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The role of apprenticeships in filling the skills gap

Photo: Porterbrook.

Rail Forum Midlands talks about the skills gap and what its doing to bridge it

Not a day goes by without some reference to the skills gaps in the rail industry. Numerous organisations continue to report difficulty finding qualified people to fill vacancies created by experienced staff moving on or to support growth and expansion within their business – and the next few years look set to get even tougher as the age profile across the industry really starts to bite. So how might apprenticeships help?

Shared apprenticeships

The Rail Forum Midlands (RFM) has been asked to lead some work as part of the Rail Sector Deal to stimulate the uptake of apprenticeships across Midlands-based rail companies through the development of shared apprenticeship schemes. 

“Whilst the concept of shared apprenticeships has been around for some time, we are keen to explore several options that might work for our supply chain companies and SMEs in particular, so we have no preconceived ideas about what a shared scheme might mean,” said Elaine Clark, chief executive of RFM. “It may be simply sharing a cohort of students that go to college together; or it could mean providing an apprentice with several different work placements across different employers to provide broader work experience. It could also mean a third party employing the apprentices on behalf of the SMEs, but only if we can guarantee a quality experience for the young people undertaking their apprenticeship.”

RFM is currently gathering views from a range of employers to understand the current challenges and barriers for SMEs recruiting apprentices and to gauge the level of interest in some of the key apprenticeships available. 


“Apprenticeships look very different now compared to what colleagues across the industry may remember from when they completed their training – perhaps many years ago!” Elaine added. “To be classed as an officially recognised apprenticeship, certain criteria have to be met – an apprenticeship is a real job with a recognised training programme; combining knowledge, occupational skills and behaviours structured around the specific occupation or job role. 

The knowledge (or academic) elements of the apprenticeship are normally delivered by a college, private training provider or a university; this is known as off-the-job training. The occupational skills and behavioural elements can be a mixture of off-the-job; learning new skills in a safe environment, and on-the-job experience; supported in the workplace, by the employer. This skills development often leads to some form of competence assessment process.”

Apprenticeships are available in many occupations from basic entry level, right through to post graduate degrees. Whilst ‘degree level’ apprenticeships are relatively new, they are already proving popular with students and employers alike; providing the opportunity to gain real work experience alongside academic studies.

One of the key things about all apprenticeship standards is that they are developed with significant input from employers. Rail sector specific standards exist for a range of occupations that are relevant across infrastructure, rolling stock and operations, however the nature of the industry means that standards developed in other sectors such as manufacturing, IT, finance, management and so on, will also be relevant to many employers. Navigating the different options can be off-putting but working with a local training provider can help identify the best standards for a particular role. 

All apprenticeships have a minimum duration of 12 months and some will run for up to two or three years. While apprentices must be aged 16 or over, they don’t have to be new recruits, so an apprenticeship can be used for upskilling the existing workforce.


Elaine added: “One of the common obstacles is often funding; or rather the lack of understanding of how funding works. All apprenticeships are allocated to a funding band, this sets out the amount of funding available to pay for the basic apprenticeship. The funding may come from an employer levy account or direct from government for smaller employers.” 

Since April 2017, employers with a pay bill of over £3 million a year pay an apprenticeship levy based on a percentage of their pay bill. In England, the government tops up the employer levy with an extra 10 per cent, this is paid directly into the employers’ apprenticeship account. If your organisation is too small to pay the levy, the government will pay 95 per cent of the cost of the apprenticeship, up to the maximum funding band for the specific apprenticeship standard, with the employer paying the final five per cent.

As of April 1 this year, levy-paying employers can transfer a maximum amount of 25 per cent of their annual funds to other employers, such as those in their supply chain. They can make transfers from their apprenticeship account to as many employers as they choose.

Transferred funds will be used to pay for the training and assessment cost of the apprenticeships agreed with the receiving employer. Whilst this facility is still very new, it’s something RFM will be looking at more closely as it develops its shared apprenticeship workstream, to ensure smaller employers are taking advantage of unused levy paid by larger companies in the industry. 

“The industry is going to need a lot of new people over the next five to 10 years and larger public sector contracts are now demanding a certain number of apprentices per million-pound spend to encourage everyone to do their bit,” said Elaine. “We need to address the barriers that SMEs face and our shared apprenticeship workstream will help address some of these issues.” 

To find out more about RFM’s sector deal apprenticeship workstream, contact elaineclark@midlandsrail.co.uk.

RailStaff Awards: Lifesavers

Of the 20 trophies presented at the RailStaff Awards there is one that is more emotionally charged than all the others.

The Lifesaver Award is a category that is inundated with stories of rail staff stepping out of their comfort zone to help in someone’s time of need. 

These selfless acts of humanity aren’t listed in the job descriptions of these everyday heroes, but they undertake them anyway. 

Customer service experience manager Rizwan Javed, of MTR Crossrail, made 25 life-saving interventions in three years, repeated feats of courage and compassion that saw him presented with the 2018 Lifesaver Award.

Jason Alexandre, managing suicidal contacts trainer at category sponsor Samaritans, said the award was a great recognition of Rizwan, who represents the group of people that made over 2,000 life-saving interventions in 2018/19. 

“I’ve spoken to Rizwan a couple of times since the award and he has since gone on to help us with our rail industry campaigns,” said Jason. “He’s a great advocate of giving colleagues the confidence to go out and speak about mental wellbeing. He’s said that if he can help and support in any way he’d love to do that if it saves somebody’s life. 

“People who make that intervention, who make that connection, they often want to do more to help, sometimes like Rizwan, they add their passion giving incredible energy to these campaigns to help and support people.”

Emotional health

Samaritans' Real People, Real Stories campaign, which sees men who have overcome tough times share their stories to encourage others to seek help, was launched in March with a burst of media activity. More than 20 news outlets covered the new campaign and it featured on talkSPORT and BBC Breakfast to help spark conversations on mental wellbeing, particularly for men. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 and 80 per cent of suicides on the railway are by men. 

Since the rollout, authentic stories from sporting celebrities – including former footballer Leon McKenzie and international rugby referee Nigel Owens – have aired on talkSPORT and shared on social media. Over 1,500 posters have been distributed to railway stations across Great Britain. 

As well as people such as Rizwan who make a life-saving intervention, Jason was full of praise for staff for providing ongoing emotional support for passengers. He touched on a recent example of a member of gateline staff who had got to know a customer who had cancer and would regularly chat to them about how they were doing. 

Jason added: “As soon as you feel like you’re struggling to cope, it’s really important to talk to someone. Samaritans is not only there for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, in fact only one in five of those that contact us say that they are feeling suicidal. We want to reach people whenever they are finding life tough.”

Marathon efforts

Building on the success of Real People, Real Stories, Samaritans is putting plans in place for its next big campaign, Samarathon. 

Jason added: “We know that physical health has an impact on mental wellbeing. And so what we’re encouraging people to do in the month of July is to either walk or run a marathon – at their own pace – with friends and family. People can then go onto our website and record it and their sponsorship.”

Jason explained that Samaritans hopes to raise money, awareness, build resilience through improved physical health and have “a bit of fun” too through the campaign. 

RailStaff Awards 

Come November, more people and more stories such as Rizwan and his heroic efforts will be acknowledged at the RailStaff Awards. 

“We are so proud to sponsor the RailStaff Awards,” added Jason. “All of these guys do a really great job. They’re working hard and this is an opportunity to recognise what they do as they often go above and beyond. 

“It’s an opportunity to thank them, acknowledge them and when that person gets awarded I think it’s an award that people can associate with and say we as an industry are being recognised too.” 

Can you help Samaritans share its new Real People, Real Stories awareness campaign through local professional or semi-professional football or rugby clubs?

If so, please email: d.masters@samaritans.org

Sheriffs on patrol

Whether they’re opening a new building or marking a new milestone or landmark anniversary, MPs are often snapped celebrating special occasions with organisations associated to either their constituency or government department.

So, when Land Sheriffs welcomed not one but two politicians to its headquarters in Essex earlier this year, you know it was for something significant. 

At the beginning of 2019, the professional security firm recorded its 200th life-saving intervention since 2013 when it first started actively working to prevent suicide on Britain’s railways. As of June this year the figure currently sits at 222 and refers to incidents whereby a member of the public is handed over to the BTP, the ambulance service or another police force for a mental health assessment. 

Ministerial praise

Tyler LeMay, managing director of Land Sheriffs, welcomed mental health minister Jackie Doyle-Price and local MP Robert Halfon to the company’s offices in April for the event.

