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Before the sun had even risen on 20 August, the very first Class 802 train specifically built for Devon and Cornwall left Plymouth for London Paddington with passengers on board. It was the latest milestone in the introduction of Great Western Railway’s (GWR) fleet of new Intercity Express Trains.

The Agility Trains consortium, made up of manufacturer Hitachi and partner John Laing, was awarded a £5.7 billion contract to construct the new generation trains in 2012 for GWR, as well as Virgin Trains East Coast and Virgin Trains West Coast, to replace the workhorse Intercity 125s. Passengers will enjoy more space, more comfort, and faster journeys when GWR’s entire fleet of 93 new Intercity Express Trains enters service by the end of 2019.

Great Experience Makers

While it’s undergoing the biggest fleet upgrade in a generation, GWR is also investing in another of its greatest assets: people.

GWR employs more than 6,000 members of staff to operate passenger services from London Paddington to the Cotswolds, West of England, South West England and South Wales. Since August, this has also included services for open access operator Heathrow Express too.

So far more than 4,000 colleagues have been empowered through GWR’s Great Experience Makers programme. The train company wants to “build on Brunel’s legacy” and build a history of its own by improving the customers’ experience and make it a railway that’s fit for the 21st century.

This isn’t about trains and tracks, but about putting customers at the centre of the company. The Great Experience Makers programme is designed to help GWR’s staff to work together to meet the promise it has made to customers – to revalue rail in the hearts and minds of the travelling public.

Sharing best practice and learning from each others’ experiences, the programme has helped cleaners, station staff and onboard teams better understand how to make decisions that are right by customers.

GWR is one of the country’s biggest train operating companies and has its own internal Excellence Awards each year, where it celebrates these Great Experience Makers.

Recognising great staff

As human resources director Ruth Busby explains, a big part of its people strategy is to reward the colleagues who set the standard for what good customer service and experiences should be for the thousands of people who use GWR services every day.

“It’s important to recognise the positive impact our colleagues on the front line are having to the experiences of customers, and the role our management population play in helping to deliver those experiences,” said Ruth. “They act as that link between the boardroom and the platform and make up around one sixth of our colleagues.”

This year GWR has sponsored the Rail Manager of the Year category at the RailStaff Awards. The category, which is one of the most popular for nominations, seeks to recognise managers who show outstanding leadership skills and go above and beyond for their team.

Last year the award was won by Virgin Trains’ head of drivers Nick Chadwick. He was described as an “unsung hero” who has worked to improve driver recruitment, performance and engagement.

He was also nominated for developing and managing the very first train driver apprenticeship programme in the UK, and for implementing cutting-edge post-incident diagnostic, investigation and support for train drivers.

Ruth added: “Our people agenda also recognises the positive impact managers can have on our performance.

“In areas where there are increased levels of manager engagement and processes are followed, customer satisfaction scores are higher – and we are seeking to leverage the positive influence our managers can have across the business.”

After the sun sets and the lights go down on the RailStaff Awards on 29 November, the attention will shift from track and trains to the tremendous work of drivers, cleaners and managers.

“Out of all the categories available, it’s important to recognise managers who can use their people skills to influence behaviours of colleagues, who in turn go a long way to revaluing rail in the hearts and minds of the travelling public,” said Ruth. “It also comes at a time when we’re trying to better support our managers and leaders, who are at the forefront of behavioural and cultural change within our business.”

If you haven’t already, there’s still a chance to nominate a colleague in one of the 20 categories ahead of the 5 October deadline.

Either way, keep an eye out for the December issue of RailStaff, when the headlines will be stolen by the extraordinary achievements of staff from all areas of the rail industry.

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