A new company, Breserv, is setting out to be the ‘Go to Company’ for all electrical installation work on the railway while having the objective of providing a first-class service for all clients, based on integrity, honesty and professionalism.
With a skilled and experienced time-served workforce, Breserv prioritises sustainability and minimising the environmental impact of everything that it does.
Managing director Stephen Royle (left) comes to Breserv from major electrification contractor SPL Powerlines UK, where he was a senior project manager for systems and civils work. He has also held freelance consultancy roles at Network Rail, AECOM, Signalling Solutions Limited and ABC Electrification.
His rail career started in 1978 as an apprentice for British Rail on the London Midland Region (LMR). After working in various roles including site electrician, senior and principal technical officer, he moved into a managerial role in 1992.
Nick Booth (right) is Breserv’s operations director. He joined Babcock Rail in 2008 as distribution supervisor, overseeing high voltage and low voltage renewals. As the Network Rail contract moved, Nick transferred with it, first to AmeySersa and then to Balfour Beatty as construction manager responsible for the installation of LV works in support of S&C renewals.
Earlier in his career, Nick worked overseas at Hong Kong International Airport (Chek Lap Kok) installing power, lighting and the main fibre optic link connecting the airport buildings. He moved into rail in 2006 when he joined Carillion in a new E&P division as site supervisor, undertaking points heating, level crossing upgrades including lighting and statutory fixed testing of Network Rail premises.
Between them, Stephen and Nick have the experience to manage a variety of electrical contracts on the railway. Breserv is actively taking on work in the fields of electrical surveying, electrical installation, specialist trackside locations (including points heating, signalling power supplies, goods or stabling yards and level crossings), new buildings and refurbishments, testing and commissioning, and statutory and portable appliance testing.
Steve Royle commented: “We are committed to employing and developing a skilled workforce that will benefit both the rail and electrical industry. To bring new talent into the workforce and offer a traditional progression from apprentice to senior manager with a solid development structure.”
As the lockdown starts to ease, it brings with it a degree of uncertainty and worry.
Two months ago, the message from government and health advisers was clear. Don’t travel unless you have to, and even then, don’t travel. If you must go out, stay at least two meters from anyone else – even cross the road to avoid them – and then wash your hands.
Oh, and don’t travel.
With a few exceptions, the nation was banished to its back bedroom, working from home.
The exceptions were, of course, frontline staff – NHS workers, police and transport staff who were keeping all the other frontliners able to get to work and back again.
It seemed to work. There were few trains running with even fewer passengers on them, no cars on the road and only a few people out walking their dogs.
But it couldn’t last. The NHS got on top of the pandemic, the government started to feel the pain of paying the wages of furloughed staff, now reportedly up to nine million people, and business owners needed to get at least some income to pay rent and services.
So, in June, things started to ease. People who couldn’t work from home were encouraged to get back to work, but on foot or by bicycle. If they had to, they could go by car. They should use public transport only as a last resort and wear a facemask – originally recommended and now compulsory.
Of course, that didn’t work either. At the first sniff of an easing of restrictions, we had people crowding onto beaches (and leaving them covered in litter), flocking to country beauty spots (and leaving them covered in litter), staging illegal raves and barbeques and generally NOT social distancing.
Then we had demonstrations, protests and, in some cases, riots, sparked off by events in America. Social distancing went out of the window – it’s difficult to distance when taking part in a large demonstration that is crowding the streets.
On the railways, the timetables picked up with more services running, though the unfortunate open-access operators, with no government funding, were all still on furlough with their trains parked up. Face coverings became mandatory on 15 June – a week later in Scotland – and rail unions were concerned that their members would be asked to enforce them. The government said that the police would do that, but that most people would be sensible and wear them from choice.
In fact, not many people wore them and almost nobody enforced the regulation. How surprising!
We therefore wait for the second spike of COVID-19 as the law of averages catches up with the bathers, picnickers, rioters and careless travellers. What will happen then?
Back to the back bedroom probably!
Through it all, RailStaff carries on, but even we are affected. We didn’t print in May but are doing so for this combined May/June issue. The next will be July/August and then, probably, September/October. Hopefully, we shall be back to normal for November. Whether we will be, who knows? It partly depends on how well behaved everybody is and whether we get the infamous ‘second spike’.
We are still bringing you the news – look for it daily at railstaff.co.uk – and the RailStaff Awards is still scheduled for Wednesday 25 November. Fingers crossed!
Felix Schmid has retired from his post as Professor of Railway Systems Engineering at the University of Birmingham after 15 years.
He moved to Birmingham in 2005 from the University of Sheffield, where he had built up the MSc programme in Railway Systems Engineering over 11 years. Before that, he was a lecturer in Control Systems Engineering at Brunel University for 10 years.
Born in Switzerland, he studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Zürich, before moving to the UK to join GEC Traction in 1978.
A huge enthusiast for all things railway and engineering, Felix is a regular judge for the IMechE Railway Challenge and, with partner Bridget Eickhoff, organises the Institution’s annual Technical Tour.
Despite retiring, he still has plenty to look forward to. He is the chair of the IMechE Railway Division for 2020/21 and has also been appointed Professor emeritus of Railway Systems Engineering at the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education.
In a post on LinkedIn, the Permanent Way institution wished him well. “Over a long and very vigorous career, he has made a huge contribution to railways, inspiring countless students to establish themselves as leaders in our industry in the UK and worldwide,” a spokesperson said.
“He has been a great asset to the PWI, giving talks at our meetings and helping Brian Counter to set in motion the actions that led us to be able to offer professional registration on the way to becoming the full blown Professional Engineering Institution we are today.”
Even though he will still be around, Felix will be sorely missed.
Should the railways remain in the private sector? Or are they, effectively, already nationalised after the government’s emergency measures taken as part of its response to Covid-19?
Now the Office for National Statistics has joined the debate on the future of railway operations.
In a statement on its website, the ONS commented: “In response to the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent introduction of movement restrictions, the government announced emergency measures to ensure that the railways continued to operate in the circumstances of dramatically falling passenger numbers.
“Train operators with government franchise agreements had the opportunity to ‘temporarily transition’ onto Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs), under which the normal financial franchise mechanisms were suspended (initially for six months), transferring all revenue and cost risk to the Government. The train operators then continued to run day-to-day services for a small pre-determined management fee. Alongside transferring the financial risk to government, EMAs also imposed some obligations on the private train operating companies, in what is already a highly regulated industry.
“The ONS is therefore assessing if these new procedures should affect the statistical classification of the train operating companies within the UK national accounts. The result of the review will be announced as soon as possible.”
Two railway ‘franchises’, Northern and LNER, are already run by the Department for Transport. The remaining train operators, unsurprisingly, want to remain in the private sector, although perhaps under a different set of rules.
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said: “The prospect of reclassification underscores the need for a fundamental reset of the relationship between the public and private sectors in rail, something we have long been calling for and which the Williams review, yet to report, was set up to deliver.
“Government has an opportunity to accelerate the drive to a renewed system as it considers what replaces EMAs, which were put in place in as a short-term response to the pandemic, when they end in September. To ensure passenger numbers recover as quickly as possible, which is good for taxpayers, the economy and the environment, new contracts must lock in incentives for the private sector to grow revenue and run the railway safely and efficiently, while also enabling further reform.”
The trade unions, however, want the railways to be renationalised as soon as possible, and they see the ONS statement as a step in this direction.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, said: “The government must end the charade of trying to say this is not happening. Instead Ministers should tell the truth and act forcefully to defend the interests of our taxpayers by running these services directly through a wholly owned subsidiary.
“There is no room amid the Covid chaos to continue with any pretence that lining the pockets of private operators is acceptable. The era of privatisation is well and truly over.”
The RMT had a similar message. “The charade of rail privatisation should end and the government should now formalise the inevitable and bring the whole lot into official public ownership and start planning for the future of a publicly owned railway that will be essential to our economic and strategic wellbeing post COVID-19,” said senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch.
“Rather than risking the chaos of further franchise collapses, and with the taxpayer already paying for services, underwriting debt and wasting cash underpinning private operators profits, there has never been a better opportunity to ditch the fragmentation and waste of franchising and bring the railway officially into full public ownership.”
This year’s Railsport National Angling Championships, due to take place on 12 August 2020 at Makins Fisheries, has been cancelled as a result of COVID-19.
Organisers delayed making the announcement to see how the lockdown panned out, but it is now official.
Although individual angling has been allowed to recommence under strict guidelines, team competitions and major angling events remain on hold at the present time with social distancing being a major problem. It remains unclear as to when the government will allow angling tournaments and team competitions to recommence – it may happen by 1 August, but then again it may not.
Reluctantly with the safety of anglers and their families in mind, not forgetting the distance some competitors have to travel, and together with the timescale in organising the event, the decision has been taken to cancel this year’s National Angling Championships.
Railsport looks forward to welcoming fishermen and women back in 2021.
A consortium made up of Sheffield-based railway technology company 3Squared and operators Rail Operations Group and Freightliner has won government funding to develop an innovative solution to help rail freight plan short term paths more effectively.
Currently, a sizeable proportion of freight train schedules, which are in the Working Time Table, are either unused or cancelled.
The consortium’s Dynamic Freight Capacity Management (DFCM) solution will provide train planners with a historical record of train movements, allowing schedules which are frequently cancelled or part-used to be quickly identified and then bid for.
As a result of the tool being able to identify unused paths, knock-on delays to scheduled services will be reduced, improving punctuality for both passenger and freight operators.
Rail Operations Group and Freightliner are due to pilot the system later in the year and it is hoped that if the reliability of paths improves and the time taken to produce and submit an application decreases then it could be rolled out across the industry in the future.
RAIB has investigated the effects on human performance in signalling operation following “numerous incidents in which signaller decision-making has been pivotal”
The work of signallers, hidden away in signal boxes and control centres, is sometimes taken for granted. Now the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has published a report entitled “Class Investigation into human performance in signalling operation”, which includes six recommendations.
Signalling, like the rest of the railway’s operating equipment and infrastructure, has come a very long way recently. Nowadays, many signallers work, not in lineside signal boxes, but in signalling centres with as many as fifteen computer workstations in front of them. The skills needed have also evolved, but RAIB has recommended that still more needs to be done.
RAIB report 03/2020, published on 12 May, states that railway safety is heavily dependent on signallers’ decisions and lists five categories of incident where those decisions sometimes aren’t up to standard – user-worked crossing irregularities, line blockages, users trapped on CCTV controlled crossings, irregularities involving level crossings on local control and “other operational irregularities”. The class investigation examined and reviewed a number of case studies, selected from each of the five listed categories.
