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RailStaff Awards: Celebrating extraordinary people

On May 18, hundreds of people travelled between London Paddington and Exeter St Davids on Great Western Railway’s (GWR) last High Speed Train (HST) in regular passenger service.

Rail enthusiasts lined the route to snap a final photo while customers and colleagues took a minute to appreciate the iconic train that saved intercity rail travel. 

Such is the public sentiment for the trains that this final trip attracted coverage from a host of media outlets. A video news report on the BBC website even became its most watched clip of the day.

On Twitter, the hashtag #LastOfTheHSTs trended and the resultant buzz of users celebrating the historical moment saw GWR’s social media team receive its highest ever positive score.

After 43 years in operation, the fleet of HSTs has been replaced with 93 Hitachi-built Intercity Express Trains (IET). The first IET entered service on October 16, 2017, and GWR took delivery of its final trainset in May this year. 

“It was a great event that was quite nostalgic,” said GWR managing director Mark Hopwood, talking about the last HST. “Colleagues from all over the business worked hard to make it a success – little touches like bespoke window labels helped make the day extra special for customers.” 

But, as Mark explained, it was an event tinged with sadness. 

“Many of our colleagues loved working with these trains – some of them for 40 years,” he added. “That being said, the retirement of the HST from high-speed service represents a significant milestone for our transformation, and while it is poignant there is plenty to be excited about in the future.” 

The new fleet is part of the biggest upgrade to GWR in a generation, which, combined with a major timetable change in December, will boost the number of trains and seats and cut journey times.

Influential figures

With so many new trains being introduced, GWR has seized the opportunity to name 50 of them after inspirational locals who have influenced the towns and cities it serves. The campaign will see each of the trains fitted with plaques inscribed with the name of one ‘Great Westerner’.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the revolutionary engineer who designed and built the Great Western Railway; George ‘Johnny’ Johnson and Joy Lofthouse, pilots from the historic Dambusters raid in 1943; and Rick Rescorla, a Cornishman who died saving the lives of thousands of people during the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks in New York, are examples of the names that appear on the new IET trains. 

Rail Manager of the Year

The train naming project has been set up to recognise the achievements of extraordinary local people – and it’s the same drive to recognise greatness that’s led to GWR supporting this year’s RailStaff Awards. Following on from sponsorship of the 2018 ceremony, GWR will once more return to sponsor the Rail Manager of the Year category. 

“Having great line managers to guide our colleagues through the huge transformation we’re seeing on the GWR network is key to us delivering our purpose of revaluing rail in the hearts and minds of the travelling public,” said HR director Ruth Busby. “I see and hear of fantastic examples of leaders who demonstrate our values and use their Great Experience Maker customer service training, so this category particularly resonates with me.”

By coincidence – and it really was, judging is independent – last year’s category was won by GWR’s Carys Thomas, a former duty station manager who is a graduate of the company’s Aspire apprenticeship scheme.

Carys, who now works as an operations compliance manager, had a significant impact at Bristol Temple Meads station. She boosted staffing levels from 67 to 96 per cent and worked tirelessly to help improve much-needed station administration; helping to maintain operational and occupational compliance. 

The RailStaff Awards will once more take place at Birmingham’s NEC, this year on Thursday, November 28. To find out more head to: www.railstaffawards.com

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