“We tried to make it more of a recognition of staff because the event was tinged with a little bit of sadness because there were 200 people who were in very dark places,” Tyler said. “We never set our sights on targets. We don’t have a KPI for it. We trust our staff’s experience and training to intervene when they feel able to.”

On the day of her visit, Jackie Doyle-Price tweeted the following message: “Congratulations on all that you have done, please continue that good work. I am going to preach to the world about what you have done here because it is so impressive, thank you very much indeed.”

Tyler explained that when staff make these life-saving interventions, they’re not just saving one person’s life. 

He added: “You’ve saved their family, friends and partners from going through the pain and heartache of that person taking their own life.

“Plus, if a train driver’s involved, some train drivers never come back to work, even though there’s nothing they could do.”

A rise in crime

Working predominantly across the South East and Anglia region of the UK, including major London Hubs such as Victoria, Charing Cross and Liverpool St stations, Land Sheriffs isn’t just contracted for suicide prevention by Network Rail and train operators. A key aspect of its work relates to violence and antisocial behaviour on the network.

In the last three years, the number of overall recorded crimes in England, Scotland and Wales has increased from 49,000 in 2015/16 to 52,000 in 2016/17 and 61,000 in 2017/18, according to BTP – although these figures are lower than they were in 2005/06 (79,000).

Following this trend, Land Sheriffs has also seen a rise in violence and antisocial behaviour, which Tyler believes is partly down to a change in workers’ attitudes to reporting. 

“No one goes to work to be abused or called names or threatened with violence, but it seems as if there’s an acceptable culture in the rail industry that rail frontline staff can be abused, without repercussions” he added. 

“Lots of these frontline staff, gateline staff, staff in customer service, they’re not there to deal with conflict, they’re not trained to deal with conflict. 

“Our staff, certainly in our sector, are trained and – like a police officer almost – they’re willing to enter into conflict in order to deal with a situation.”

Giving back

As it has grown its presence in rail, Land Sheriffs has sought to give something back to the communities it serves. 

In the immediate area of Harlow, the firm raised enough money to allow all of the nurses from the neonatal unit at the nearby Princess Alexandra Hospital to undertake special training, to improve their knowledge and skillset around caring for babies and their families. 

In the rail industry, it is once more returning to sponsor the Charity Award at the RailStaff Awards.

“It’s an award that’s close to our hearts. We do a lot of charity work and I think it’s good to give back to your local community,” said Tyler. “Lots of the staff that are nominated don’t do it for the recognition either, they just do it for a passion or a drive, something that’s touched them or their family. They do it for the cause, which they should be recognised for.” 

To nominate one of your colleagues or to find out more information, head to www.railstaffawards.com

RailStaff Awards: Celebrating extraordinary people

On May 18, hundreds of people travelled between London Paddington and Exeter St Davids on Great Western Railway’s (GWR) last High Speed Train (HST) in regular passenger service.

Rail enthusiasts lined the route to snap a final photo while customers and colleagues took a minute to appreciate the iconic train that saved intercity rail travel. 

Such is the public sentiment for the trains that this final trip attracted coverage from a host of media outlets. A video news report on the BBC website even became its most watched clip of the day.

On Twitter, the hashtag #LastOfTheHSTs trended and the resultant buzz of users celebrating the historical moment saw GWR’s social media team receive its highest ever positive score.

After 43 years in operation, the fleet of HSTs has been replaced with 93 Hitachi-built Intercity Express Trains (IET). The first IET entered service on October 16, 2017, and GWR took delivery of its final trainset in May this year. 

“It was a great event that was quite nostalgic,” said GWR managing director Mark Hopwood, talking about the last HST. “Colleagues from all over the business worked hard to make it a success – little touches like bespoke window labels helped make the day extra special for customers.” 

But, as Mark explained, it was an event tinged with sadness. 

“Many of our colleagues loved working with these trains – some of them for 40 years,” he added. “That being said, the retirement of the HST from high-speed service represents a significant milestone for our transformation, and while it is poignant there is plenty to be excited about in the future.” 

The new fleet is part of the biggest upgrade to GWR in a generation, which, combined with a major timetable change in December, will boost the number of trains and seats and cut journey times.

Influential figures

With so many new trains being introduced, GWR has seized the opportunity to name 50 of them after inspirational locals who have influenced the towns and cities it serves. The campaign will see each of the trains fitted with plaques inscribed with the name of one ‘Great Westerner’.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the revolutionary engineer who designed and built the Great Western Railway; George ‘Johnny’ Johnson and Joy Lofthouse, pilots from the historic Dambusters raid in 1943; and Rick Rescorla, a Cornishman who died saving the lives of thousands of people during the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks in New York, are examples of the names that appear on the new IET trains. 

Rail Manager of the Year

The train naming project has been set up to recognise the achievements of extraordinary local people – and it’s the same drive to recognise greatness that’s led to GWR supporting this year’s RailStaff Awards. Following on from sponsorship of the 2018 ceremony, GWR will once more return to sponsor the Rail Manager of the Year category. 

“Having great line managers to guide our colleagues through the huge transformation we’re seeing on the GWR network is key to us delivering our purpose of revaluing rail in the hearts and minds of the travelling public,” said HR director Ruth Busby. “I see and hear of fantastic examples of leaders who demonstrate our values and use their Great Experience Maker customer service training, so this category particularly resonates with me.”

By coincidence – and it really was, judging is independent – last year’s category was won by GWR’s Carys Thomas, a former duty station manager who is a graduate of the company’s Aspire apprenticeship scheme.

Carys, who now works as an operations compliance manager, had a significant impact at Bristol Temple Meads station. She boosted staffing levels from 67 to 96 per cent and worked tirelessly to help improve much-needed station administration; helping to maintain operational and occupational compliance. 

The RailStaff Awards will once more take place at Birmingham’s NEC, this year on Thursday, November 28. To find out more head to: www.railstaffawards.com

RailStaff Awards: Introducing your host…

Image © Licensed to Chris J Ratcliffe. 14/05/2019. LNER new Azuma train launch on May 14, 2019 in London, United Kingdom, Picture by Chris J Ratcliffe / LNER

Showman Richard Salkeld shone so brightly at the 2018 RailStaff Awards that organisers have signed him up to return for this year’s ceremony.

Not only did his sequin jackets add a touch of glitz and glamour in a room of black-tie suits and cocktail dresses, Richard perfectly orchestrated proceedings, which cost tens of thousands of pounds and took the best part of a year to organise. 

He may not have known what to expect, having never attended the RailStaff Awards before, but Richard was unfazed by the thousands of watching eyes and had the necessary skills and personality to keep the momentum going regardless of what was thrown at him.

“It was genuinely a real joy,” said the former journalist, who recently swapped the Great Western for the East Coast main line to oversee media at LNER. “It has always been an ambition of mine to host the Eurovision Song Contest and I think that night was the closest I’ve got to it.

“The whole event felt like a glossy Saturday night floor show with entertainment, the spectacle, the awards themselves, the personalities and with everybody looking so fantastic. It was kind of like a Royal Variety Performance railway awards.

“I recall a real sense of railway family at the event which certainly made it feel like an intimate event despite being at one of the country’s largest venues.”

Memorable moments

Richard takes great pride in his work and the impact it can have, something that is helped by his lifelong love of railways.

“I’ve got a real affinity with the East Coast route. My grandad was a train driver for British Rail and I remember him taking me to Newcastle station to have a look inside the cab of an InterCity 125 and being allowed to honk the horn. 

“I remember holding it for so long that I can remember seeing pigeons flying out past the canopy of the station and having to have my fingers peeled off the lever to stop the horn from going off.”

Richard said he treasured his time at Great Western Railway and the opportunity to learn about the Class 800 trains and a different part of the country and that he returned to the East Coast with “more knowledge and experience”.

Knowledge and experience

When the RailStaff Awards returns in less than five months time, Richard will also return to the role as host with more knowledge and experience. 

“I’ve been really privileged to host or co-host events ranging from the Railway Benefit Fund Gala Dinners to the Association of Community Rail Awards to name a few so it’s always difficult knowing what the audiences will be like and if the tone and humour will hit the spot,” he added. “I’d like to think the professional set-up, big screens, sparkly jackets and occasionally deviating from the script to have a chat with winners and sponsors made for an unpredictable and entertaining night – and will again this year.”

Organisers meanwhile are hoping to draw on your knowledge and experience to make the ceremony on Thursday, November 28, possible. 

Do you work with a selfless charity fundraiser, a station assistant who’s saved a life or a hardworking OLE engineer? If you do, head to railstaffawards.com and nominate them for a chance to be recognised by the industry. 