User-worked crossing incidents most often involved signallers giving permission to cross to members of the public as a train was approaching. Line blockage incidents reviewed included granting a line blockage on a section of track with a train already in it or signalling a train into a blockage.
With CCTV-controlled crossings, there were incidents of signallers clearing signals whilst a user (most often a pedestrian) was on the crossing. At crossings under local control, most incidents were of trains passing over crossings whilst the barriers were raised.
500 signal “boxes”
Network Rail operates approximately 500 signal boxes nationwide. Signalling centres/boxes are broadly of three types: lever frame, signalling centres with control panels and centres with computer workstations. (See photographs of typical layouts/arrangements). Whilst most of the computer centres have five workstations, some have as many as fifteen. In total Network Rail employs around 5,200 signalling staff.
A number of common factors were identified, including signaller workloads, user centre design, competence management, experiential knowledge and organisational structure. The report also states bluntly: “Network Rail’s investigations do not always fully exploit the opportunities to learn from these incidents.”
Recommendations from RAIB
The RAIB report makes six recommendations, which may be summarised as follows:
Network Rail should develop improved techniques for measuring and predicting cognitive workload and integrate such techniques into the management of signaller workloads;
Network Rail should review its processes to incorporate a user centred approach to changes in signaller workload and the review should include ergo-dynamic design;
Network Rail should develop and support those delivering training and assessment of signallers at local level and include ‘train the trainer’ coaching guidance;
Network Rail should research the experiential knowledge of experienced signallers and learn how such knowledge contributes to performance;
Network Rail needs to implement measures in the National Operations Programme and revise management to ensure that those supervising and managing signallers have the time, skills, knowledge and status so that they may undertake their roles effectively;
Network Rail should review, modify, and/or reinforce processes for the investigation of incidents. Specifically, they should use a ‘fair culture’ flowchart and analysis of underlying factors using a wider trend analysis to identify systematic issues. Additionally, they need to achieve full separation of safety investigations from the disciplinary process.
Michael Peter will become Siemens Mobility’s sole CEO as Sabrina Soussan, who has been his co-CEO until now, is leaving the company to take on a new challenge.
Roland Busch, member of the Managing Board and Deputy CEO of Siemens AG, said: “We deeply regret that Sabrina Soussan is leaving us. At the same time, we understand her decision. We thank Ms. Soussan for her outstanding achievements at Siemens and wish her every success in her new role.
“With Michael Peter as CEO, Siemens Mobility has a recognized expert for transportation, automation and digitalization at its helm. Together with Sabrina Soussan, he has very successfully developed our mobility business and has further improved its performance. For customers and employees, he stands for continuity in the top management of this successful area of business.”
Up to now, Michael Peter has headed up the turnkey solutions and rail electrification businesses in addition to being responsible for rail automation and road-traffic management systems. He will now also run the functions in the rolling stock area and customers services for which Sabrina Soussan had been responsible.
Peter earned a degree in electrical engineering at Technische Universität Braunschweig (Germany) and Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain). For the past 25 years, he has served in various capacities at Siemens in countries including Germany, Spain, Thailand and the U.S.
Sabrina Soussan has been working at Siemens for more than 20 years in a variety of positions in Germany, France, Japan, the UK and Switzerland. As head of the Mobility Division, she was also responsible for the Mainline Transport and Urban Transport Business Units – the businesses with high-speed trains, commuter and regional trains, locomotives, metro systems, and tram and light rail systems as well as service. She holds a university degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering and an MBA from universities in Poitiers (France) and Dublin (Ireland).
Another railway worker – a controller of site safety – has been struck by a train and killed. What more do we need to do?
With a track worker killed, an overhead linesman badly electrocuted, and three workers having to run for their lives and reaching safety with just one second to spare, Colin Wheeler asks what more the industry needs to do to keep its workers safe.
Tragically, I must begin by offering my sincere condolences to the family, friends and work colleagues of the track worker who, on 8 April at 10:52, was struck and fatally injured by a passenger train. It was travelling at 90mph on the West Coast main line near the village of Roade in Northamptonshire, close to Hanslope junction where the Northampton Loop leaves the WCML to Rugby.
The victim was the Controller of Site Safety (COSS) for a group undertaking civil engineering work, according to the news item posted on 22 April on the Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB) website.
The train was travelling from Northampton to London Euston when its driver saw the trackworker, sounded the train horn and applied the emergency brakes.
The work, which began back in February, was the reinforcement of the cutting slope adjacent to the Up Slow line. An excavator had been in use and was working within the safe distance of the return conductor of the overhead line equipment. A return conductor isolation was taken and a line blockage was used to install the earths for that isolation.
The COSS handed back the line blockage shortly before he was struck by the train. The RAIB have begun their investigation which will consider “the actions of those involved, the planning of the work, implementation of safe system of work and relevant underlying or organisational factors”.
Safety to improve from July 2022?
In July last year, the Office of Rail and Road issued an improvement notice to Network Rail Infrastructure Limited (NRIL) stating that “NRIL was not ensuring the safety of their employees and contractors working on or near the line so far as is reasonably practical” and “they have not ensured that appropriate procedures are in place, and suitable equipment is provided for preventing a person working on the transport system from being struck by a moving train”.
Disappointingly, the notice compliance date is listed as 31 July 2022!
Also, in July last year, following the two fatalities on 3 July at Margam, South Wales, Network Rail launched its “trackworker safety taskforce” and chief executive Andrew Haines is on record as saying “I don’t want to see another trackworker death”.
Many in the industry are already thinking that there is an urgent need for things to change more quickly; the 2022 date is surely much too far away?
“Less than a second” near miss
RAIB’s Safety Digest 03/2020, issued on 14 April, refers to a near miss on 14 November last year at around 09:00 at Merkland, 3.2km south of Kirklebridge crossovers in Dumfries and Galloway.
Three members of Network Rail staff had a near miss with a train travelling at 125mph. They had just begun a track inspection, believing it to be under the protection of LOWS (a radio-based lookout-operated warning system). According to the Safety Digest, they jumped clear with less than a second to spare.
LOWS has a receiver unit with flashing lights and a siren that starts working when switched on. The switches are connected to a receiver via a secure radio link. The LOWS controller and each lookout carry dedicated mobile phones provided with the equipment. The system is regularly used on the West Coast main line in south Scotland “because the combination of high train speeds and curved track often precludes the use of a warning system relying on lookouts using flags”.
Strangely this quoted statement seems to imply that “relying on lookouts using flags” would be preferable!
LOWS lookouts in position
All the team were familiar with the equipment, they drove to the site, a pre-work COSS briefing was delivered and they unpacked the equipment. The two LOWS lookouts travelled to their appointed locations and the Lookout South used the mobile phone to confirm he was in position and ready. The controller asked him to switch on the transmitter unit and wait until he had contacted the Lookout North. One minute later the Lookout North confirmed via his mobile phone that he was in position and was instructed to turn on his transmitter unit and test the system by operating it.
The system testing triggered the warning lights and siren at the worksite. When the phone call ended the controller expected both the lookouts to send warnings when trains approached, but the Lookout North “believed this was not yet required.” The controller had phoned the Lookout South and they conducted a successful test. The controller then said “fine that’s us” or “right that’s you up and running”.
Just seven minutes later the train passed the Lookout North but the LOWS transmitter was not operated because the LOWS North lookout did not understand that he was required to start giving warnings for trains!
The inspection work was immediately cancelled after the incident and staff left the site.
“You are now looking out”
Training for the use of LOWS equipment includes the instruction of controllers to ask lookouts to make test warnings, confirm that these have been received, and then instruct lookouts to start giving warnings with immediate effect by saying, “you are now looking out”. The Safety Digest says that members of the LOWS team were “using informal language rather than the formal communication protocol mandated by Network Rail”. The conversation did not result in a clear understanding between the staff involved.
Network Rail’s standard operating procedures for use of LOWS are contained in two documents – “Use of Lookout Operated Warning System” and “LOWS set-up voice communications protocol”. The latter gives precise wording for “about 20 phrases (including five to be repeated back) in two phone conversations between the operator and each lookout”.
Network Rail and the RAIB have now agreed that this is too complicated and consequently too difficult to use. RAIB has “observed” that the standard and protocols in use have not been reviewed or updated since they were first issued in 2009, although the equipment was upgraded in both 2010 and 2018. “Network Rail’s national workforce safety team is to address the issue and are considering the most efficient way to ensure staff use the simpler protocol” the Safety Digest says.
I would have thought it best to leave it to a group of controllers and LOWS lookouts to propose a simple system and/or to consider delegating the choice of words to controllers, making it clear that they carry responsibility for ensuring that the pre-work testing is done and LOWS lookouts always confirm that they are looking out before work on track begins.
Test before touch on 25kV OLE (overhead line equipment)
I am not an electrical engineer, but, if I were, I would accept and wish to abide by this relatively simple rule. However, Network Rail’s Safety Central website advice NRA 18-12 issued on 18 March had the above heading.
The Advice says that “test before touch is not being applied in a consistent manner”, before emphasising that “whilst approved live line indicators confirm de-energisation there could still be dangerous voltages in the equipment”. The advice lists the five-step process which should always be followed covering testing, applying earths, ensuring plans and permits are in place for 25kV, a Form C and it emphasises when you may need to re-test.
Overhead Linesman seriously injured
On 20 March, Network Rail issued (Network Rail Advice) NRA20-02 which details the accident on Christmas Day last year which resulted in an overhead linesman being seriously injured at Kensal Green in London when he came into contact with the live OLE. The formal investigation “revealed a number of factors which require immediate action to reinforce compliance with isolation planning and testing requirements”.
The Advice lists eight lengthy and detailed “immediate action points”. These include not planning staggered isolations, site or virtual walkouts to confirm limits, nominated person competences, hazards to be identified on the OLE permit/Form C, work limits, travel route and residual electrical hazards. I am surprised not to have found evidence of the involvement of RAIB or the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
Passenger train collision near Bromsgrove station
At around 22:43 on Monday 23 March, a three-coach Class 170 passenger train, the 21:05 from Cardiff Central to Birmingham, was approaching Bromsgrove Station when it collided with a derailed Class 66 locomotive.
