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Another rollercoaster year

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Somehow, we’ve come to the end of another year, and it’s been one crammed full of successes, surprises, and struggles for the industry.

Looking at the positives, the past 12 months have seen passenger numbers continue to climb, with 1.7 billion journeys on the network in 2023, according to the ORR. That’s an increase of 18% on 2022, and a sure sign that travellers are returning to rail after the Covid lockdown.

Overall on-time performance also saw an improvement, with the percentage of trains arriving on time (using the Public Performance Measure, PPM) climb to 86.9% in the third quarter, up from 85.9% on the same period in 2022. The figures, again provided by the ORR, reflect the efforts of train operators and infrastructure managers to improve reliability.

Electrification of the network also took a step forward, with work progressing on the Midland Main Line and South Wales Core Valley Lines – another boost for Rail’s green credentials, and a step closer to net-zero.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been all roses, with two major stories dominating the headlines. The industrial action over pay and working arrangements which began in 2022 has continued throughout the year, disrupting services and businesses up and down the country. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, the best outcome for the industry is that these disputes are resolved as soon as possible.

The scrapping of HS2’s second phase, a result of short-term thinking at the top of government, left many in shock, though it was hardly unexpected after previous cutbacks. The industry lost a revolutionary infrastructure project which would increase capacity, reduce emissions, and create jobs. The people of the North of England lost a vital, modern, transport link and the promise of a rebalanced economy, though they were the least surprised of anyone.

But we can’t dwell on the past. We must look forward, and this final issue of 2023 includes a focus on Progress & Innovation. Along with a rundown of the most recent technological developments, we take a look at the novel steps that AtkinsRéalis is taking to make life easier for neurodiverse employees, and examine the growing role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications for the industry.

We also look back at the stunning RailStaff Awards which took place on 30 November. The event honoured the dedicated and dutiful teams and individuals who make this great industry and, in these pages, we celebrate the winners and all those who were highly-commended.

All that leaves is for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

If you’re taking time off over the holiday period, make the most of it. If you’re working through the celebrations, you have our thanks.

Here’s looking forward to whatever 2024 brings!

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