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A strange situation

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RailStaff’s cover this month not only reflects one of our key stories but also the strange situation many of us are facing every day.

Steve White sits in front of his French window, with his laptop and a mug of coffee on the table, working from home. He is self-isolating, keeping his distance from fellow workers and the general public, as part of the attempt to stem the spread of Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19.

Yet, as chief operating officer of Govia Thameslink Railway, he is also running a company that still operates over 2,000 train services a day. True, most of them are almost empty – you can see in this issue how one train, Class 717 number 717016, at 1.22pm on Thursday 2 April, had only 22 passengers on board. The train seats 362 and has a total capacity of 943. That’s less than four passengers per car on this six-car unit, making social distancing a reality.

Still, the trains continue to run. Those 22 passengers could have been NHS workers going to a hospital, or returning home, or police officers preparing to start their shift, or even railway signallers and maintenance workers who will keep the next train running, and the next, and the next.

It was a hard lesson to learn for some. In the early stages of the epidemic, people were still crowding into tube trains and onto buses, hurrying to work on their building sites, in their factories, offices and shops.

That’s now mostly stopped. Huge publicity, and the British Transport Police, keep most would-be passengers at home. Key workers can now drive to their local station along empty roads, park their cars, free of charge, in empty car parks, then walk through empty stations to their empty trains. It’s weird!

But it’s necessary. As I write this, sitting in my back bedroom with the window open and a glorious sunny day outside, it is hard to imagine that over 7,000 people have died from this plague. It’s so bad that I originally typed 5,000, checked, then replaced it with 7,000. By the time you read this, I have no idea what that number will be.

And that’s just in the UK. It’s 85,000 worldwide – even using the blatantly under-reported figures from some countries. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Redditch in Worcestershire, Gosport in Hampshire or Harlow in Essex. Again, no one knows what the final figure will be.

All we can do, all anyone can do, is do our jobs and our duty, try to keep the disease from spreading, and keep the country running. The rail industry has its part to play, behind the scenes, getting workers to work, carrying food and urgent supplies around the country, making sure that life is as normal as possible.

Of course, it is anything but normal. As well as working from home, many rail colleagues have been furloughed while others are sick, some desperately so. Our rail family won’t escape unscathed and our hearts go out to the families of those who have died and of those who may or may not make it.

To all our readers in these troubled times, may your God go with you – and Stay Safe!

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