The Class 66 had derailed at the end of a siding, as may be seen in the picture. It had travelled from Bescot to Bromsgrove to assist by banking freight trains ascending the notorious Lickey Incline (1 in 37). It derailed after running through the buffers at the end of the siding adjacent to the main line, leaving its front left corner foul of the northbound line. A corner of the leading cab was damaged but the locomotive driver was uninjured.
RAIB’s investigation will include “recommendations to improve safety”.
Signal passed at danger (SPAD) near Loughborough
This incident is being investigated by the RAIB. It happened at around 10:57 on 26 March. A northbound train passed a signal at red without authority by 200 metres, around three quarters of a mile south of Loughborough Station. On the approach to the signal that was passed, the permitted line speed is 65mph. The train was an empty four-car Class 710 unit with a Class 57 locomotive at each end. It was being moved from the Old Dalby test site to storage at Worksop with the two locomotives being used to provide braking with a braking pipe through the unit’s carriages.
Signal LR 503 was displaying a single yellow on the approach to signal LR 507 showing red. The driver applied the brakes before reaching LR 507, but the braking was not sufficient to stop the train before it passed the red signal. There were no injuries or damage done, but a southbound passenger train calling at Loughborough Station was delayed by 24 minutes.
The RAIB investigation will focus on understanding people’s actions, the braking capability of the train, how it was formed, prepared and driven, train timing schedules, risks when hauling unbraked units, driving and fitness, and previous accidents and incidents. It will then make recommendations to prevent a recurrence.
Fatal accident at Eden Park Station
The RAIB has also begun its investigation into this fatal accident that occurred on 26 April at Eden Park Station in Kent. At 19:05 in the early evening, a person with impaired vision suffered fatal injuries after falling from the edge of the platform at the station and almost immediately being struck by a train operating the 19:00 Hayes to London Charing Cross passenger service.
The platform edge was not equipped with a tactile surface. These are designed to warn people with impaired vision that they are near the platform edge.
RAIB’s investigation will seek to identify the sequence of events that led to the accident and other factors relating to the provision of tactile surfaces.
Unsurprisingly I see that RAIB is now advertising for more staff!
Weak compliance with Sentinel Scheme Rules
Released on 30 March as Network Rail’s “Sentinel Senior Responsible Owner”, Allan Spence has drawn attention to his concerns. He emphasises that “non-compliance puts workers and others at risk”. It has been a long time coming, but I welcome his intervention. His letter emphasises that “compliance with the rules is a condition for working on Network Rail’s managed infrastructure”.
Most pointedly he goes on to state that the obligations apply regardless of the “basis of payment” whether “on the books”, paying tax through PAYE or engaged through any form of self-employment for tax purposes, including payment through umbrella companies.
Having looked at published information about the funding and aims of the 100 persons strong “Trackworker Safety Taskforce” (that was launched in July last year with an eye watering budget of £70 million), I am convinced that our industry can and should be safer for its on-track workers. Website information states that there are 13,000 track workers per shift working on 20,000km of track at any one time. Also on the website, there are graphs and a ‘potential fatality dashboard’, together with other graphical aids and analysis. All good stuff, but is it influencing trackworkers behaviour sufficiently?
“When will we ever learn?”
The early success of the COVID-19 ‘Stay at Home’ campaign was achieved by repeatedly hammering home a simple and clear message. I am old enough to remember when British Railways Board (BRB), with a board director for safety, ran a successful safety campaign leading to over 15 months without a fatal accident.
As I recall, the BRB campaign featured an award-winning video titled “Deadly serious about safety”. Everyone, without exception, who worked on the track, had to see it. Many left the viewing with tears in their eyes. It featured an interview with the young widow of a worker who had lost his life on the track.
Monthly briefings followed, with more videos from the board director and local two-way discussions with local supervisors and managers. Failure to attend resulted in the instigation of disciplinary action followed by being banned from undertaking trackwork. The safety message was hammered home!
What eventually became the Track Safety Strategy Group vetted safety improvement proposals and made recommendations about further practical suggestions. Its members were not managers or safety professionals, but experienced and respected supervisors, union safety representatives and technical staff from all disciplines who worked mainly on track.
Local supervisors’ initiatives to make working safer were welcomed and, within delegated limited budgets, supervisors authorised and undertook work to improve safety. This all resulted in increasing commitment to safety ownership of safety.
For readers who are old enough, and have good memories, I make no apology for misquoting the refrain from “Where have all the flowers gone?” – it seems appropriate.
By the time the next edition of RailStaff is published, the industry will be halfway through its £70 million Task Force initiatives to comply with the Improvement Notices. Dealing with the additional difficulty identified by Allan Spence may not be easy, but will we see an improvement in track worker safety?
Health workers from st thomas’ hospital no longer have to walk past drab brickwork as they walk under the railway on their way to and from work
Artist Lionel Stanhope has been speaking with RailStaff’s Rachel Groves about his commissions from Network Rail and community groups to brighten up railway infrastructure, and a few he has done on his own account.
As nurses and doctors in the NHS have emerged as the superheroes of the nation amid the Covid-19 crisis, a tribute to their work by street artist Lionel Stanhope, 52, has materialised on one of the Cornwall Road railway arches under Waterloo railway station in Southwark. The iconic image appeared on Friday 1 May, around the corner from St Thomas’ Hospital, depicting the NHS as the superheroes of our time.
There is no doubt that the image is powerful and the size and positioning of the work makes it more impactful, but there are some who do not consider a mural to be true art. Are murals graffiti and a blight on our fine railway heritage? Or does our railway infrastructure present a rich and rugged canvas for a more modern and expansive form of artistic expression?
As lockdown began back in March, the Brockley-based artist Lionel Stanhope, like many, found himself unable to continue his usual work. He was expecting to be out and about painting three pieces for Network Rail, but instead he found himself twiddling his paintbrushes. To avoid boredom creeping in, he got to work on some designs and came up with a small version of his NHS superman design on a board which he fixed up on a road in Hilly Fields, near where he lives.
“It got a great response. I was thinking I would love to tweak the design and make it a bit bigger, better, and stronger. So, I contacted Eddie Burton at Network Rail, to see if he had a suitable location.
“He suggested Waterloo, which gave me the opportunity to do a much bigger version near to St Thomas Hospital to say thank you to all our incredible NHS staff. I did it for the thousands of doctors and nurses who are doing incredible work saving lives.”
Eddie Burton, senior community engagement manager at Network Rail, has been instrumental in building the company’s relationship with Lionel over the past five years, as well as championing the use of murals on railway infrastructure. He was able to find a suitable location, which also meant Lionel could comply with the government’s social distancing guidelines.
He completed the piece in just five hours.
“I was able to do it quite quickly,” he commented. “Like any job when you’re doing it regularly, you learn how things work. I had the design ready and I have learnt over the years how to use certain little tricks to get the image scaled up quickly, so that I could complete the piece in a day.”
But, unlike some of the other pieces of his work on railway property, this was not a commissioned piece. Lionel funded the paint himself as a tribute to NHS staff for everything they are doing during the Covid-19 crisis.
He saw the NHS superman and his next painting, an eye-catching copy of Caravaggio’s ‘The Supper at Emmaus’, which depicts Jesus wearing disposable surgical gloves, as professional development and they are now his favourite pieces:
“Until now I have been known mostly for my typography, my lettering and stuff. I’ve only really, in the last year, started pushing myself to paint figurative work and I’ve grown to love it.”
Lionel grew up in south London in Kingston on Thames. He left school at 17 and started his career as a sign writer under one of Margaret Thatcher’s youth training schemes. As part of his training, he learned the art of painting lettering by brush – in the years before the industry moved to machine printed vinyl.
He moved from sign writing into painting theatre sets, which is where his work really began to take off, and he soon began to be in demand for sets for TV and films.
Fifteen years ago, he moved to Lewisham, in south east London, but it was only five years ago, in his local neighbourhood in Brockley, that his talent and passion for murals and street art emerged. It all started at a small street art festival when Lionel was asked to paint a small shop shutter and it went down well. From there he was asked by the community group at Herne Hill if he would do their signs, including his first one on Network Rail property.
Now he spends around 50 per cent of his time working on film and TV and 50 per cent painting murals and street art around the country. It’s a balance he really enjoys.
Street art vs graffiti
The past five years has seen a change in the way those who manage the nation’s rail infrastructure perceive murals and much of this has been down to the vision of one man, Network Rail’s Eddie Burton. In line with the Southern region sustainability strategy, Eddie is part of the stakeholder and community team, working with communities across the southern region and is a big exponent of using public art to improve railway arches, bridges, and other locations. He has been instrumental in shifting the company’s views on murals and has been successful in showing how they can be used to enhance as opposed to blight.
Through the years, the guardians of the railway have fought against trespassers who use its enticing architecture as an illicit playground and graffiti is rife. The current Network Rail policy is to leave graffiti unless it is offensive, as removal of all graffiti is cost prohibitive. Removing a single piece of graffiti can cost up to £1,000. But, given the role Network Rail plays in local communities, Eddie saw a better way of combatting some of the graffiti on his patch.
“It’s partly about art and creating something which looks good for the community, but it’s also about protecting our structures,” he explained. “There’s a general rule that people don’t tag or graffiti over pieces of artwork, and any artwork we put on our walls is protected with an anti-graffiti coating. So, you end up with something which is potentially iconic in the area and also brings the community together.”
In fact, the protective anti-graffiti coating, which is a sort of varnish, actually helps protect both the painting and the structure, as any tags can be easily washed off. And as the brickwork can still be seen through the murals, the structures can still be inspected in line with railway guidelines.
Network Rail now has 71 murals across the southern region and many of them were done in partnership with local schools, councils, and community groups. Only four of the murals have ever been tagged and, because of the protective coating, these were able to be cleaned off easily.
Lionel hopes that young people who see his work will be inspired to stop tagging and be more creative: “Often when I’m painting, people say it’s a shame someone is going to paint over that or to tag it. But I say to them, that it’s possible, but that’s not a reason to not paint something nice.
“I’d like to think that some young artists may look at my work and think – I like that piece of work, I’d like to aim to be doing that kind of work. So, I hope it does inspire some people.”
Following Lionel’s first piece on Network Rail property, when he was working with a community group in Herne Hill, the relationship has gone from strength to strength. Eddie was instrumental in getting the community licence granted and funding agreed for this and a few other community funded signs over the next few months. Eddie saw the benefits of these community-led projects and approached his bosses for funding to implement a regional strategy and get similar signs painted on some of Network Rail’s structures.
