Armed gangsters and flappers in feather boas welcomed guests to this year’s RailStaff Awards at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.
The theme of the evening was the Roaring Twenties in the United States, the era of prohibition, speakeasies and guns in violin cases. Over 800 people – more than
ever before – attended the rail industry event dedicated to the men and women who deliver the railways at the sharp end.
The rail industry is a serious business, safety critical and always subject to unremitting public scrutiny. However, the RailStaff Awards has become an uproarious celebration of all that is good and
courageous in the railway – and it is a fine party to boot.
Top gangster, Fat Tony, welcomed rail barons and ballast tampers alike. The railway is a great leveller. Gradients are gradual and there was no glass ceiling at the Rail Seventeen Club – the specially created New York Speakeasy.
Part of its success is that the RailStaff Awards now spans the whole spectrum of rail industry experience. Overall backers, Network Rail and London Underground, represent the complete railway infrastructure.
The Rail Alliance – the third Associate sponsor – brings together entrepreneurs and small to medium businesses whose ingenuity enriches the industry they serve.
Colin Flack, chief executive of the Rail Alliance, hosted the evening. Tricia Riley of London Underground spoke of facilitating success in Britain’s triumphant Olympic year. Martin Frobisher of Network Rail drew parallels between the 1920s and the new century rail industry. We might be many different companies and organisations but people feel a common loyalty to the railway.
Train operators attracting passengers are central to the good fortune of the railway. Companies like East Coast, FirstGroup and Govia emphasise staff ingenuity and genuine concern for customers – deep strengths that the industry has to draw on. All have driven up ridership, expanded services and are busy attracting the next generation of RailStaff Award winners.
The darkness and danger in which many railway workers labour is often overlooked by the travelling public and comfortable politicians. Companies like Bridgeway Consulting and BridgeZone set the record straight supporting the RailStaff Awards, many of which go to hardy and courageous people out in all weather maintaining and keeping rail infrastructure safe for passengers and staff.
This is an awards event like no other. You can hear almost every local accent at the RailStaff Awards not just from Britain but abroad as well. For these are the people down on the ground with plant and machinery, glad to swap all-
weather HVVs for Chicago pin stripes, shades and fedoras.
Companies like McGinley Services Group, long term supporters of the awards which supplies top grade staff to 1000s of infrastructure projects. CDI AndersElite prides itself on recruiting quality personnel to drive forward Britain’s rail renaissance. Vital Rail emphasises training and excellence. Morson International is a firm believer in top quality recruitment.
If the railway is a serious business then, the argument goes, a party celebrating the achievements of its heroes and heroines should be much more fun than the average dinner dance. Certainly the gangster theme was heartily taken up by railway staff at Fat Tony’s Rail Seventeen Club.
Half way through the presentations the surreal speakeasy atmosphere deepened still further with a police raid and gunfire unnerving guests. New York cops rampaged through the crowds. The now not-so-genial party host, Fat Tony, reckoned there were three police snitches in the audience.
Woefully disregarding political correctness Fat Tony said the hoods represented gangs from Italy, Ireland and Coventry. Goodfellas Pino de Rosa of Bridgeway Consulting, Paul Curtis – lifelong Coventry City fan – and a startled David Franks – only a few days into accepting a new career with Irish Railways, were hustled on stage for a menacing chat with Fat Tony.
People in charge of possessions and safe systems advisors were quickly on the scene. Shoot outs and dancers certainly made this a memorable party.
New sustainability award
If Fat Tony really wanted to dig out the guys behind the RailStaff Awards he’d be questioning whole swathes of an industry not normally given to talking itself up.
It is not only existing skills that are honoured but newcomers, new technologies and ideas as well. Balfour Beatty Rail launched a new sustainability award this year. Methods of trading and technology both help answer the environmental imperatives of our time.
LPA is behind new light technology. The Institution of Railway Operators speaks for much of the industry as it seeks to expand the skills and knowledge of its members. All of this makes for good business.
However the RailStaff Awards is ultimately about an industry at ease with itself performing better, delivering more. More intriguing still is the social aspect of the railway.
The RailStaff Awards is backed by RIFAA, specialists in first aid training. The amount of letters from the public and other staff detailing lives saved on trains and platforms, everything from heart attacks to child birth, is extraordinary.
Railway staff find themselves in situations way beyond the original job description. A new award supported by the Samaritans and Network Rail draws attention to the growing attempts to reduce the number of suicides on the railways.
Looking after people is at the heart of this industry. The railway needs to take care of its staff and the Transport Benevolent Fund underscores a common commitment to railway staff fallen on hard times. It does this with a grace and skill Fat Tony would find troubling.
As the band, Fully Funktional, took the stage winners and runners up, mobsters and molls, partied the night away. When it comes to backing the people who
deliver Britain’s railways everyone at the Rail Seventeen Club agreed there’s no finer way to celebrate than in a railway speakeasy with good food, dancing, comedy and a chance to catch up with old friends and new.
All 30,000 rail staff who wrote in supporting a nomination have the satisfaction of knowing they are part of an industry determined to change public perceptions. The companies that make the awards possible deserve a special thank you as does the host, Colin Flack, masterfully rendering order out of chaos and even taking the revolving stage in his stride.