Spending a few short moments of your time telling us why they deserve to win could help to create more special moments that will be remembered for years to come. 

Tickets for the RailStaff Awards are now on sale. To secure your ticket or table, go to www.railstaffawards.com

Do you work with an extraordinary train driver, station manager or engineer? Nominate them in one of 20 categories today: 

The categories in full: 

  • Apprentice of the Year
  • Award for Charity
  • Customer Service Award
  • Depot Staff Award
  • Digital Railway Person or Team Award
  • Graduate or Newcomer Award
  • HR, Diversity & Inclusion Person or Team Award
  • Learning & Development Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Marketing & Communications Team Award
  • Rail Civils / Infrastructure Team Award
  • Rail Engineer of the Year
  • Rail Manager of the Year
  • Rail Person of the Year
  • Rail Project Manager Award
  • Rail Team of the Year
  • Recruitment Person or Team
  • Safety Person or Team Award
  • Samaritans Lifesaver Award
  • Station Staff Award

My life in rail: ‘Mr Motivator’ Aaron Koduah

Virgin Trains welcome host Aaron Koduah, 38, brightens up passenger journeys with his own motivational messages on boards at Crewe station. 

Describe a typical day at work
Providing a friendly face to welcome and assist people on their travels.

What’s your favourite/least favourite part of the job?
Favourite part is meeting new people and just generally helping people. Least favourite part is the late finishes. 

You’ve worked at Crewe for the past four years. Do you know any little-known facts about the station?
The station has underground tunnels which are haunted. Myself and a colleague have taken random pictures of the underground tunnels of which the pictures displayed some ghostly images!

How did you get into the rail industry?
I applied to work for Virgin Trains after I completed my graduate degree at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Tell me about your time in the armed forces, where did you serve and what did you do?
I was a supply specialist in the Royal Logistics Corp, British Army. In seven years’ service I went on operational tours of Afghanistan and duty tours around Europe. 

Where does your love for inspirational quotes come from?
I’ve always had a love for a good quote and would often search online for motivational quotes to help me get through some dark times in my life. I then began writing down my own quotes of which I shared with friends and family on social media. I was really chuffed when I began receiving positive feedback and felt proud that my own words were now helping others through their bad times. I then began sharing both my own quotes and those of other famous and influential celebrities daily at the station on the information board – now renamed the ‘thought of the day’ board. The reactions from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. 

Do you remember the first time you wrote a quote on a welcome board?
I can’t actually remember what I wrote the very first time as it has been four years now, but I do remember feeling nervous about it and thinking ‘Will anyone actually read them?’ But now I even get celebrities tweeting my thoughts of the day, including Olympic cyclist Joanna Rowsell Shand and Paul ‘The Sinnerman’ Sinha from the Chase.

I enjoy motivating people and making people smile and appreciate life. I posted quotes frequently on social media and they were well received so I wanted to expand my reach and connect with more people. Everyone can appreciate a little motivation sometimes.

You write a lot of the messages yourself, where do you get the ideas from?
I think about ways in which I could help uplift others who are currently struggling with life challenges and as I myself know how difficult life can be sometimes, I think about life and write my quotes from memory.

And what led you to collect 500 to put into a book?
Customers regularly take pictures of my quotes that I write daily on the thought of the day board at the station. Many approached me expressing how beneficial my quotes have been for them. The idea for the book came from customers who would regularly ask me where I would get my ideas from and if I could compile them for future reference. 

How has the book been received?
I have received numerous positive feedback from both our customers and the general public. Many have approached me and thanked me for the book as it has been helping them deal with life challenges. I have sold over 300 copies so far.

Is there a particular inspirational quote that keeps you motivated at the moment?
One of my self-penned quotes: When everything is going wrong and you feel like given up, always remember that there is someone going through worse and who would willingly rather walk in your shoes. 

Who inspires you?
My mother has always been my source of inspiration and she was always so positive and mentally strong throughout her life until her passing in 2010.

What’s your proudest achievement to date?
My proudest moment was the day I was having my book signing at Crewe station in November last year. So many people purchased my book and asked for selfies.

What next?
I am currently working on my second book which I am hoping to release soon.

Where can people pickup a copy of the book?
Developing A Strong Mindset can be purchased on my website, www.aaronkoduahuk.com

The European Tram Driver Championship

Photo: Tram-EM.

Metrolink duo Caroline Haynes and Steve Shaw recorded the best finish for a British team at this year’s contest. They tell Stewart Thorpe what it was like taking part in this bizarre competition

Each year a different European city takes its turn hosting the European Tram Driver Championship.

First organised in 2012 to coincide with the 140th anniversary of horse-drawn trams in Dresden, Germany, the competition pits some of the continent’s very best against each other in tests of skill, speed and sheer luck.

In the United States, the Maryland Transit Administration organises a ‘Rail Rodeo’ for its own light rail operators. Otherwise, there is nothing like the European Tram Driver Championship anywhere in the world.

As the country that invented tramways, you could be mistaken for thinking Britain would dominate the championship, but you’d be wrong. 

A team from Greater Manchester’s Metrolink was the first to enter in 2013, finishing midway in sixth place from a pack of 14. Ever since, however, British entries have been disappointing to say the least. In 2015, Metrolink finished in last place in a 23-team contest. In 2018, it finished second bottom, but this was in a field of 25 entries. When National Express’ Midland Metro stepped in as the nation’s only competitor in 2016, the overall performance was Britain’s worse to date, with the drivers from Birmingham finishing 27th out of 27 teams.

Photo: Tram-EM.

British triumph

In Brussels earlier this year, that trend was bucked when Metrolink drivers Caroline Haynes and Steve Shaw finished in a respectable seventh. In total there were 25 teams from 21 different nations. Those present included teams from Berlin, Dublin and Paris as well as Budapest, Helsinki and Luxembourg. 

Caroline and Steve were chosen at random from a pool of 25 drivers who applied to represent Manchester – and, therefore, Britain – on the international stage. 

“All my friends were like ‘You’re doing what?! There’s such a thing as a tram championship?’” said Caroline, who spent 15 years working in casinos before packing it in to drive buses as a gateway into operating trams, which she has done for the past seven years. “I was showing them the videos and they were like: ‘Seriously?’”

Both were unsuccessful in attempts to take part in previous years, so when they received the call-up, they wanted to seize the opportunity with two hands. 

Steve added: “Obviously you get a bit of feedback from the drivers that have been in the past saying how hard it is. We’ve always struggled. I think we’ve come last and second last over the last few years.”

A former admin worker, Steve achieved his dream of working in rail six and a half years ago when he became a tram driver and hasn’t looked back since. 

“When we were chosen, I spoke to Chris Allen, driver manager at Metrolink, and he said we’ve got no chance of winning, to which I said: ‘Why not?’

“We’re both quite competitive, me and Caroline, we knew that previously we’d done pretty poorly so the main thing was to not finish down there. We just wanted to finish as high as we could.”

The 2019 competitors pictured on the morning of the contest. Photo: Tram-EM.


Before this year’s championship began, the 50 contestants spent a day listening to presentations, riding on Brussels STIB tram network and partying at a big welcome dinner. Crucially, they also had time to drive the three trams they would use in the following day’s challenges – out of service. The first was a heritage tram truck from the 1930s, the second was a PCC Streetcar that requires the driver to use floor-mounted pedals and the third was a Bombardier-built T3000 Flexity tram. 

Steve said: “The very old heritage tram had air brakes and was unlike anything I’ve ever driven before – it was crazy. I couldn’t get the hang of it in training, but it seemed to go okay in the competition.

“The second was the tram that you use pedals, basically like a car, to drive. You did nothing with your hands – it’s quite a weird feeling.

“And then we had the more modern tram, which is quite similar to the ones we drive in Manchester, just on a lower level because we have higher platforms. Very similar just slightly different with the TBC – traction brake controller – and things like that.” 

The door stop challenge. Photo: Tram-EM.