Lionel is currently responsible for over 30 signs and murals on railway structures across south east London, from Hither Green to Brockley and Forest Hill to his most recent sign in Charlton. 20 of these have followed the familiar ‘hotdog’ design signs on the route as well as 10 individually commissioned more pictorial images.
With four in Brixton, five in Lewisham, four in Borough Market, three in Hither Green, three in Brockley, two in Dulwich and pieces as far out as Brighton, Ashford and Pontypridd. It looks like the muralism will be brightening up old railway structures in more and more areas.
But Lionel in not the only artist Network Rail is working with. James Cochran AKA. Jimmy C, has done a few pieces, including a mural following the Borough Market terror attack with eight hearts representing the eight people who died.
In addition, Artmongers painted a long mural on Brockley footbridge which depicts the NHS rainbow.
Eddie reports that the response from both the public and the executive team on the southern route has been positive and so he is hoping more money will be made available to create more artworks which act as signage, art and protection for the structures.
As Eddie says: “Not everyone initially sees why you would encourage murals, but, once I show them the sort of work that the likes of Lionel have been doing, they begin to be won over. I make them ask themselves what they want Network Rail to be remembered for, an iconic image or an old, leaky, mossy wall.”
And so, as the lockdown begins to ease, Lionel will be picking up his paintbrushes once again and heading back to the railway where he will be painting murals, using his much celebrated typography, at both Eltham and Sutton and will be tackling something a little more funky in Dulwich.
NSAR – the Nasional Skills Academy for Rail – has announced the appointment of Dyan Crowther, chief executive of HS1, as the new chair of NSAR. Dyan’s senior industry experience, together with her commitment to skills and productivity make her an ideal candidate to guide NSAR through the COVID recovery period and beyond.
Mike Brown, London’s transport commissioner, has chaired NSAR for the last four years, during which time NSAR has developed and grown. Much more importantly though, skills and especially apprenticeships have become a core part of the railway story, with new standards, improved quality and increases in apprentices in both infrastructure and operations.
Dyan Crowther said: “I am delighted to be joining the board of NSAR as Chair. As we begin to recover from this period of uncertainty, now more than ever the support for trainers, employers and organisations, to sustain a skilled workforce, is crucial to the delivery of a first-class rail. I look forward to working with our members to help them continue to develop the skills they need to keep Britain on track.”
Mike Brown added: “I have been honoured to have chaired NSAR for over 4 years, supporting it and its members to address their skills challenges. The roles we offer in transport are high economic value, and we must make sure that all communities benefit from these opportunities. I wish Dyan well and I know that NSAR is in safe hands. I shall watch progress with interest.”
Steve has been managing director of MTR Elizabeth line since the company was awarded the concession to operate Elizabeth line services across London in 2014.
He has almost 30 years of industry experience including as chief operating officer at Arriva Group, managing director of London Overground Rail Operations Limited (LOROL) and managing director of Chiltern Railways.
As CEO of MTR UK, Steve’s remit will include responsibility for all rail, infrastructure and business development activities in the UK.
Gill Meller, MTR Corporation’s legal and european business director, said: “This is an exciting development for MTR’s business operations.
“Steve has played a significant role in the growth and success of MTR Elizabeth line, and his appointment as CEO will allow him to draw on his extensive knowledge and experience more widely, as we look at the longer-term opportunities for MTR in the UK.”
Commenting on his new appointment, Steve said: “MTR is an outstanding organisation that I have been lucky enough to be part of for over ten years, firstly with LOROL and then with MTR Elizabeth line. It is an honour to be asked to lead MTR’s UK businesses as CEO.
“Looking forward, I am determined to build on MTR’s global reputation for quality and innovation, and I’m excited about the role we can play in the UK’s economic regeneration at such a critical time.”
A new managing director for MTR Elizabeth line will be announced in due course.
Much has changed in the 97 years since the TBF was founded, so adjustments in benefits come as no surprise.
Founded in 1923, the Transport Benevolent Fund CIO (TBF) has been providing help and support to those working in the public transport industry for 97 years. Many things have changed since then, and today’s 67,000 members have needs that are very different from when the charity was founded.
As a result, the transport industry charity has decided to make some significant changes to the range of benefits that it offers to its members.
TBF chief executive officer John Sheehy explained: “Even before we were all dealing with the devastating effect of Covid-19, it is a sad fact that, in modern Britain, there are cases of need, hardship, and distress amongst those working within the industry. This is best illustrated by the fact that, during the past 12 months, the Fund has paid more than £2.8 million in awards to its members.”
Changes to benefits
There is no doubt that, in the current challenging times, there are going to be even more instances of need, hardship and distress amongst those working within the industry. To try and ease this need, the TBF’s trustees have agreed to an increase in the amount of benefit payable for the wide range of complementary and alternative therapies available to Fund members.
John continued: “Later in the year, each TBF member, their partner and dependent children will have access to two different types of therapies in a rolling 12 month period, as is the case now, but the amount for each will be raised to £300. Of course, the ability to access these therapies will be dependent on social distancing guidelines at the time.
“The trustees have also had to make the very difficult decision of no longer offering massage as a benefit. Sometime ago, office-based staff discovered a series of attempted fraudulent claims for massage; these are not always easy to detect. This has created a hugely increased workload as members of the claims staff have to double-check the validity of every single request and this situation is no longer workable.
“Our principal concern is to ensure that beneficiaries who are off sick and experiencing hardship receive their grants on time. Therefore, as from 1 September 2020, massage will no longer be offered as a benefit, although members with a massage benefit claim already open at that date will continue to receive reimbursement until the full £250 allowance is exhausted.
“We will, of course, continue to offer chiropractic and osteopathy treatments and physiotherapy, so members will have other options for treatment if the need should arise.
“The budget allocated for the massage benefit will now be redistributed within the sickness hardship grant budget and other therapy treatments,” John explained.
Keeping the wheels turning
Many TBF members have been working through the current crisis, helping to keep the wheels of the public transport industry turning to support the country’s key workers during these difficult times.
John said: “The TBF team works tirelessly to help members and their dependants who find themselves in situations of genuine need and to help improve members’ work-life balance and reduce staff turnover for the employer.”
Knowing how trains are performing, and what may be wrong with them, is crucial as operators strive to improve fleet reliability
The ability to monitor how locomotives and trains are performing, as well as how their drivers handle them, gives train and freight operators an important tool in increasing performance and ensuring that passengers and cargo get to their destinations on time – every time.
Despite all of the recent purchases of new train fleets, which are being introduced around the country, the average age of the national train fleet is still nearly 20 years old. There has therefore never been a better time for train operating companies to get a handle on reliability, to ensure passengers continue to arrive at their destinations on time.
Any breakdowns when in service could be costly in terms of time, reputation, money and experience of the engineering staff, who may be not as familiar with the nuances of older rolling stock, so ensuring trains remain fully functioning is critical.
This is where 3Squared’s retrofitted Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) system – which is part of the firm’s Railsmart suite of tools – comes in perfectly, as, with streams of data being fed through older rolling stock, train operators can be proactive with maintenance, rather than being reactive once something has gone wrong.
RCM allows customers to monitor more than 100 data channels in real-time, enabling them to keep track of their trains even when they are in remote parts of the country.
Examples of how RCM has helped clients include:
Passenger and freight train operators (TOCs and FOCs) being able to set trigger alerts when certain data channel conditions are met in order to take proactive measures, such as warning when a locomotive is running low on fuel or coolant, helping to save time and money from reactive measures. Incidents can be analysed using a customisable graph and raw data can be exported for further analysis.
RCM has been able to identify faulty sensors on older locomotives ahead of time, saving the amount of time a locomotive is out of action – and therefore not earning money – while another client has been able to identify instances of vehicle idling following data analysis, which helped to boost the case for introducing stop/start technology.
In the case of an incident, time can be saved attributing root cause, as access to RCM has meant incidents can be investigated immediately, without the need to physically download data from the loco with the ability to search RCM at the point of an event/trigger, saving around three hours of analysis on average during an investigation.
A trigger can identify when a battery has been left on overnight, mitigating instances when an older vehicle cannot run a service the next day due to a flat battery.
The system captures data from older locomotives and units in real-time, however, fleet managers can also look over historical information in easy-to-understand graph and table formats, allowing managers to pinpoint exactly when and where incidents occurred.
In addition, alerts can be created – for instance, if the oil pressure is less than x then the relevant parties can be informed automatically, helping to save time when diagnosing faults and problems.
But it isn’t just rolling stock that RCM helps stay on track, as 3Squared’s Employee Development System (EDS), also part of Railsmart, reduces the administrative burden of employee competency management, enabling rail companies to manage and optimise employee performance.
RCM integration into EDS provides the following benefits for customers:
managers can view driver irregularities for a given time, for example, 09;00-18;00, today, last week or last month, all in one place, to assist with competency management;
managers can keep track of driving irregularities including speeding, adherence to signal advisories, throttle notch usage and emergency brake usage;
managers can build reports on driver performance by depot and region;
RCM graph views can be used during assessments to show the events leading up to an incident, while GPS can be used to view where incidents occurred.
Having doubled its turnover year-on-year in the last few years, and now employing a record number of staff, 3Squared maintains the entrepreneurial spirit and capability of a start-up but has the experience and maturity to address the needs of the complex rail sector. It can develop bespoke solutions for its clients, meaning that no job is too big or too small for its dedicated team of experts.
RCM is an award-winning product too, having been crowned with the award of Digital Technology Excellence at the 2019 Rail Business Awards.
A total of 11 out of the 25 winning entrants of the government’s £9.4 million First of a Kind (FOAK) 2020 competition to provide a better, more reliable and efficient railway for passengers and freight users are being supported by Network Rail.
Funded by the Department for Transport and managed by Innovate UK, the competition encourages innovation in the rail industry by asking companies for ambitious ideas that could transform the railway. The projects that will directly support Network Rail’s Research & Development (R&D) Portfolio include:
Demonstrating low cost 10Gigabit+ connectivity for the railway
Creating a novel and cost-effective composite footbridge for use on the railway
Improving resilience through a surface water flooding decision support system
Tunnel and station monitoring using railway optical detection to identify obstructions
Mark Gaddes, R&D third party funding and engagement manager at Network Rail, said: “We were delighted to encourage innovators to approach Network Rail with their proposals for this First of a Kind competition. The range and quality of ideas put forward was exceptional, and we’re looking forward to working with the winners to improve the railway for passengers.
