Learning and development can take many forms on today’s railway. For a start, all new employees need training, not only to do their jobs but on the safety aspects of what they will be required to do – even office workers will come into contact with the railway from time to time.
Then there is the career development aspect. Railwaymen and women are expected to progress through their careers, picking up new skills and facing new challenges. That takes training too.
Continuous professional development (CPD) is also a form of learning, whether it is attending formal training courses or going to conferences and seminars.
Then there is the task of just encouraging people to join the railway in the first place. Taking the message to young people and students, promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in schools. It’s all ‘learning and development’.
This is one of the categories that can be won two ways. As in other categories, those that work in learning and development can be nominated for the work they do outside the railway, or voluntarily with colleagues. But, also, new ways of thinking while at work, developing new courses and giving colleagues new opportunities – that could gain a nomination as well.
Reality in motion
In 2019, the winners were one of the latter. The Motion Reality team – a not-for-profit arm of engineering firm Motion Rail – tours schools and Big Bang Fairs, using specially designed virtual reality (VR) software to raise awareness of the dangers of playing on the railway through ‘gamification’.
The programme’s appeal to the computer-game generation is obvious. ‘Players’ have to strap their heads into VR headsets and grab two controllers that allow them to move around in the virtual world.
One simulation sees the user presented with a typical scenario at an automatic half-barrier level crossing. When a train begins its approach, the barriers start to close and the user has to follow the right sequence of tasks. If they decide to cross as the train passes, it hits them – but doesn’t result in any gore!
The University of South Wales assessed rail safety knowledge in children before and after undergoing the Motion Reality training. Knowledge and retention improved by 42 per cent on average once people had gone through the course.
Since the beginning of 2018, more than 300,000 people have used the system. Plans are now in place to take Motion Reality to railway stations as part of the Samaritans Million Hour Challenge, to hold sessions around mental health awareness, educating people on how train drivers feel when a person is struck and the devastating ripple effect it has on individuals, friends and family.
Emma Dymond, group chief executive at Motion Rail, said of her team receiving the RailStaff Award for Learning and Development: “Everybody thought we were mad wanting to build a virtual reality railway two years ago, so getting recognition for this crazy idea is absolutely overwhelming – I don’t think there’s a better word for it.”
Learning to adapt
Heathrow Express, the non-franchised, unsubsidised private rail company that runs up to 150 services a day between London Paddington and Heathrow airport, sponsored that 2019 award, and is doing so again in 2020.
Learning and development is at the heart of how Heathrow Express aims to continue to top customer satisfaction rankings once pandemic travel restrictions are lifted. As the industry emerges from lockdown, everyone will be adapting to a ‘new normal,’ finding new ways to keep customers and colleagues safe while providing the best service possible.
With a track record of innovation and industry-leading customer service, Heathrow Express has its sights set on getting people moving again as Heathrow’s only dedicated rail link. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a pause on international travel for now, customers can look forward to a new, specially converted fleet of trains being introduced later this year, ensuring Heathrow Express continues to provide the fast, frequent and reliable service it’s known for.
Due for launch towards the end of 2020, the six newly converted electric trains in the fleet will each be 160 metres long and have the capacity to carry 748 passengers.
These new Class 387 trains will replace the current Class 332 fleet, which has been in service for all of Heathrow Express’ 22 years of existence, carrying 115 million passengers and travelling 33 million miles since June 1998.
As with the existing service, the new fleet is bespoke for air travellers, so there will be plenty of room for luggage, an onboard high-definition TV service and the option of travelling in Business First, which offers worktables and complimentary copies of newspapers and magazines, as well as extra legroom.
In addition, the trains, capable of a top speed of 110mph, are being upgraded with new USB at-seat power sockets and faster Wi-Fi.
Both these new trains and a continued focus on customer service will help the service build on being named top in the Transport Focus National Rail Passenger Survey four times running. Much of that success was down to delivering a fast and reliable service – over the last 12 months, 93.67 per cent of trains arrived within five minutes of schedule.
In February 2020, Heathrow Express took a team of frontline customer service colleagues and their managers to the Disney Institute in Paris for world-class customer-service training as part of its own learning and development programme. The team experienced the Disney way of delivering service and brought this learning home to their colleagues, supporting the Heathrow Express vision of offering the best airport transfer service in the world.
Heathrow Express is, and will continue to be, the fastest route between Heathrow airport and London Paddington. The route between Paddington and Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 takes just 15 minutes – a few minutes longer to Terminal 5.
Post COVID-19, learning and development will return to the heart of the rail industry, which is why Heathrow Express is proud to sponsor the RailStaff Learning and Development Award for 2020.