The tram-pionship

And then, on Saturday, May 4, the main event. In total, drivers had five minutes to tackle six back-to-back disciplines: 

  1. Precision stop: After pushing a big green button, the circuit begins with the driver boarding the heritage tram. Their first test is to accelerate and then brake within 20cm of a cone without hitting it.
  2. Estimating lateral distance: While their teammate goes ahead to place a cardboard cut-out of Brussels’ famous ‘Peeing Boy’ statue as close to the tracks on a curve as possible without hitting a passing tram, the challenger runs to the second tram for the lateral test. The closer they can pass the statue (within 20cm) without touching it, the more points they rack up. 
  3. Door stop: With the clock ticking, drivers then board the final tram where – with their mirrors disabled – they have to stop the second set of doors on a designated metre-wide arrow that’s placed at the side of the tram line.
  4. Speed: Staying in their seats, the drivers first have to accelerate and reach 30km/h without the assistance of a speedometer.
  5. Estimation of braking: Shortly after challenge four, the competitor has to take their hands off TBC to see how close they can get to a marked area on the ground. TBC is a safety feature on modern trams that activates the brakes a couple of seconds after a driver lets go of the lever.

One member from each team competed in the morning and the other in the afternoon. For team Metrolink, Caroline went before Steve. 

She said: “In the first challenge I hit the cone. The second one I had to do a swept path, which meant Steve placing the dummy at the same time. 

“In the third one, the door one, I missed that by about half a foot. Then the fourth and fifth were combined. I did that really well. We practised it in the morning by watching when the other drivers were letting go to stop. I was timing it in my head how many seconds the delay was, so I tried to judge from that as to where to let go.”

Event staff ensure the skittles remain upright before the tram bowling begins. Photo: Tram-EM.

Tram bowling

The first five challenges were based on situations that tram drivers find themselves in on a daily basis. For example, when estimating the lateral distance, the aim is to correctly assess the passing distance of obstacles such as parked cars, to prevent accidents. 

The sixth and final challenge is something that none of the drivers would have experience of – well, at least if they wished to keep their licence – and it is appropriately named tram bowling. 

It’s a challenge that has attracted the public’s attention more than any other since it was introduced in 2014. Videos of drivers performing perfectly executed shunts of huge blown-up bowling balls that send skittles flying have racked up tens of thousands of views online.

The aim is simple: knock down as many pins as possible, but, as Steve and Caroline explained, it’s not as easy as it looks. 

“I didn’t hit the ball hard enough,” said Caroline. “It’s just really weird. There are a few guys standing either side of the ball and it’s just totally wrong to drive at people at speed. It goes against your natural instinct to drive at something. You automatically think to brake. Even when you’re driving a car it’s just something you do without thinking about.

“Because the contest lasts five minutes and you’re having to rush around, you kind of panic. It was great fun though.”

Steve explained that if you’re driving too fast and end up knocking into the pins with the tram, you’re awarded zero points, which makes tram bowling even more difficult.

He added: “I’ve never done anything like it really. I’m usually asked to do the exact opposite, to avoid everything. You’ve got to go against your gut feeling.”

Neither of the Metrolink drivers scored any points in this challenge. Caroline didn’t knock any pins over while Steve drove straight into them. 

The obstacle course ends here so the competitor disembarks off the tram and runs over to hit a big red button.

Photo: Tram-EM.

Hometown glory

STIB, the host’s team, were crowned the 2019 winners on 3,530 points. Metrolink finished on 2,650 points.

Caroline pointed out that STIB benefited from the home advantage, operating trams – at least the final tram – they would have prior experience with. Except for the brief session before the competition, neither Steve nor Caroline spent any time practising, but that was not the case for everyone. 

Steve said: “Stockholm won it in 2018 and they were very meticulous in their preparations for 2019. They’d been practising all week in Stockholm before they got to Brussels.”

Steve said Stockholm’s team members were also taken off roster for a couple of weeks before the competition to practise. Not that it helped – they came last in the championship on 1,200 points. 

Steve added: “When you’re trying to stop your doors in a certain place and you’ve got nothing to line up against, yes there is skill involved. The statue challenge – yeah there probably is a little in measuring distance. The emergency stop one? Definitely. The bowling? It’s a complete fluke. No skill in that. It’s pure luck.”

Photo: Tram-EM.


After having a few weeks to reflect on their experience, Caroline and Steve were in agreement on the highlight of their four-day stay in Brussels.

“Not coming last,” said Caroline. “Everyone has been utterly abysmal before us. We were just happy we didn’t come last.”

Steve, who intends to put his name into the hat again next year, added: “For Manchester, it was our best position – certainly as it’s gone to 25 teams anyway. We were really pleased with it to be honest. We wanted to come in the top ten and got it.”

The entire event was live streamed, with tens of thousands of people tuning in to cheer on their countrymen. 

On the ground, there were also many who lined the course – including a handful of British families who had travelled hundreds of miles to witness the event first hand.

Next year’s event will take place in Oradea in Romania and perhaps one day we might see the contest take place on one of Britain’s tram systems – organisers TRAM-EM are certainly keen to come. And, should the home advantage prove as successful as it did for Brussels, we might finally see a British team take home the European Tram Driver Championship crown. Even if we didn’t, who wouldn’t want to see tram bowling on their local network? 

Want to find out more about the European Tram Driver Championship? Watch highlights from the 2019 competition below:

Nowhere to hide

Photo: BTP.

Chief inspector Peter Kooper talks to Stewart Thorpe about BTP’s new approach to counter terrorism

The terror attacks of 2017 reminded us all that terrorism can take place anywhere, at any time. 

Attacks at Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park saw 36 people lose their lives while hundreds more were forever changed as a result of physical and psychological injuries. It was a dark year for the UK, one which saw more people die as a result of terrorism than in any year since the 7/7 bombings ripped through the capital in 2005. 

In June, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, senior national coordinator for counter terrorism policing, warned the UK still faces an “unprecedented level of threat from terrorism” but that a step-change in terrorist activity is being matched by a similar increase in the work of the police and security services to keep the public safe.

As the specialist force that polices one of the country’s key economic arteries, the British Transport Police (BTP) has been an essential part of this uplift in capability.

BTP and the 2017 terror attacks

  • March 22, the Westminster attack: BTP played a critical role in London’s response after a vehicle was driven into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing five and injuring more than 50. 
  • May 22, the Manchester Arena bombing: As the first emergency responders to arrive on the scene, BTP officers made the area safe for other emergency services and provided immediate life-saving care to the injured. In total 22 victims lost their lives and more than 800 suffered physical and psychological injuries.
  • June 3, the London Bridge attack: BTP officers PC Wayne Marques and PC Leon McLeod ran towards three terrorists who had driven into pedestrians and were then stabbing members of the public in the London Bridge and Borough Market area. PC Marques was seriously injured after running towards attackers armed only with a baton. Both were recognised by the Queen for their acts of heroism. Around 160 BTP armed officers formed part of the specialist response alongside the Metropolitan Police Service and the City of London Police. Eight people died and dozens of others were left seriously injured. 
  • September 15, the Parsons Green train bombing: BTP armed officers and other specialist teams worked to evacuate passengers, make the area safe and support the investigation to find the man responsible. More than 50 people were left with injuries from the explosion and resultant panic and crush.

Chief Inspector Peter Kooper.

An evolved threat

BTP first deployed armed officers, primarily at major London stations, in 2012, to protect the public against emerging threats and evolving terrorist tactics – attacks on transport systems in Madrid (2004), London (2005) and Mumbai (2008) all resulted in large numbers of fatalities. Likewise, the launch of the firearms capability in London coincided with the London 2012 Olympic Games. These patrols provided a strong deterrent to would-be terrorists and allowed BTP to improve its response to any potential threats. 

Stations outside of London were patrolled from 2017 but firearms officers had to travel to them from the capital, until now. 

In 2018, BTP strengthened the size and reach of its counter terrorism capability by opening two special operations hubs, one based out of Birmingham and the other from Manchester.

Firearms officers now work alongside dog handlers and special teams across the network in England and Wales from the two bases.

“Clearly, after the events of 2017, it caused us to consider our capabilities outside of London,” said Chief Inspector Peter Kooper, the supervisor of BTP’s regional counter terrorism units. “These special operations hubs based in Birmingham and Manchester essentially replicate the existing specialist operation hub that is down in London.

“Manchester and Birmingham were seen as the most strategic places to base resources, based on the threats and assessments from the intelligence service.”

Ch Insp Kooper has spent the last 24 years in a variety of specialist areas with BTP and has led the regional counter terrorism unit since its inception in May 2018.

He added: “The biggest difference you will see now, as a consequence of the team opening up, is the firearms capability. We didn’t have any firearms officers up here before the hubs opened last summer, so that’s the greatest capability. 

“To deal with a Paris Bataclan-type terrorist attack, we’re going to need support from Special Forces, including specialist firearms officers, but we have that capacity to provide the initial response to it as well as having that deterrent piece as well.”