“This will be particularly welcome when we can encourage more passengers back to the railway, but for now people should continue to follow Government advice around the use of public transport, and only travel if they have to.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The winners of this year’s First of a Kind competition will support better, more environmentally friendly journeys. Crucially, these pioneering projects will also ensure that passengers have a more efficient, reliable and responsive railway, making journeys simpler and easier.”
In addition to the FOAK 2020 competition, Network Rail continues its partnership with Innovate UK to run competitions using the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) approach – where innovators compete for a share of funding to solve a certain challenge. Winners of the competitions that have been delivered so far proposed a number of solutions to address:
Developing detection technology on the ends and edges of platforms to detect and reduce trespass on the railway
Automating data processing for railway structure gauging – a process that ensures a safe distance exists between trains and structures such as tunnels
Automating tunnel examinations and undertaking security surveillance and analytics to reduce the need for workers to monitor the network and test asset condition manually
Danielle Stephenson, project manager at Network Rail for the safety, security and analytics project said: “As a new member of the R&D team I have been blown away with the excellent ideas and solutions that the companies have come up with so far. I am looking forward to seeing them implemented in a live station environment in September.”
The solutions for all challenge areas under the four competitions will use information technology and machine learning. This provides an opportunity to carry out monitoring faster and generate information that is more consistent than could be achieved through the judgement of people. It also frees up our workforce to focus on keeping the network safe and available for passengers and freight users, rather than gathering data.
The competitions generated from the combined partnerships between Network Rail, Department for Transport and Innovate UK in the last year have collectively been worth over £15 million, with each initiative providing opportunities for smaller organisations to work with Network Rail to bring innovative technology into the railway. This is enabled through the support from Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network.
Kelvin Davies, Innovation Lead for Rail at Innovate UK, highlighted: “As the UK’s innovation agency we are here to support the best ideas from the UK’s most innovative companies. Through working with Network Rail we have seen the strength of interest, quality of applications and enthusiasm. This shows there is a real confidence that businesses large and small can grow by focussing on opportunities in rail. This is vital as we all work together to build a bigger, better and greener railway”.
These initiatives form part of Network Rail’s R&D portfolio for CP6 and will help drive improvements in efficiency and safety in the rail industry through new technology. The partnership with Innovate UK and the competition opportunities also fit with Network Rail’s desire to be easier to engage and work with as part of the Open for Business programme.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has set out his ‘Plan for Jobs’, to spur the UK’s recovery from the Coronavirus outbreak. However, while going for ‘shovel-ready construction projects’ to boost jobs, he completely ignored the Department for Transport’s own list of rail jobs that was published last October.
The Treasury commented on the Chancellor’s speech: ”As the UK enters the second phase in its recovery, the Chancellor’s plan is designed to support jobs by focussing on skills and young people, create jobs with investment in shovel-ready projects and greening our infrastructure, and protect jobs through a VAT cut for the hospitality sector and a landmark Eat Out to Help Out discount scheme for diners.”
The Chancellor spoke about supporting, creating and protecting jobs. However, when he got to the part about creating jobs by encouraging spending on infrastructure, what he said was: “£5.8 billion will be spent on shovel-ready construction projects to get Britain building. This includes:
£1.5 billion for hospital maintenance and upgrades
£100 million for our local roads network
over £1 billion to start to rebuild schools in the worst condition in England, plus £760 million this year for key maintenance work on schools and FE colleges
£1 billion for local projects to boost local economic recovery in the places that need it most
£142 million for court maintenance to repair around 100 courts across England.”
No mention of investment in rail infrastructure, or accelerating Network Rail’s programme of rail enhancements.
In October 2019, the Department for Transport finally published Network Rail’s enhancement pipeline, something it had been pushed to do by the rail industry for over a year since it published its ‘new approach to Rail Enhancements’ in March 2018.
A total of 58 projects were listed as being in the three-stage ‘pipeline’ – 13 of them were in the final stage of working up to needing a ‘Decision to Deliver’.
So, it would have been easy accelerate those 13 projects, and perhaps some others, and get them delivered, creating jobs.
But no mention was made of them.
Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, which represents the sector’s manufacturers and contractors, was less than impressed. He commented: “Although today’s plan set out a strong strategy for job retention, many in the railway industry will be disappointed that Chancellor Rishi Sunak didn’t mention anything about new rail infrastructure in his speech.
“The government has said it is seeking to ‘build build build’ and has recently spoken of an ‘infrastructure revolution’, calling publicly for shovel-ready projects to help reboot a green economy post-Coronavirus.
“Yet, we are concerned that no accelerated rail infrastructure projects were mentioned today, such as those in the government’s own list of 58 rail enhancement schemes directly within its power to speed up.
“The Chancellor specifically unveiled a “Plan for Jobs”. Yet, in the current circumstances, few sectors can generate jobs and GVA (gross value added) as quickly as rail. UK rail has kept going throughout lockdown, enabled key workers to get to workplaces, and has shown it can continue to safely maintain and build track and train – even in difficult lockdown conditions – essential to the UK’s connectivity and levelling-up agenda.
“So, whilst we and rail supply businesses will welcome the Chancellor’s job retention measures, we will continue to campaign for the Treasury to ‘Speed Up Rail Enhancements’, benefiting not just the railway industry, but also UK plc, its communities and long-term connectivity in the difficult months ahead.”
With 14,000 members split between eight regions and participating in events, overseas visits, training courses and good old-fashioned ‘networking’, it was time to improve the public face of YRP. A new website was needed, but what form should it take?
Last year we celebrated the 10th anniversary of Young Rail Professionals.
From our very beginnings, YRP has been seeking new ways to bring young people together, regardless of profession, to share experiences, collaborate and inspire each other to develop their careers in rail.
We’ve had phenomenal growth over the last 10 years and now boast over 14,000 members. However, when it came to launching our new YRP Wales region in 2019, we realised we’d outgrown our humble website.
Who is the website for?
Inspired by Putting Passengers First, we took a step back to think about who visits our website, why, and what we could do to give them a pleasant journey.
The key visitor groups we identified were:
Young professionals in rail who are considering joining YRP;
People in rail who want to discover what YRP is all about;
Students who don’t work in rail yet but want to learn more about rail careers;
Teachers and careers advisors who want to help their students learn more about working in rail.
The customer-first focus steered lots of the design for our new website, but, crucially, we also considered what our YRP members might need in future.
Making it work for members
Events are the bread-and-butter of YRP. Whether face to face or online, our programme of networking and development events (delivered both at national level and through our eight regional committees) enables our members to meet, interact and learn.
But YRP also has its ‘Into Rail’ programme of Ambassadors, who promote rail in schools, colleges and universities, as well as a growing Heritage Engagement movement, working to help preserve the past whilst offering hands-on experience to young people.
And let’s not forget Young Rail Tours, focused on organising affordable international trips for young people to learn from different approaches overseas.
It dawned on us that YRP had become a community of communities – made up of local communities in the YRP regions, and national ‘interest group’ communities that anyone can get involved in anywhere.
YRP also has its internal communities of committees, who make sure YRP delivers a rich programme of events and initiatives throughout the year.
The YRP Committee members themselves needed a website that would make it as easy as possible to manage YRP on-top of their busy day jobs.
Shopping for an iPhone…
What we realised was that we needed an online community to help our members connect, whatever their interests, wherever they are – an online community that is integrated with our management systems, manages all our events and registrations, and supports anything else we might like to do in future.
The requirements list was endless. We wanted every feature of LinkedIn, Mailchimp, Eventbrite and Salesforce – all in one joined-up package.
Specifying and procuring such a complex solution would be monumental. We thought, to ourselves, surely YRP aren’t the only ones with this idea – maybe someone has solved this problem before…
They had – “Association Management Systems”. We found over a dozen suppliers that offer a complete solution, out-of-the-box, with everything we need to manage our organisation.
We breathed a sigh of relief and set about trying to pick the right one for all our future needs.
It was really hard to choose which supplier to go with; none were perfect, but all offered a step-change in how YRP engages its members.
With such a comprehensive list of needs, and comprehensive offerings from different suppliers, the decision came down to how we felt whilst using the platform and, importantly, how our members would feel.
In the end we chose what we term “the iPhone” of online platforms, one that did everything we needed: YourMembership.com.
We’re pleased to say that, after six months of work by a dedicated YRP team, we are now ready to launch a fantastic new website with online communities and lots of fun, interactive functionality.
By the time this article goes to press, our new website will be online (it launched 4 June), including our new Social Link community.
Social Link is a fantastic space for YRP members to connect with other members, share updates with their community, discover what YRP is doing in their region, and find new communities to engage with across the UK.
Social Link is a ‘safe’ space to ask stupid questions as you start your career and seek advice from your peers about your next steps in your career, filling the gap between Facebook and LinkedIn with a new social network.
The start of a new journey
The new platform offers so many extra features that we haven’t yet had the time to explore.
George Chilcott, YRP chairman 2020/21, commented: “Over the coming months we’re going to be building on this new platform to offer exciting new possibilities for our members.
“This investment was only possible thanks to the generous support of our corporate members, enabling YRP to continue to innovate and provide the best opportunities to Promote, Inspire and Develop the next generation of railway talent.”
Lockdown and social distancing have forced companies to work in new and different ways, favouring those with skilled, versatile and adaptable workforces.
The current Coronavirus epidemic has challenged all businesses across the UK in a way that none can have expected or predicted. Some have carried on trading, while others have almost completely shut down. How well they come out of this situation, how strong or weakened they will be, depends largely on management skill and how their workforces have adapted to life during and after Covid.
Rail is an interesting mix. Trains are still running and infrastructure work is still taking place, so front-line staff have continued to work, albeit with social distancing and other restrictions in place.
Those managing these operations are largely working from home, connected to both their own staff and suppliers/clients via telephone, email, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and various other digital methods most had never even heard of before the lockdown started.
In addition, a number of people are furloughed – barred from the office and their emails until called back to work. This not only affects them, it also affects their colleagues who are still working, as they are not there to contribute ideas and knowledge.
This is when having a skilled workforce really counts. It’s those human skills, and the ability to be able to stay positive, focused and recognise and support others, that really makes the difference. Employers that have taken steps to make their staff as skilled as possible, able to react quickly to challenges and changing conditions, are now reaping the benefits of that forward planning.
A high-speed example
Despite the lockdown, major construction works are still taking place at over 80 per cent of HS2’s work sites between Birmingham and London, while office-based staff are supported in working from home as the company adapts the way it engages with external partners and the community to hold meetings and events virtually instead of in person.
