The men and women who staff the 2,500 railway stations around the country have a lot to cope with.
They have to keep those stations safe for passengers, make sure they are clean and provide opportunities for ‘retail therapy’ for passengers in a hurry as well as for those with time on their hands.
Train-operator staff have to sell tickets and then check them, direct passengers and answer a multitude of questions. They are expected to know everything about the railway, the local area, bus timetables, taxi fares and the weather forecast.
They also have to despatch trains, assist passengers boarding and disembarking, look after or search for lost luggage and dispense first aid. Oh, and they have to deal with drunks, vagrants, children, the harassed, the pregnant, the disabled, the suicidal and the just confused.
Above all, they have to be nice to people, all the time, no matter what.
It’s a mammoth job that goes largely unnoticed. Passengers are often quick to complain yet slow to praise.
But colleagues notice a job well done. Last year, 98 nominations were received for the Station Staff award, sponsored by the Transport Benevolent Fund CIO.
Ray of sunshine
Under the headline ‘Frontline Heroes’, last year’s review of the RailStaff Awards described how Aaron Koduah brightens up passengers’ journeys with his self-penned motivational messages on the announcement board at Crewe station.
For more than four years, Aaron, who works at the station as a welcome host, has provided a ray of sunshine for customers on even the dreariest of days with his contagious smile and often topical thoughts of the day.
At first, he was nervous about doing something differently, but, with his message board becoming synonymous with Crewe, and celebs such as Paul ‘The Sinnerman’ Sinha from gameshow ‘The Chase’ taking snaps of his quotes, Aaron now takes great pride in the impact he’s able to make to customer’s days.
He has also channelled his positive energy into publishing a book: Developing A Strong Mindset, which features a collection of his favourite quotes.
Aaron, who works on the gateline, received 17 submissions from customers and colleagues during the nomination process, and, for having such an impact on the customer experience at Crewe, he was recognised in the Station Staff Award category.
The former soldier’s outlook is even more remarkable considering he and his partner were hit with tragic news last year when their son died shortly after he was born. Aaron said: “I just feel like life changes so, when you are in a bad situation you have to keep holding on because you don’t know what the future holds.”
The Station Staff of the Year Award was sponsored by the Transport Benevolent Fund CIO (TBF), a membership charity that offers a wide range of financial, health, welfare and financial benefits to public transport workers should need, hardship or distress arise.
Chris Sullivan, chair of TBF, said: “These awards are important, we need to encourage more young people into this business – people like Aaron with his attitude towards the work. They’re the people that will drive the railway forward – it’s not the big money that’s being invested. It’s all about the people, just like TBF.”
Helping to make a difference
The TBF returns to sponsor Station Staff again this year. A non-profit making membership charity, the TBF offers a wide range of health, welfare and financial benefits to those working in public transport, should need, hardship or distress arise.
Anyone engaged in the public transport industry in Great Britain is eligible to join. Membership currently costs just £1 a week, covering the member, their partner and dependent children. Each family member is considered separately and benefits paid are not cumulative for the whole family. The membership fee can be deducted through the company payroll facility or, if not available, paid by standing order.
Benefits include cash grants to help cover various needs including short-term financial hardship from sickness (typically two weeks or more), debt advice, legal help on non-employment matters and bereavement grants.
TBF also offers medical benefits such as second opinions, scans and tests (if the NHS is unable to deliver within an acceptable time frame), a wide range of complementary and alternative therapies, medical equipment, prescription pre-payment certificates and convalescence.
The Fund was originally formed in 1923 and the needs of today’s members are very different to those of 97 years ago. Unfortunately, there are still cases of hardship among those who work in the public transport industry; even more so during the difficult times everyone is living through at the moment. TBF currently has nearly 68,000 members and the continuing relevance of the Fund’s work is best illustrated by the volume of awards to members, which, during the past 12 months, have been in excess of £2.8million.
The Fund is run by a board of trustees, the majority of whom work in the industry, that decides on all benefits. TBF’s patrons include leading figures in the major transport groups and trades unions.
In recognition of the valuable work carried out by all those working in the rail sector, TBF has supported the RailStaff Awards for many years. John Sheehy, TBF CEO and main judge of the nominees for the Station Staff award, said: “TBF is here to help its members in times of need and the Station Staff award is a great opportunity to thank those who regularly help others in need. Members of station staff are an integral part of the railway and, being the first point of contact for passengers, they play a very important role in helping customers’ experience on the railway to be a safe and pleasant one.
“Staff often face difficult situations requiring compassion and courage. On a day-to-day basis, they are the unsung heroes of the railway, and that is why TBF is proud to take this opportunity to acknowledge their valuable contribution to the sector.
“When judging the nominees for the Station Staff Award category we are looking for a commitment to helping others, ensuring customers have a positive experience of the railway. The potential winner should be reliable, hardworking and demonstrate their initiative in response to often challenging, and occasionally, life-threating situations.”