Before the regional units were launched, BTP had one explosive search dog (ESD) based outside of London – PD Mojo, which was awarded the animal equivalent of an OBE for being the first police dog on the scene of the Manchester Arena bombings. This capability has now been significantly increased since opening the regional units. 

Photo: BTP.

Project Servator

As a specialist team, the BTP’s counter terrorism units carry out a range of overt and covert activities in order to detect those with terrorist intent before they act. Its work is a key part of the force-wide ‘Project Servator’ initiative – the name given to the unpredictable and highly visible police deployments that are designed to disrupt a range of criminal activity, including terrorism.

Project Servator involves uniformed and plain clothed officers who are specially trained to spot telltale signs that an individual may have criminal intent. They are supported by resources such as police dogs, armed officers, real-time CCTV monitoring, automatic number plate recognition and vehicle checkpoints. 

Police officers aren’t the only ones that play a part. Rail staff are trained to quickly identify what makes an unattended item suspicious, to reduce unnecessary and costly disruptions to passengers who themselves are encouraged to report unusual activity and items through the ’See it. Say it. Sorted.’ campaign that can be seen and heard at stations. If a more specialist assessment is required, BTP deploys personnel from its counter terrorism units. 

Project Servator relies on those who work on the rail network and the people that use it to be extra eyes and ears for the police. The approach is designed to identify and disrupt hostile reconnaissance – the information gathering a criminal does when planning to commit a criminal act, including terrorist attacks. 

“It doesn't matter whether you’re a criminal who goes into WHSmith to steal a Mars bar or a potential terrorist doing some reconnaissance for a future attack, our specially-trained officers will cover this broad spectrum, looking to identify any hostile intent,” said Ch Insp Kooper, who explained that the counter terrorism unit’s presence is having an overall impact on crime. 

If an officer has spotted telltale signs that someone is planning or preparing to commit a crime, they will speak to that person to find out more. On occasion, there will be grounds to undertake stop searches. Ultimately, that can lead to intelligence on potential terrorist activity and arrests for carrying drugs or weapons.”


As well as 150 arrests, the Birmingham and Manchester-based counter terrorism teams have gathered more than 1,000 pieces of intelligence since September, which have been passed onto other counter terrorism units across the UK. 

Because of the nature of its work, BTP’s counter terrorism unit is unable to record what happens as a result of passing intelligence onto security services. Nevertheless, an incident at the end of 2018 highlighted the impact the unit has had. 

Hours before the clock struck midnight on December 31, Sergeant Lee Valentine of BTP’s counter terrorism unit ran towards a knifeman at Manchester Victoria. As the first officer on the scene, Sgt Valentine used a taser and CS spray to tackle and arrest the assailant.

Three people, including Sgt Valentine, were hurt in the knife attack, but the officer’s quick thinking prevented more passengers from being hurt. 

The incident was investigated by the National Counter Terrorism Network and a man in his 30s has since been charged with three counts of attempted murder and one of possessing a document useful to a person committing an act of terrorism.

Ch Insp Kooper added: “New Year’s Eve clearly was a massive risk for us in terms of the nature of the event, the crowded place, the transport hub, all that sort of stuff, and for us to be in the right place at the right time and have the capability to actually deal with this individual is a positive thing for us.”

Photo: BTP.


Although BTP has strengthened its counter terrorism division, it cannot work in isolation – particularly as the terror threat level remains at ‘severe’ – and relies on the eyes and ears of rail staff and passengers to pick up on potential threats. 

Ch Insp Kooper said his unit receives a lot of calls and messages from the public following high-profile incidents and campaigns but that this drops at other times. 

Whether people work in London, Manchester or Cardiff, the advice is to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to police. BTP, now more than ever before, is in an ideal position to stub out potential threats before they can escalate further.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding so far,” Ch Insp Kooper added. “We really, really are incredibly proactive and I think it will only carry on over the coming years.” 

Passengers and rail staff can discreetly contact BTP by texting 61016.

Fast Trackers II

Network Rail and Mott MacDonald’s engineering outreach programme was even bigger and better on its 2019 return

A looming skills gap in rail engineering continues to hang over the industry’s head, one that will drive up costs, lead to productivity losses and hit the national economy. 

It’s not going to be overcome overnight, but what is being done about it?

One of the biggest programmes for students aged 16 and up is Fast Trackers, an outreach scheme that aims to encourage learners to pursue a career in engineering or, even better, rail. Organised between Network Rail engineering graduates, Mott MacDonald and their industry and education partners, Fast Trackers was born out of 2018's Year of Engineering campaign to target students from areas with the lowest uptake of further education.

Building on the inaugural event’s success, organisers expanded Fast Trackers’ reach from two to seven regions for 2019, engaging with more than 300 students. Lancashire, London, the Midlands, the North East, Scotland, Staffordshire and Yorkshire all hosted their own three-day regional heats and the winners from those were invited to a grand final in Birmingham between July 2-4.

A taste of engineering

Regional heats allowed the teenagers to explore a variety of work that engineers undertake in the rail sector. Across the programme activities included:

  • Gearing up in PPE to learn how to remove fastenings and replace rails using tools and lifting equipment at Newcastle College’s test track;
  • An exclusive tour of St Pancras station’s innovative design features by Jay Newton, head of stations engineering at HS1;
  • Getting up close and personal with a diesel as well as an electric-powered CAF train at Alstom’s state-of-the-art maintenance centre in Liverpool;
  • Designing a HS2-inspired high-speed line between Birmingham and London as well as redesigning London Euston to accommodate it – the main challenge for participants at the regional level;
  • Sitting in the ‘driver’s seat’ to test the University of Birmingham’s railway control and operations simulator.

The challenge

After topping their regional heats, teams were tasked with a new engineering challenge in the final leg: redesigning Birmingham New Street station. 

The 40 students spent the best part of their first day at the National College for High Speed Rail, where they learnt about ideas such as sustainability, BIM and pedestrian modelling, and finished the day with a list to the subject station to see how it could be improved. 

After exchanging ideas and putting pen to paper on the middle day, the five teams pitched their ideas to a panel of industry leaders – including HS1 chief executive Dyan Crowther, who oversaw the station’s redesign in 2015 – on the final day at the University of Birmingham’s School of Engineering. 

But before they took their moments in the spotlight, Cathy Travers, managing director of Mott MacDonald in the UK and Europe, who was one of the judges, shared her own career story.

Cathy grew up in Blackburn as the youngest of five siblings and began her journey to where she is today thanks to encouragement from her mum. 

“She was an English teacher and she said ‘Cathy, you want to go and do engineering because it is a chance to problem solve, it’s a chance to see what you’ve created and develop but it’s also a chance to change people’s lives’”, she said. “So, I thought what the hell, I’ll give it a go.”

She initially failed her A-Level maths but returned to restudy, which enabled her to go to university to study civil and structural engineering. Fast forward to the present day and Cathy now manages a £1 billion business with 8,000 employees.

“My mum was right, it really is a fantastic career, you can change people’s lives, and I hope you’ve seen a little bit of that through the work you’ve been doing on Birmingham station and actually how what we do in this industry can make a difference to people’s lives.”

Drawing on her more than 30 years’ experience as an engineer, Cathy then left the students with some words of wisdom. 

“The other massive lesson I’ve learnt is just believe in yourself. You can achieve whatever you want to achieve. It really comes down to believing in yourself and having that confidence to go for it.”

Fresh thinking

One by one the teams shared the results from their two days of research and brainstorming on issues such as sustainability and enhancing customer experience.

Almost all of the students agreed that navigating around Birmingham New Street is not easy, whether that’s to find your platform, the most appropriate exit or the reception. 

Solutions included dedicated mobile apps for the station, which would integrate wayfinding functions with real-time train information, holographic 3D maps that would pop out of the floor and focus on the user’s location, as well as colour-coded lines on the floor to guide passengers to platforms. 

They also developed an understanding of why emissions are so bad at stations, and sought to tackle train emissions through the introduction of electric and hydrogen powered trains and reduce overall station emissions by encouraging cycling and introducing an emissions zone in the surrounding area. 

The notion that stations are more than transit space was grasped too. Gyms, nurseries, entertainment areas and even a homeless shelter was integrated into community-centric plans. The group from Manchester planned to harness energy from passengers through Pavegen technology and on-site gyms, allowing them to restore their energy with sleep pods before setting off for their destination. 

The eventual winner was the five-man team from Birmingham, who came suited and booted in ties and blazers. One of their standout ideas was to remove ticket barriers entirely and to instead rely on near field technology because of the impact barriers have on congestion during peak times, although they realised the limitations of rolling this out without putting revenue safeguarding procedures in place. 