HS2 launched its Skills, Employment and Education Strategy in 2018. It offers a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to upskill the nation and ensure that people who live local to the route, and those from disadvantaged and under-represented groups, are given the opportunity to play their part in delivering this huge feat in British engineering. The ambitions were high, but they are fast turning to reality.
The ‘Skills Builder’ model helped HS2 to embed an essential skills approach across its education and future talent programmes, believing that there are clear benefits to widening its use across the organisation. Focusing on the importance of essential skills can really help to build a resilient workforce and being better equipped to adapt to the ‘new normal’ will be increasingly important in the months ahead.
Major construction of the first phase of Britain’s new railway, between London and Birmingham, is happening and HS2’s drive to leave a lasting skills legacy is rapidly taking shape. At its peak, construction will support 30,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships. But, with an ageing workforce in rail engineering and a significant underrepresentation of women and BAME workers in the UK’s construction sector, it takes a project the size and scale of HS2 to start redressing those balances.
Start them off early
With so much ground to cover, and a project that is likely to continue for the next ten years or more, HS2’s commitment to the skills agenda has had to be long-term, so its work begins in primary and secondary schools. Over 15,000 pupils have already taken part in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) workshops, which are designed to inspire the next generation to think about what’s possible.
Through curriculum-based activities, which support the STEM agenda, pupils are encouraged to work together to succeed using essential skills like creativity, problem solving and teamwork. For primary students, each pupil’s use of essential skills is rewarded, as they collect badges and certificates for the engineering and construction-focused tasks they successfully complete using a different essential skill.
Kate Myers, head of skills, education and employment at HS2, explained: “Harnessing the use of essential skills really helps to inspire young people and support their development. We work with pupils at local schools along the HS2 route to understand the link between the essential skills they are developing and how this links to future careers they may not have thought about before on major projects like HS2.
“Continuing that engagement with young people, through our work experience programmes, mentoring schemes, apprenticeships and attendance at job fairs and careers events up and down the country, helps us to keep that inspiration alive and support young people into meaningful career pathways to work on HS2, where we continue to invest in their essential skills.”
Apprentices and graduates
Recognised essential-skills models are embedded into all stages of learning, development and future talent programmes at HS2. This encompasses everything from two-year apprenticeship and graduate programmes to working with recognised charities such as the Social Mobility Foundation, with HS2 employees actively supporting high-attaining pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop the essential skills needed for higher education and progression into professional careers.
Over 350 apprentices have already worked on the HS2 programme, and recruitment is underway for more apprentices and graduates to start later this year. The importance of investing in young people, bringing them into the business at an early stage of their career and continuing to invest in their essential skills, is both recognised and valued. And as young people will be amongst those most adversely impacted by Covid-19 across education and employment, the ability to continue creating new opportunities for years to come is really important.
Without doubt, due to the months that the economy, business and education will have been locked down due to Covid-19, delivering HS2 is now more important than ever. The drive to rebuild the UK economy and divert much needed investment and growth into towns and cities in the Midlands and the North will never be greater. And with construction works ramping up and our workforce demands increasing, HS2 stands to play a pivotal role in helping to secure Britain’s economic recovery after Covid-19.
The main works construction contracts, totalling £12 billion, have now been awarded and the ripple effects of that investment are starting to reach down to second and third tier contractors and companies across the UK.
As HS2’s influence extends out to thousands of UK businesses through its supply chain, the ability to continue making a difference grows. Contracts are worded so as to place skills, employment and education requirements on all successful contractors, not only helping to create and secure jobs, but to ensure the companies behind the contract awards invest in upskilling their workforce, embedding the essential skills framework and delivering community-focused education and employment initiatives to support others.
It’s this circle of activity which will ensure that HS2 leaves a lasting skills legacy and creates new opportunities for future generations.
Trainees need to learn from their supervisors and managers, so how does that work during lockdown?
Network Rail has a well-respected graduate training programme, during which trainees visit, work with and learn from different departments and projects around the railway. Graham Coombs investigates how that can still happen while working from home.
It is obviously an understatement to say that the coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous effect on our working lives. Whether continuing to provide key services in difficult situations, working from home, being furloughed or even self-isolated, everyone has been affected.
But one group that has faced particular challenges is made up of those just starting on their railway career in Network Rail’s graduate schemes, who would normally be in the middle of an intense and tightly scheduled programme of activity. RailStaff asked them how they are keeping on track.
Operations and general management
Joanna Dobell (22) has been on Network Rail’s operations and general management programme since September last year, after graduating from Loughborough University. As part of the broad spread of experience provided by the programme, she has so far worked with safety, technical and engineering in the R&D team, and then out on location with the national stations team, a posting that was supposed to finish in early April. But unfortunately, those plans came to a halt when coronavirus hit.
Joanna takes up the story: “I am between placements at the moment – I should have moved to performance, but this has been put back to June at least. It was difficult adapting at first, but I am keeping busy with my apprenticeship coursework and have quickly become involved in several interesting projects. The Institute of Railway Operators is continuing to deliver the apprenticeship remotely and, thankfully, there’ll be no delay to the completion of my apprenticeship.
“I have been working with the R&D team on a thermal cameras trial, both at Network Rail’s Quadrant HQ and at Three Bridges ROC (rail operating centre), trying to mitigate some of the risks of coronavirus for critical workers. This was really interesting and very quick-paced, with the challenge to get a trial under way as quickly as possible, which we achieved during the first week in May. After a successful trial, the thermal cameras will now be rolled out nationally, helping keep our workers safe.
“I have also been involved with the transport task force with Charlene Wallace (Network Rail’s director for national passenger & customer experience), who had been tasked by chief executive Andrew Haines to gather together ideas from staff on how we can support the NHS and other key areas. I and another graduate have put all these ideas down in a database and we are creating weekly reports on them. This has been really good experience and has been a useful resource to the project team.
“In addition, I have been providing additional support to strategic crisis meetings and providing general assistance where I can. This gave me the opportunity to help assist the logistics support for the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Manchester.
“At first I was quite worried, as I was really looking forward to my performance placement, but actually I have been able to get involved in different things that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and it has given me a good insight into crisis management and working under pressure – it has probably been the busiest I have been.”
So, what does the future hold for Joanna? “I will be continuing to support the deployment of thermal cameras across Network Rail locations and the work with the transport taskforce, then in June I will be starting my performance placement on the Anglia route.
“The graduate programme is supposed to be for 12 months, but the scheme manager has been really supportive and will extend this, if needed, to ensure I complete the scheme.
“A key part of the programme is going out and learning from others, which clearly hasn’t been possible, so I would like to get more practical experience in before looking for a permanent position. The situation was quite daunting at first, but the people at Network Rail have been really supportive.”
Those on the engineering graduate scheme perhaps face a slightly different challenge, having to adapt to the new circumstances while work continues. To find out more, RailStaff talked with Usman Ahmed (24), who joined the graduate programme in September 2018 with a degree in civil engineering from the University of Birmingham.
He started his Network Rail programme with business familiarisation, visiting different teams such as asset management, site construction, track maintenance, timetable planning, security and asset protection. Following that was a placement on route asset management with the structures team, then working on the Aberdeen – Inverness improvement project.
“Since early this year I have been on a commercial placement with the team in Peterborough, working on the Werrington grade separation project,” Usman continued. “The aim is to get some commercial experience, with things like looking at how much suppliers are charging us, querying and challenging it where needed.
“Since Covid-19 hit, we’ve been doing a lot to support our supply chain as best we can, especially making sure the systems and payment processes are in place to support their cashflow.”
Like many ongoing projects, the works at Werrington are continuing, with appropriate safety measures on site. But staff like Usman, who don’t specifically need to be on site, were told to work from home.
“The change was quite sudden – one day we were told we might be going home and the next day that happened. Working from home was challenging at first as I was trying to figure out how to use all the digital tools that I needed. It has been a learning experience, but now everyone is in a routine and adapting to the situation.
“We are learning how to manage our own time better, how to focus and prioritise. Working from home has its own issues and maintaining the same level of performance can be quite challenging, but things like daily conference calls help replace face-to-face contact. We are utilising digital technology a lot more, and a lot better, and people who were not familiar with remote technologies are now more confident in using them.”
Usman appreciates that it has been challenging for suppliers too. “In general, the supply chain has coped fairly well, but there have been a few occasions where coronavirus disruption caused delayed deliveries or equipment shortages, so it has been interesting to learn how to adapt to changing circumstances.
“The key thing is that work on the project is ongoing and progressing well, even if it was at a reduced level of output for a while. It has been a useful experience seeing how the team is functioning during this pandemic, and quite uplifting to see how Network Rail and the wider rail community have adapted to the situation,” Usman concluded.
Usman’s next placement with an external design company has been deferred until the autumn, so, like Joanna, his first full appointment will also be delayed while he completes the programme.
Sonia Howard, Network Rail’s graduate and higher apprenticeship manager, gave her opinion on how graduate programmes have been affected. “I oversee the engineering and operations and general management schemes,” she told RailStaff.
“We have approximately 80 graduates doing the engineering scheme and 50 on the operations and general management scheme at present. They have remained on placement but are predominantly working from home, with a handful still on site providing critical support to key route operations, including contingent signaller training.
“With regards to delivery of the scheme, we have been working with the professional bodies and our learning providers to ensure scheduled training continues to be delivered, but using different platforms, such as virtual classrooms. Where graduates have been unable to get the direct experience they need, we will ensure that placements are extended, or alternatives found, so that all graduates complete their scheme.”
Despite the pandemic, Sonia tells us it is full steam ahead for the future. “The 2020 graduate intake is going ahead, with increased numbers, and we are working on delivering the welcome days and induction materials remotely. It is very important to us that the graduate experience is not negatively impacted due to the coronavirus, so we will be using platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Yammer to ensure that they still feel connected and supported during their graduate journey.
“I think there may be greater use of distance learning in our schemes in the future. It has thrown up an opportunity for us to make more and better use of digital platforms. There will always be the requirement for face-to-face training and practical experience, but let’s be more innovative and, just because something has always been delivered in a certain way, does not mean this is the right way to continue. That’s true across all industries.”
Sonia concludes by summing up the importance of the programme in delivering the next generation of railway managers. “It is key to Network Rail and the wider rail industry to ensure we have a skilled workforce and we will continue to take a long-term view on training and development.
“It has been good to see how the industry has adapted and responded, and it highlights the importance of developing good leadership for times of change.”
