engineering team.

Adam Fraser-Hitchen, SOE President, said: “The SOE Safety and Sustainability Awards recognise special achievements of members who have demonstrated professionalism, expertise, teamwork and integrity over the past year in their engineering roles. 

“We are delighted to be able to acknowledge these exceptional individuals and celebrate their success.”