Future prospects

A graduation-style ceremony proved a fitting end to the Fast Trackers programme. 

It was evident the students had invested much time and thought into the programme, wracking their brains to come up with solutions to modern day problems. 

They displayed vital skills of communication, collaboration, teamwork, organisation and critical thinking and would all find a place working in the rail sector. 

Via feedback, organisers were able to track that more students had considered engineering-based career afterwards than before, more were aware of transport sector career options and more were considering a career in rail.

The industry will be hoping that graduate programmes and the real-deal graduations await them in the years ahead. 

Chaplains call for help

In times of need they are there without hesitation, offering a listening ear and confidential support. But now, in its time of difficulty, the Railway Mission is in need of help itself.

From remote areas of the network in Scotland to the busiest hubs in London, the Mission’s band of specially trained chaplains provide ‘psychological first aid’ to staff going through dark times.

In 2017, the charity supported rail staff on 15,925 occasions during visits to stations, signal boxes, depots and offices. This includes following up 253 suicides or suicide attempts with chaplaincy support. It also deployed 2 chaplains to help those affected by the recent worker fatalities at Margam.

Like all charitable organisations, fundraising is an ongoing challenge for the Railway Mission. Following the removal of two major sources of funding, it was left with a financial black hole of £120,000 a year in 2018. 

The situation forced the charity’s hand and led it to making two members of staff redundant, a figure that would have been higher had another not resigned.

Executive director Liam Johnston said: “We’re a dedicated, professional charity service. With the exception of a couple of volunteers, we employee our chaplains because we want to employe the best we can get. 

“Unfortunately that squeeze on the finances has meant that we’ve had to reduce the numbers of staff so we’re really struggling in some areas.”


Currently there is no dedicated chaplain for the London Underground – the nearest support is now located at the major London terminals – the equivalent of only one full-time chaplain covering Scotland and the chaplains in the north of England are having to cover large patches. At its peak there were 27 chaplains, now there are 20.

Without finding additional sources of income, the Railway Mission will be unable to bolster its staff, meaning its capability will continue to be reduced. 

Liam said there is a three-year plan to prevent the charity from eating further into its reserves, but this will mean being less flexible with its support and helping less people. 

He added: “We can cope as long as we’re not hit by anything major. Our capacity to cope with those events is majorly reduced. 

“What we really need is an increase in funding to not only decrease the deficit but allow us to go back to the level of chaplaincy that we have had in the past.”

New backers

Liam is determined to establish the backing of major funders but the Railway Mission also wants to encourage more members of staff to donate via payroll giving. 

“What we’ve seen is the amount of money people give on a regular basis has gone down, and that causes a knock-on effect. 

“I think that’s typical for the times that we’re in. Everybody’s a bit concerned about their financial future whether it’s to do with Brexit, whether it’s to do with prices, whatever the reason.

“With payroll giving, if someone gives £5 or even £1 a week that continues through their career and over time adds up to a significant amount of money. If you get lots of people giving small amounts, as people retire or move jobs, it doesn’t have that big effect of one major funder stopping giving thousands of pounds because you’ve got lots of smaller supporters, there’s lots of flexibility in that. It’s a more sustainable income stream in the long term.”

Liam added: “The work of the Railway Mission doesn’t pull on people’s heart strings as much as other causes.

“Everybody knows somebody that’s been effected by cancer, everybody knows someone who has children, so charities that deal with children, charities that deal with cancer, they really pull on the heart strings. 

“We’re here to support people who are in employment, generally, who are seen as being well paid but everybody who goes through a difficulty in their life, whether it’s ill health, divorce, whether it’s problems with their family in some way, all of those people need support.” 

RailStaff July: Tragedy

Sadly, shortly before this issue went to print, the industry was hit with the news that two railway workers were killed by a passenger train at Margam, near Port Talbot in South Wales. BTP named them as Gareth Delbridge (right), of Kenfig Hill, and Michael ‘Spike’ Lewis (left), of North Cornelly. A third, unnamed person was treated at the scene for shock but was not injured.

Gareth, 64, was described as “the kindest and most loving husband, father, brother, grandad and great-grandad” by his family, a man who loved life, work, holidays and most of all, his family. 

Michael, 58, who was nicknamed ‘Spike’, was said to have been “known by everyone, and loved by everyone.”

The two were part of Network Rail’s Port Talbot track team and had a combined 84 years of experience on the railway. 

The day after the tragedy, a number of public figures shared their condolences, including prime minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines also released the following message to staff: “This is a heart-breaking reminder of how dangerous it can be to work on the railway. Please, always continue to challenge anything that seems unsafe, tackle risks as soon as you see them and take personal responsibility for you and your colleagues' safety and well-being.”

Industry colleagues from Network Rail, Transport for Wales and Great Western Railway held a minute’s silence to remember Gareth and Michael a week after the incident.

Although there has been a long-term reduction in the number of workers dying on the railway, the incident is a stark reminder of the dangers that remain and how we cannot be complacent when it comes to safety. It was only in November that an unnamed 37-year-old track worker died as a result of being hit by a train at Stoats Nest junction, between Purley and Coulsdon South stations, on the main line from London to Brighton. Prior to that it had been more than four years since a track worker was struck and killed by a train.

Our sympathies go out to the friends, family and work colleagues of Gareth and Michael, the railway family mourns with you. Our thoughts are also with the train driver and industry colleagues who attended the scene in the aftermath.

Lead investigator BTP believes that, unless a safety critical matter comes to light, it will be some time before it reports back on exactly what happened in the moments leading to this fatal collision. RAIB is also conducting independent investigations and Network Rail has since launched a £70 million track worker safety taskforce to accelerate its near miss reduction programme.

When the reports are finalised, let’s hope investigators get to the bottom of what went wrong so that no one else dies as a result of being struck by a train while working on the railway. 

Something went horribly wrong and the industry must learn lessons to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 


In further tragic news this month, it is with great sadness to hear rail legend Per Staehr, a former chief executive of Bombardier Transportation and chair of Rail Media, has passed away. Per was a great supporter and friend to the rail industry and I know he will be sorely missed by family and friends. 

Tom O’Connor, managing director, Rail Media

Rail Safety Week

A hazard stripes background with grungy splatter isolated over white.

Whether it’s the introduction of new rolling stock, timetables or a company structure, change poses a risk to safety and must be considered carefully. 

That was one of the key messages from Rail Safety Week’s inaugural conference, which was held at RSSB’s Moorgate offices in London on June 24. 

RSSB chief executive Mark Phillips mentioned Keith Williams’ Rail Review as a particular risk, and told audience members this was stressed in RSSB’s submission. 

Mark’s thoughts in the opening presentation were later echoed by chief inspector Ian Prosser, director of safety at ORR, who said he was in regular communication with Network Rail’s transformation team to ensure its reorganisation is safety validated.

Ian, who joined the rail industry as a result of the Ladbroke Grove rail crash in 1999, said: “It is so important that change is managed because you can spend years and years trying to get better and you can lose that in a moment and, basically, all hell breaks loose.”

Representatives from BTP, CIRAS, RSSB and Network Rail covered key safety messages from their respective sections of the industry as part of the conference – the headline event in Rail Safety Week’s 2019 programme of events to provide an industry focus on safety.

Among the line-up were speakers from two organisations not usually represented at safety conferences: the Railway Benefit Fund (RBF) and the Scouts Association. 

President Pete Waterman explained the work of RBF and how Charles Dickens became an early benefactor following the Staplehurst rail crash in 1865.

Mark Hislop, commercial director of the Scouts, was there to talk about a successful partnership it established with CrossCountry in 2017 to launch a Cub Scout Personal Safety Activity Badge as part of a strategy to reduce rail crime in the UK. More than 34,000 Cub Scouts have since earned the badge. 

In his opening speech, RSSB’s Mark Phillips told delegates that despite the UK’s rail safety record being transformed since World War Two – it is now the safest railway of the top 10 major railways in Europe – there remains a lot to do to reduce safety risks further.

For example, in the past six months RSSB has noticed an uplift in risks around signals passed at danger (SPAD) and level-crossings. Mark also revealed that nine of the 18 rail worker fatalities in the last decade were as a result of driving.

Platform-train interfaces and trespass are two big areas of work for RSSB.

Trespass costs the rail industry £16 million a year and is also a major focus for BTP, as Assistant Chief Constable Robin Smith explained. In 2018, there were 10,108 such incidents. 

A recent trend has seen BTP faced with people either protesting or in a mental health crisis taking up precarious positions at stations, bridges or other parts of the infrastructure, causing significant delays across the network. 