Over the last year, rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) identified and responded to almost 40 cases where it felt that the conduct of a train company in Great Britain was potentially harming the interests of passengers.
In its Annual Rail Consumer report, the ORR details the breadth and depth of its work to support better rail customer service by highlighting where train companies have made progress, where action has been necessary, and provides a summary of future planned activities.
The report includes information on the ORR’s work to:
Improve the information provided on websites to ensure it is clear and easily understood so that passengers can purchase the best ticket for their journey, including the messaging available where the train timetable has yet to be confirmed, as well as where there may be rail replacement services;
Challenge the industry to work together to publish a Passenger Information Improvement Plan, which has now been drafted and shows the industry is committed to making enduring network wide improvements so that passengers can get timely, accurate and complete information, including during disruption;
Push forward changes to Accessible Travel Policies that are designed to bring greater quality, consistency and reliability to the experience of passengers that require additional assistance to plan and make journeys with confidence;
Intervene and improve performance where companies failed to respond to complaints within 20 working days.
The ORR also received almost 55,000 responses to its survey on passenger satisfaction with train companies’ complaints handling. The ORR will use this information to comprehensively review complaints handling in the coming months, highlighting the best and weakest performing train companies and drive companies to deliver improvements where necessary.
Stephanie Tobyn, deputy director for consumers at ORR, said: “Train companies have responded well to the unparalleled challenges brought by covid-19 and, while we have remained pragmatic in our approach during this time, we have also been clear that companies must ensure that meeting passengers’ needs remains at the forefront of their thinking.
“We have challenged weaknesses in processes, operational practices and in staff training to bring about improvements in all areas of the passengers’ journey and where we have taken action, it has brought immediate benefits for passengers and has also helped shape our future decisions.
“We remain as focused as ever to bring about change in 2020-21 and work is already underway to introduce a delay compensation licence condition, and alongside this report today we have published a review of the Rail Ombudsman scheme after 12 months of its commencement which provides a clear pathway for improving those arrangements for passengers.”
In response to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scottish Government has announced that it will provide up to £9 million of emergency funding for Glasgow Subway and Edinburgh Trams. These emergency measures will be in place from July to the end of September and will support services throughout this period.
The funding announcement follows detailed discussions with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) and Edinburgh Trams regarding available resources due to the unprecedented impact that COVID-19 has had on travel demand. These discussions have been undertaken in light of the published COVID-19: Framework for Decision Making and the Transport Transition Plan.
Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, said: “The Glasgow Subway and Edinburgh Trams provide key connections within our two biggest cities and as we emerge through the stages of lockdown demand for public transport will continue to rise. The services provide essential capacity and link with bus, rail and park and ride facilities.
“Over the next three months we will provide up to £9 million of financial support to operators to enable services to continue. Any restrictions on these services could have placed unsustainable demands on other modes, especially bus and so this funding will assist capacity across all public transport.
“I would like to thank all the people working across the light rail sector who have, and continue to, provide these important connections. These services have allowed our key workers and others who needed to travel for essential journeys to do so during very challenging circumstances. Going forward the subway and tram will help our wider society and economy recover as we emerge through the next phases of easing lockdown.
“We will continue to monitor the demand, capacity and costs of support across all transport modes over the coming months.”
Whether working from home or being furloughed, the combination of loneliness and fear of the unknown makes this a stressful time
Looking after our mental health is as important as our physical wellbeing. Polly Rivers has been talking with colleagues, both in the industry and outside, about what we need to do to combat the anxieties and concerns that are only natural at this time.
Maintaining health is something we are all taking very seriously at the moment. Whether it is doing laps of the garden (and raising millions in the process) or reaching for the fruit bowl rather than the Jaffa Cakes, keeping an eye on our physical health is a top priority.
However, with more and more pressure piling on from all angles, keeping our mental health in top condition is also high on the list. But what do we need to be considering to ensure that we are managing our mental health needs, and those of our nearest and dearest, during this tricky time?
Establish a daily routine
Most of us are creatures of habit, with a standard routine that keeps us ticking over day-to-day. So, when this is thrown in the air, it can shake the foundations, and leave us feeling confused and uneasy. Keeping some routine to our days is really useful to ensuring that we keep on track.
Late nights and lazy mornings are far from helpful when it comes to establishing a routine – they can cause real problems with maintaining healthy sleep patterns. Parents of teenagers may recognise this issue, with many teenagers seemingly becoming nocturnal at the moment! Whilst tricky to implement, heading to bed and getting up at similar times every day will regulate the body clock, helping it recognise when it is meant to be sleeping, and lead to far fewer frustrated nights spent staring at the ceiling.
Many of us are using our daily exercise as a way of keeping some structure. When we exercise, our bodies release feel-good chemicals called endorphins – great news if you are in need of a pick-me-up.
With gyms closed and team sports out of the window, it can be difficult to feel like we are making a dent in our exercise regimes. However, don’t underestimate the benefits of even a little moderate exercise every day. It may not be the workout you’re used to, but a brisk walk out in the open air, a free online workout, or even a race around the house with the hoover will all get the blood pumping, improve energy levels, and promote better sleep.
As we settle into a new working from home routine, many of us find that the ‘to do’ list doesn’t stop with our own work…
For many, the added pressure of home-schooling has added another dimension, and it is no surprise that this situation can create a pressure cooker of emotions, for all family members. Claudia Graham, assistant headteacher at Meopham School in Kent shared her thoughts on the pressures many parents and children are facing with regards to tackling home-schooling.
“Teachers understand the pressures that families are under to juggle the complex situation we all find ourselves in. Trying to manage everything is a nigh-on impossible task. Your children will be scared, missing their friends and familiar life, all of which can make them unresponsive to any new routines.
“We are asking our students and their parents to do whatever works for them. If it helps to have a routine that feels familiar to school, great! If not, just find a rhythm that feels manageable.
“When we eventually get back to school, we will work hard to get every child back to the stage they need to be – we’re all itching to get back in the classroom and we’re ready to take on the challenge.”
When one long day stretches into another, it can seem like there is no end to the monotony – which can play havoc with our mental health. That said, living in the digital age is helping smash this boundary, with more opportunities than ever before to stay connected with friends and colleagues from home, and get involved with projects designed to keep us busy.
Nurturing relationships can help us feel happier and more secure, giving us a greater sense of well-being and purpose, as well as being a great way to offer emotional support and share experiences.
Organisations such as Young Rail Professionals have leapt into action, pulling together a series of online training courses and webinars designed to help rail professionals make the most of this enforced downtime.
Jacob Cooper, national professional networking and development manager at Young Rail Professionals explained more: “We felt that this was a great opportunity for people in our sector to really come together. There’s an incredible amount of knowledge out there and we are all hungry to learn, however the pressure and pace of life so often gets in the way. We felt that people would be keen to use this time to engage with new information and may appreciate a distraction from everything going on around them.
“We called out to the industry for courses and the response was incredible – there’s courses from vehicle engineering to fraud protection available and it really goes to show how generous the railway family really is with their knowledge. We are also delivering our own development webinars which cover events on rail policy and investment, innovation and a suite of leadership talks.
“Digital courses and webinars are also a great way to keep connected with friends and colleagues. At YRP, we host a number of social events throughout the year, up and down the country. Obviously, these are not possible currently, but just because we are sat at home, doesn’t mean we cannot raise a glass together and share a social evening. We’re just doing so from the comfort of our sofas!”
The YRP is also collaborating with the Railway Benefit Fund, as part of a project designed to help anyone working in the rail sector who has been adversely financially affected by the COVID-19 crisis get back on their feet.
Deal with fear
There is no doubt that this is a scary time, and most people have felt waves of fear and nerves wash over them as we feel our way through the COVID-19 journey.
However, in order to manage our mental wellbeing during this time, there are a few simple moves we can all make in order to minimise the pandemic panic, and ensure that, whilst we are well informed, we don’t let anxiety get the better of us.
Talking worries through with trusted family or friends is a great place to start if you feel anxious. Most people will be having many of the same concerns, so sharing your worries will help address these fears. It can be difficult to consider a solution on your own, two minds are better than one, after all.
Having open conversations as a family will also help you address any fears that your children may be concerned about, which are likely to be very different to your own. Tackling these together will hopefully calm the fears and allow them to feel more relaxed about the confusing situation.
Whilst a second opinion can be really useful, having the world offering their thoughts can add to confusion. Social media, whilst great for keeping in touch, can be overwhelming, with plenty of conflicting information and speculation proving a confusing mix. Taking a break from social media, or muting non-reputable sources, is a great idea if you are feeling overwhelmed, and help you feel more in control.
Keeping an eye on younger family members’ social media consumption and checking that they aren’t getting misled is key too; there’s plenty of wild theories swirling at the moment!
The news is full of nothing but COVID-19, and whilst it is useful to stay informed, it is important to strike the right balance between staying in the loop and losing a day glued to the same information. Turning off news alerts on devices and sticking to one news briefing a day is a great way to stay informed, but not overwhelmed. You could even ask a trusted family member or a friend to update you, if you want a total break for a few days.
Understanding how to access the right services is vital to making sure that you are well supported during this time, and there is plenty of assistance available should you feel you need a listening ear, or someone who can point you in the right direction.
Your local GP is always a great place to start if you are feeling in need of support. For many, the fear of entering a medical environment at the moment is a contributing factor to anxiety and stress, but, whilst most practices are not offering face-to-face appointments at the moment, many have great online triage options which allow you to note your symptoms and direct you to the best advice. This could be a telephone or video appointment with your GP, keeping you completely clear of any physical interaction with a medical practice.
Alternatively, there are a number of dedicated mental health support options available, all of which are perfectly placed to help people who may be struggling with COVID-19-related concerns. Organisations such as Samaritans (call free on 116 123) are available 24/7. The Samaritans Self-Help app is also available for download via smartphone or on a desktop – it has been designed to help you self-manage your mental health in a crisis. The anonymous app helps users learn safe, memorable techniques for coping with things that are troubling them, through a range of interactive features.
Don’t overlook assistance closer to home, too. The rail sector is great at recognising the need to place as much emphasis on maintaining mental health as physical health, and many organisations have a great provision for support within their own teams.
ScotRail is one of a number of railway companies that has recently rolled out a comprehensive mental health first aid programme, with 50 employees undergoing training to help them identify individuals who are developing mental health issues and guide them to the relevant service. With social distancing procedures in place, the team members have put their newfound knowledge to good use, using video conferencing calls to hold meetings to offer support and guidance to their peers.
