The railway in Britain exerts a force for good way beyond its immediate stations, depots and lines.
After years of apologising for soaking up public subsidy, rail chiefs are rolling out figures demonstrating the positive economic impact made by railways and the people who work on them both at home and abroad. This exuberance will underscore this year’s RailStaff Awards on 5th October at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.
The growth of the railway directly benefits the places it serves. Figures from Nottingham attest to substantial investment in local firms and new jobs as the tram network is expanded. The phenomena is equally apparent in Scotland as new projects and upgrades gather pace.
Network Rail points out that local firms around the network increasingly benefit. Even more important is the effect railway workers have on their surroundings.
Staff generate business spending money, buying houses, bringing up children and engaging in the myriad economic activities that make up modern life. Better pay and more investment will only increase the phenomena. The railway is an economic dynamo with its people providing the energy.
It is not only in Britain that railway staff have this effect. Railway engineers serve in the territorial army and have rebuilt railways in Iraq as Andrew Robbins describes in his highly readable article.
Rail tutors from Britain are even now in Moscow helping Russian Railways senior staff beef up skills as the huge rail network seeks to become more cohesive and provide better value for money.
Many will raise a wry smile that while our lords and masters in Moscow, London and Washington wrangle over foreign affairs fellow railway men and women are quietly getting on with sharing knowledge and building a better and safer railway. This overseas involvement is nothing new.
Network Rail Consulting was launched earlier this year to trade our skills abroad. In its hey day British Rail had an international consulting arm, Transmark, part of the British Rail Research Division. Railway engineers from these shores built railways across India, Argentina, Canada and the United States. Network Rail Consulting is already helping Amtrak’s bid to improve high density passenger railways in New England.
The railway in any country is a labour intensive organisation. Consumers deal directly with suppliers. Boarding a train you get to see the driver in the cab, the guard in the carriage and railway staff on the platforms and in the ticket office. Survey after survey says the public values this personal touch. This is in marked contrast to other vast organisations like telecoms or energy suppliers where getting through to a real human being is something of a triumph.
Energise local economies
If the rail industry is to continue to energise local economies, improve international relations and increase usage of railways here and abroad its number one product, the staff, needs encouragement and support.
This is traditionally a low wage industry and although much has changed now it still suffers from its people being undervalued. The RailStaff Awards is an industry wide attempt to put that right.
Successive leaders of Network Rail and major train companies like Virgin and FirstGroup have backed the RailStaff Awards and spelt out the value of celebrating the excellence of the people on the shop floor – the driver, track workers, signallers, cleaners, ticket clerks, planners and possession managers.
It is always a long list but there is place for everyone at the RailStaff Awards. Put bluntly it is a chance for the industry to say thanks to the 1000s of people who, modest and self effacing, make it the success it is. Make sure you can be there by booking a table now – there are still a few places left.