A nine-hour incident at Leeds station on May 30 saw a man climb the station gantry. Only when a negotiator was called was he talked down. As a result, thousands of passenger journeys were disrupted at a cost of over £1 million to the rail industry. The man has since been jailed for six months. 

Asst Ch Con Robin Smith said: “The rail network is a magnet for people in mental health crisis and the rail industry will work with the Samaritans to help frontline staff to support them.”

Steve Longden, trespass improvement programme manager at Network Rail, told delegates that 70 per cent of trespass incidents take place at or within 100m of stations and that different placements of different types of fencing, gates, lighting and signage are being trialled to try and mitigate this. 

He also noted that the ‘You vs Train’ campaign, organised in association with BTP, is helping to significantly reduce trespass incidents at targeted hotspots. 

Help in hard times

What can you buy for £1? You could pick up a couple of pints of milk. A chocolate bar, or two, if you’re lucky. Or, for £1 a week, you could become a member of the Transport Benevolent Fund CIO (TBF), a registered charity in England, Wales and Scotland with 63,000 members.

Such is the size of the charity’s backing that in 2020 it will pay out almost £3 million in benefits to its members. 

This ranges from convalescence to complementary and alternative therapies for its members, their partner and any dependants. 

“When someone picks up the phone and calls us, you never know what they’re going to ask for,” said John Sheehy, a former Northern line train operator who now leads the charity as its chief executive. “Is it because they’re off sick and their sick pay is less than what they normally receive, which causes them financial hardship? We can normally help to keep their head above water if so. 

“Or is it because they need some sort of osteopathy or chiro or that they’re in a long waiting list on the NHS for a scan – because, although we can’t take the place of the NHS, we can step in and put up some funds to help them go private, to help them get back into work.”


In 1994, TBF increased its weekly membership rate to £1, a rate that has been frozen ever since. That doesn’t mean that the charity hasn’t been in demand – it’s quite the opposite, as John explained. 

“Unfortunately, in today’s world there is a real growing need for organisations like us, more than ever,” he said. “You’d think that in the 21st century with the state welfare system that everyone would be fine, but it’s just getting harder and harder out there. 

“If we weren’t around you do wonder what our beneficiaries would do when they fall on hard times.”

Station staff

For the ninth successive year, TBF is once more returning to sponsor the Station Staff of the Year Award at the RailStaff Awards.

It’s a category that covers a wide range of frontline job roles, from ticket office staff to those working in retail, customer service, revenue protection and as station supervisors, a group that TBF often finds itself in contact with. 

John added: “We generally help more frontline staff than anyone else. They’re likely to be on a lower rate of pay than other people in the industry, and they’re probably the people who’ll come to us for help because of their lifestyles, their shift work and lower income. So it’s quite poignant to sponsor this category.”

John has been unable to attend the RailStaff Awards for the last few years due to family reasons, but when the RailStaff Awards returns on November 28 this year, he’ll be among the crowd. 

John said: “The RailStaff Awards is great advertisement for us and let’s everyone in the industry know that we are here and ready to help if, unfortunately, you fall on hardship or distress. This is why employers giving us access to their staff is essential.” 

“It’s exposure but also helps us to carry out our duty as a charity to try and help as many people employed in the public transport industries, because that’s why we are here. If we’re not doing that, we’re not meeting the aims of the charity.”

The awards will once more take place at Birmingham’s NEC with jaw-dropping entertainment, fine dining and the awards ceremony. John’s highlight will be something far more simple, however. 

He added: “Whatever job you do – and most people do a good job – it’s always nice to get some recognition. To see, in whatever category, the faces of people winning an award is what it’s all about really. It’s as simple as that. 

“A lot of people work week in, week out, year in, year out and retire and no one’s ever said to them ‘well done, you’ve done a great job there’.

“So it’s always nice as an industry as a whole to recognise it’s people.”

To nominate one of your colleagues in one of 20 awards categories or to find out more information, head to www.railstaffawards.com

RailStaff Awards: From one family to another

In its 130-year history, Bollé has grown from a small cottage-based business in the French Alps to one of the world’s leading manufacturers of premium eyewear products. 

Some of the country’s biggest infrastructure projects: Crossrail, Thames Tideway and Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, all trust the company to protect their workforces through its range of stylish Bollé Safety-branded glasses, goggles and accessories. 

Bollé brought its expertise to the UK market in the 1970s and, off the back of securing major supply contracts and a growing reputation, has experienced “significant growth” over the last few years.

“Customers are becoming increasingly aware of eye protection and, not just through the large projects but generally across the UK and Ireland, we’ve seen sales grow,” said Ian Walbeoff, Bollé Safety’s general manager. 

“Whatever industry, sector or market we go into, if you give our product to anyone who works in them, the first thing they’ll do is pick them up, put them on and think ‘yeah, I look good in these’. Of course the objective is that they wear their eye protection and that it eliminates eye injuries or worse.”


With a background in optometry, and having worked at Bollé Safety since 1990, Ian has a lot of experience in the field of safety eyewear. 

He said the company has a long history of innovation, which runs through its core. 

Back in 1888 when Bollé was established it manufactured plastic products in the French region of Oyonnax – known as the ‘Silcon Valley’ of the plastics industry. 

“Originally they started manufacturing plastic hair products,” said Ian. “The technology of manufacturing and the different types of materials were changing with the introduction of nylons, which Bollé started building into plastics. Then it went from frames into safety frames and concentrating on the safety aspect.”

Bollé started producing sunglasses and optical frames in the 1930s, safety spectacles in the 1940s and then into manufacturing ski glasses in the 1960s.

Ian said that Bollé has a lot in the pipeline, particularly surrounding the development of reactive lenses and new coatings to stop oil and paint sticking to lenses, all without comprising on style and comfort.

He added: “What makes our products stand out is the combination of style and comfort. If someone’s going to wear the product all day every day for eight hours a day then they want to be comfortable in them.”

Family connection

Bollé was established by the same-name family in 1888 and those roots and spirit remain to this day. 

Last year the family firm backed the RailStaff Awards to give something back to the wider rail industry family. 

This year it once more returns to sponsor the Rail Safety Person or Team of the Year category. 

Ian added: “We supported the awards last year and we are sponsoring the safety award again. 

“We as a company, being a safety eyewear manufacturer, wanted to recognise the importance of safety and individuals who promote safety within the workplace. It is sometimes difficult to get the uptake in PPE and get people to understand the reasons behind why they need to wear safety products. So we want to support them as much as possible in their day to day work.”

Last year’s safety award was given to the Milton Keynes Escalation Team (pictured) by Bollé Safety’s European managing director Damien Guillobez.

Between July and November, 2017, a series of suspected suicides on the rail network in the Milton Keynes area raised cause for concern.

The incidents, which were having a huge impact on the local communities and on the rail industry, led to representatives from the area’s train operators, emergency services and mental health services forming a multi-agency taskforce to tackle the problem head on.

Working together, the group – which included representatives from Network Rail, Samaritans, BTP, West Midlands Trains, Virgin Trains, Thames Valley Police and other stakeholders – pursued a range of different work streams that focused on information sharing and community engagement to increase the chances of human intervention and to promote help-seeking.

As a result, there were no further suspected suicides on the lines in this area, with seven recorded lifesaving interventions recorded by the time of the nomination.

Ian added: “Last year was a really, really good night. We’ve been to the NEC for many years for exhibitions so to then turn up into one of those great halls and see how they transformed it was amazing. It was a really strange sensation going from an exhibition to wow!” 

Tomorrow’s trains

The fruits of a booming uk rolling stock market were on show at Railtex as suppliers and major manufacturers promoted innovative new products and services

Although Bombardier and CAF were missing from the line-up, Alstom, Hitachi, Siemens and Stadler all featured. New entrants CRRC, a shortlisted party in the race to build the Tyne & Wear Metro’s new trains, and Talgo, which intends to build a new factory in Fife, also exhibited alongside suppliers of seats, carpets, passenger information systems and practically everything you need to fit out a train. 

EAO’s Passenger Interface.

Wireless charging

When it comes to train door-open buttons, Swiss firm EAO dominates the market. The majority of the UK’s train fleet is fitted with EAO train door buttons, including the new Aventra and Intercity Express Trains. 

However, there was a different focus for its stand at Railtex. Following a soft launch at Innotrans 2018, the EAO team officially launched its new ‘Passenger Interface’ in May. 