Nadya Kuhl, ScotRail occupational health and wellbeing manager, said: “During this unprecedented global crisis, it’s important that we continue to talk about our mental health.
“Whether that’s texting a friend, chatting to colleagues through video conferencing apps, or checking in with a vulnerable neighbour – our society really benefits from peoples’ selflessness and kind-hearted actions.”
We are all working through a confusing and complicated time at the moment. From schooling thrown up in the air, to lockdown restrictions and concerns over workplace security, it is no surprise that it feels harder than normal to take care of our mental health and wellbeing.
Whilst we are facing a worldwide challenge, you are never alone – support is always available.
COVID-19 is an awful disease that has killed a lot of people. But what is it like to actually suffer it, and survive?
Kirsten Whitehouse has worked with RailStaff for several years, as exhibition manager for Railtex and Infrarail with RailStaff as a media partner. Then, shortly after setting up her own company, she went down with COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. This is her story.
On Saturday 28 March, in the space of less than 30 minutes, I went from teaching a bootcamp session to lying on my sofa unable to move, gasping for air with my chest and airways burning like the sun and dry as the desert.
This is my personal account of overcoming Covid-19. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading – but Corona is not a pleasant virus. The article is not meant to frighten you but, make no mistake, I AM trying to make you realise just how serious this virus is.
Some of you may know me from my previous role as exhibition manager for Railtex and Infrarail, two of the UK’s leading rail shows. I left that position in early 2019 to set up my own company, Green Tiger Events, counting organisations like the fabulous Railway Industry Association amongst my clients. I also studied on the side, qualifying as a fitness instructor in late 2019.
It is important for you to know this – I will explain why later.
First signs – feeling a bit rubbish
My Covid story starts on 24 March, just a few days after my 45th birthday, when I started experiencing very subtle symptoms: an occasional cough, a dreadful headache and a pain in my chest and stomach that made me think I had indigestion (I never get indigestion!). If I had a temperature it was low enough for me to not notice. My voice went strangely hoarse and coffee started tasting ‘wrong’.
For days, I dismissed my feeling a bit rubbish as a seasonal cold. It may well have been.
I continued teaching my online bootcamp throughout those early days without too much of a problem, until after that one Saturday morning class when everything suddenly changed: a leaden tiredness descended on me and wouldn’t lift for weeks. My airways and deep into my chest felt as if they were on fire. No amount of water seemed to even touch the bone-dry sides of my mouth and throat. It was this extreme sensation – one of the weirdest feelings I have ever experienced – which finally made me research Corona symptoms properly: I found a timeline of common symptoms and was horrified to realise that – with the exception of the fever – I was ticking them off, one by one.
I spent the next two days in bed but still in doubt: it seemed unlikely that I would be one of the first to pick this up. As a healthy fitness and nutrition teacher I didn’t think I was a likely candidate. Despite my cough progressively getting much worse, my chest feeling tighter and heavier and my breathing becoming more laboured, I commented to friends that I’d had colds worse than this in the past.
I spoke too soon. By day three, the cough had eased some, but the burning in my chest steadily worsened whilst my breathing became ever more restricted. The most distressing thing was the sheer tiredness. I could not leave my bed for days – the occasional wobble to the bathroom wore me out so much that I literally had to crawl back to bed. Lying down was impossible, I felt like I was drowning. I was by now 100 per cent convinced I had the virus, though I still felt I could struggle through without having to burden the NHS.
I was lucky in that my partner and my bootcamp clients took care of me by leaving shopping and nutritious meals on my doorstep for days on end. I was very aware that my body needed sustenance to keep fighting but I was far too weak to prepare anything. Once a day I would force myself downstairs to retrieve smoothies or soups. It would often take me an hour or two to be strong enough to slowly climb back upstairs to bed.
Six days after that horrible first day, I slowly started feeling better. Still tired and weak, but I was breathing easier. My two teenage sons, who had been staying with their Dad since before I got ill, were desperate to come home and it felt safe enough to let them, albeit with strict rules about distancing, from me, and from anyone outside our little unit.
Boris Johnson – who had been taken ill the same day as me – reported himself as still having a temperature and thus staying in isolation. It confused me a little about the rules – was I allowed out then, as I was coughing but had no fever? I decided not to risk spreading it and stay indoors – I still felt too ill to contemplate anything else, anyway.
High temperature and feeling panicky
That reprieve was short-lived. Just a day later, my temperature suddenly spiked at around 39 degrees (102°F), I felt weak, short of breath and very panicky. My downhill spiral continued until I eventually logged my symptoms on the NHS 111 website. A doctor called me within minutes. After thoroughly checking all the symptoms I had experienced over the last eight days, he confirmed that I had almost without doubt contracted Covid-19. He explained that some patients were known to dip badly in the second week, because the virus keeps spreading around the already weakened body.
The symptoms I was experiencing now, however, were more akin to a secondary chest infection, which they were seeing in around a third of all Corona patients due to damaged airways. He referred me on for further treatment. Again, this second doctor called quickly, asked specific questions about previous (“definitely Corona”) and current symptoms, and after listening to my breathing and checking pulse and temperature over the phone, diagnosed bacterial pneumonia as brought on by Covid-19.
He said he could either admit me to hospital or I could try staying home with antibiotics. With my children still in the house and my being very conscious of the strain on the NHS, I opted for the latter. The doctor agreed; he would have suggested the same. Although clearly very unwell, he didn’t think I needed to go to hospital just yet. He warned me, though, to call back immediately should my symptoms worsen. I laughed, nervously – just how much worse could this get?
This wonderful doctor, who couldn’t have given me more time and reassurance, then proceeded to describe what patients would normally experience for them to be admitted: unable to stand up even for a second due to extreme exhaustion, unable to talk in full sentences without gasping for air, severely struggling to breathe even whilst resting. My pathetic bathroom crawl seemed to count as a major win on this scale, and whilst I was catching my breath a lot, I was still talking and, yes, still breathing.
His words shocked me to the core: for the previous week I had felt the worst I ever have in my life, and yet there were people much worse off. My brain struggled to compute what was being said. I cried for every single person already or yet to be sent to hospital, because feeling absolutely beyond dreadful as I did myself, I could not even imagine the pain they had to be in and the terrible panic they would be experiencing with every single breath they tried to force. My heart broke for every one of them, for their terrified families and for the frontline staff who would act like heroic go-betweens in a horrific reality show.
I vowed not to become one of them, and instead turned into a model patient. The first and second lots of antibiotics failed to clear the pneumonia. By the time I was given my third prescription, doctors had discovered which antibiotics worked well and they did the trick at last.
Too weak to move
Beating first the virus and then pneumonia literally brought my body to its knees. There were days when I was totally unable to leave bed, my body was entirely devoid of strength and energy. My children took over running the house and constantly plying me with food and fresh water. Other than that, I just lay there. There is only so much sleeping you can do and, bizarrely, exhaustion does not equal tiredness. I was too weak to read, and not interested in watching tv.
I remember thinking on more than one occasion that I could probably just close my eyes and not wake up again, I felt my existence had already disappeared. In those moments, I was almost grateful for the agony in my lungs, which jolted me back into consciousness. But with it came the breathing problems and the threat of panic attacks.
They were dark days and weeks; whilst many of my friends were getting tired of being locked down, I was glad to just be alive. It took a cycle of five days’ complete bed rest to finally make me start seeing slight improvements. It took five weeks from the start of the illness until I found myself washing up three pans in the kitchen. Euphoria! To be doing a mundane normal job again! Yet it tired me so much that I spent the whole next day back in bed.
It’s been a slow process since, there are good days, where I manage to go for short walks, and bad days, where I have to take myself back to bed for the whole day. I have learned to listen to my body and give it what it needs. I was unlucky to catch Corona, but I was lucky to get through it: I am improving all the time, as indeed the majority of patients will. Make no mistake though – this virus will wreak havoc wherever it can.
Remember what I said at the beginning? I am a 45-year-old female. I coach nutrition and fitness out of passion in my spare time. I am fit and healthy, without underlying health issues.
And still – this virus reduced me to a shell, lying in bed feeling closer to dead than alive. In the words of my GP: my body threw everything at that virus, to defeat it and to keep me alive. His prognosis is that it will take at least another two to three months until I have fully recovered.
I may be an unlikely Covid candidate on paper, but I made myself an easy target for the virus by not looking after myself: Green Tiger Events had grown so rapidly that I was often working seven days a week. Trying to fit my clients’ needs around spending quality time with my children also meant I often worked until 1 or 2am. I loved my work, but burning the candle at both ends meant my immune system was on its knees: I was completely exhausted, running on adrenaline, and then coaching hardcore fitness with a tired body. When I contracted the virus, my body had very few reserves left to fight it off.
Don’t repeat my mistakes! Please: look after your immune system, it is your best friend through all of this. Listen to official advice and stay home wherever possible. And spare a thought for everyone in hospital today – patients or staff. Send them a silent wish – and then act accordingly. You have the power to make a real difference going forward – step wisely.
The Snowdon Mountain Railway, which has been carrying visitors up the five-mile line from Llanberis to the top of the highest mountain in Wales and England sin 1896, has taken steps to keep the national tourist attraction accessible for many years to come by improving its sustainability.
Two brand new Clayton Equipment hybrid diesel locomotives have arrived on the mountain from Staffordshire, purchased with seven-figure support from HSBC Equipment Finance UK. These eight-tonne battery equipped trains will replace existing diesel locomotives and will be the first mountain hybrid train in the world.
Making an average of 750 journeys a year each locomotive, the updated locomotives will reduce emissions by up to 98 per cent compared to the diesel locomotives.
Heritage Great Britain PLC, the organisation operating the Snowdon Mountain Railway, will continue to operate traditional steam locomotives as part of its service. Its group finance director Peter Johnson-Treherne said: “We’re delighted to bring innovative hybrid technology onto the famous slopes of Snowdon. 2020 has obviously been a difficult period for everybody, especially those within the tourism sector, but we’re confident that this investment will keep us on the right tracks for the future.”
Jon Higginson, corporate relationship director for HSBC UK, added:
“It’s not every day you get to be involved in a special project like this, so we’re delighted to play our part in ensuring the future of such an iconic national tourist attraction. Heritage Great Britain understands the importance of putting sustainability at the heart of its portfolio and, in due course, we look forward to seeing the new locos in action.”
Working in line with Covid-19 Welsh Government guidance, operations will begin again on 10 July 2020 to welcome back the public.