The RailStaff Awards sells itself on variety. One moment a long- serving employee can be receiving a lifetime achievement award for their rich, sometimes transformative, body of work; minutes later an apprentice who has spent less than a year in the industry can be standing on the same stage.
This year, the Apprentice of the Year category is being sponsored by Gore and Ballyclare, which together have been supplying rail PPE products to the industry for the past 25 years.
‘There’s new blood coming to the rail market which is really exciting,’ says Maggie Shaw, sales manager at Ballyclare, explaining the company’s decision to back this year’s event.
The Orange Army is the go-to term which has been adopted by Network Rail and the government when referring to the gangs of railway workers delivering repairs and improvements around the network. The trademark orange PPE is part of the railway’s identity. But of course it also plays a critically important safety function. It must achieve certain minimum standards and, for the wearer, it needs to be comfortable.
‘It gives procurement, HR and safety the biggest headache because it’s so personal to the individual,’ Maggie added. ‘Individuals can actually be out there for 12 hours in the rain, wind and snow. They’ve got to be kept dry, they’ve got to be kept warm.’
GORE-TEX® Fabrics has built its reputation on the combination of its waterproof and breathability qualities. Gore supplies technical textiles and laminates to Ballyclare who, as a licenced manufacturing partner, design and produce durable GORE-TEX® rail garments. Completed garments are tested to meet the EN 14360 standard.
The testing process is rigorous. Using a purpose-built rain tower, Gore is able to simulate realistic wet-weather conditions to put its products to the test. Gore Associate Jonas Andersson said the company was also keen to engage with end users, through events like the RailStaff Awards, to gather feedback which can inform the future research and development of its products.
Says Jonas, ‘That direct dialogue with the people actually doing the job out there is really important for us.’
Earlier this year, Ballyclare was re-appointed by Network Rail as its official PPE supplier. ‘This is a way of saying that we’re back,’ said Maggie.
‘We’re back stronger than ever.’
It was also a chance for the two companies to recognise those in industry who maybe don’t receive the thanks they deserve. Last year, the award went to an apprentice with the Costain/Skanska Joint Venture (CSJV) working on Crossrail, Ben Cox.
‘I think it’s nice for them to have some appreciation and it’s great when it’s an apprentice that’s new to the industry,’ says Maggie. ‘Nobody really sees what these guys actually do to make that repair or improvement to make sure that we all get from a to b.’