The system allows passengers to wirelessly charge their mobile phone (most models released after 2017 are compatible) using a conductive charger embedded in either a table top or setback holster. This reduces a passenger’s “battery anxiety” and gives them greater confidence when using e-ticketing.  

But it’s not the wireless charging that’s the innovative part – South Western Railway debuted the world’s first fully rail compliant phone wireless charging system in its refurbished Class 444 trains in November. 

Using EAO’s ‘iBeacon’ technology, the Passenger Interface builds on the wireless charging capability to connect the mobile phone to the cloud and signal that the seat is occupied. It then searches the device for the train operator’s app and, if it’s downloaded, prompts the user to open it. 

Ticket inspectors can then be informed if the passenger has a ticket while passengers would be able to order food and drink to their seat if there’s an onboard catering service. There are also options to provide tailored passenger information. 

EAO is currently working with Eversholt Rail to retrofit the Passenger Interface to its Class 395 ‘Javelin’ trains, which are on lease to Southeastern. 

Stratasys engineer Gülay Bozoklu.
Stratasys engineer Gülay Bozoklu.

3D printing

Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, the Netherlands’ Nederlandse Spoorwegen and the United States’ Union Pacific all use 3D printing – also known as additive manufacturing – to produce spare parts. 

Following the announcement of a partnership between Angel Trains, ESG Rail and Stratasys in the UK last year, approved, 3D-printed components will be trialled in service this year. 

Gülay Bozoklu, senior engineer at 3D printing specialist Stratasys, explained to RailStaff that the process results in significant cost reductions, because parts can be produced on a needs basis rather than on mass, as well as significant lead time reductions when compared to traditional manufacturing methods.

While 3D printing is still in its infancy, more and more companies are realising its potential. Stratasys already works in France and Germany but the project with Angel Trains and ESG Rail is its first in the UK. 

Gülay said: “It’s all about changing the ‘We have done it this way, we’ve always bought our armrest from a supplier, we have never took responsibility to print it ourselves’ mindset. 

“It will come slowly, they will change their minds but now it’s for really rare cases when its really too expensive, when the supply chain is too complicated, and when there is a short time limit. 

“I heard from a customer that they were supposed to deliver a train and forgot one part and they had one week. If they passed this deadline, everyday they would have to pay a penalty. With 3D printing, you’d just print it and ship the train.”

3D printing is as easy as “putting [a CAD file] into the machine and pressing the print button” according to Gülay, who believes that one day we will see 3D-printed trains on our tracks.

“Why not?” she said. “We have 3D printed houses already, it can happen.”

Garrandale Rail's train cab front cleaning robot.
Garrandale Rail’s train cab front cleaning robot.

Train cleaning robot

On the first stop of his tour of the show, rail minister Andrew Jones was given a demonstration of Garrandale Rail’s train cab front cleaning robot. 

Train exteriors are mostly cleaned using mechanised washing systems, except for train cab fronts, which are manually cleaned because they are made up of complicated shapes. 

This manual labour requires safe systems to address the risks of working in the depot environment. 

Garrandale Rail, supported by Innovate UK, is developing a robot that “feels its way” around the front of a train. A full prototype could be ready for testing in 2020. 

High-speed trains

Come the second quarter of 2020, HS2 should be in a position to award the £2.75 billion contract for 54 high-speed trains as well as 12 years of maintenance and the option for another 30 trains if required.

With the bids for that contract yet to be submitted at the time of Railtex, potential suppliers took the opportunity to speak to HS2 staff – including supply chain manager Robin Lappish, who told RailStaff what HS2 is looking for.

He said: “For the rolling stock specifically, we’re buying a fleet of high-speed trains that can run both on our high-speed network and also the conventional network in the UK. That in itself is a challenge because, of course, we have a more restricted structural gauge in the UK relative to what they have in Europe or the Far East. 

“We’re looking to operate at 360km/h, so that is raising the bar slightly on what high-speed rail has done in the world to date. So we’ll be world leading in that regard.

“Once Phase 2 is complete and the whole Y-shaped railway is up and running from London to Manchester and Leeds, we’re going to be running up to 18 trains per hour. That is really pushing the envelope in terms of the intensity of the operation as well, it’s achievable but it will call for an evolution in the technology that we’ve seen in high-speed rail so far. 

“We’re looking to learn from all of the best practice that we’ve seen from around the world, and import that into the UK in developing and delivering HS2, to raise the bar another level in terms of what high-speed can achieve.”

All of the four high-speed train contract bidders at the show (Alstom, Hitachi, Siemens, Talgo) promoted their high-speed expertise. 

The wooden model of Siemens’ Velaro Novo train.

None, however, matched the efforts of Siemens, which displayed a wooden, almost life-sized model of its Velaro Novo train – its next generation of high-speed train. It’s the second time a model of the Velaro Novo has been shown in public. The train was initially unveiled on the concourse of Birmingham New Street station in September. 

Rob, who previously worked in Crossrail’s procurement team, said HS2 staff spoke to hundreds of suppliers at Railtex, largely about the train and systems contracts. 

On the subject of supply chain engagement, he said: “We started at an earlier point than I think any project before us has. All the way back to 2014.

“With HS2, we’re doing something on a scale that’s never been done before in the UK, certainly not in modern British history, so we need to mobilise the supply chain on a huge scale.

“It’s more than a railway, it’s not just about delivering the railway, it’s about how we do it, not what we do, that will define our success. It’s actually about how we leave a legacy of a highly skilled workforce, how do we make sure there is improved diversity in the industry, making sure that we are delivering sustainable solutions and really raising the bar in regard to, for example, carbon and carbon content in what we’re doing.”


Hydrogen trains

On the topic of next generation trains, Alstom’s stand featured a 1:50 scale model of its ‘Breeze’ concept.

Alstom is currently working with Eversholt Rail to convert its Class 321 EMUs into the UK variant of its hydrogen-powered iLint train, which is in service in Germany. 

First conceived by Alstom’s German engineering team in 2017, the UK version could enter passenger service as early as 2022, although Mike Muldoon, Alstom’s head of business development and marketing, admits this is a “fairly optimistic programme”. 

Mike explained that Breeze is an alternative to diesel trains – of which the UK has one of the biggest fleets in Europe.

He said: “2,500 vehicles, typically with a diesel engine underneath, are chugging their way around the country, criss-crossing across the country every single day providing essential services, but not in a very environmentally friendly way. 

“That didn’t strictly matter until [former rail minister] Jo Johnson got up in February of last year and announced the decarbonisation challenge for the railways with his specific objective of removing diesel-only trains from the UK’s railway [by 2040].”

Mike emphasised that Breeze is only suitable for rural routes, for which discussions are being held with various interested parties.

He added: “It’s probably about as efficient – maybe a little bit more efficient – than a diesel-powered train, but it’s not as efficient as electrification. It’s not the silver bullet that solves every problem for how we decarbonise the railway but it’s a key element in our armoury of solutions as to how we do it.”

Mike Muldoon.
Mike Muldoon.


Railtex 2017 brought us adaptable train carriages, innovative passenger seat designs and a new platform of regional EMUs – and Railtex 2019 has not failed to live up to those heights, with its own showcase of the rolling stock supply chain’s latest innovations. 

With thousands of carriages yet to be delivered and major contracts with HS2, East Midlands Railway and the Tyne & Wear Metro yet to be let, the train building boom looks set to continue – meaning Railtex 2021 looks likely to deliver once more.

Diversity and inclusion: The shape of things to come

How the organisation developing the UK’s new high-speed rail network is changing the industry’s diversity and inclusion practices

Mark Lomas joined HS2 as its head of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in January 2016. After starting out as a musician he became an EDI specialist, overseeing the development of major programmes at the Shaw Trust, the Law Society of England and Wales and the BBC. 

However, when he was first approached to join the £56 billion HS2 programme, Mark turned it down. 

“When HS2 approached me I didn’t want to work in this sector at all,” said Mark, speaking to an audience at Railtex. “In fact, I remember being expressly disinterested the first time an executive recruiter talked to me.

“It was only when I was clear on the scale of opportunity that HS2 presented and how we could afford to do things a little bit differently because of the scale of the programme and the longevity that they talked me into it.”

He added: “It seemed a very backward industry. If I looked up diversity and construction or infrastructure, I’d see nothing. I looked at organisations’ websites – they were inaccessible. I looked at their leadership – they weren’t diverse. Most of their ground floor staff or their most junior staff had a bit of diversity but that disappeared completely as you went up the chain. I didn’t really see any ambassadors for construction or infrastructure that were leading this sort of work. 

“And it seemed, to me, like a sector that was marching towards a rather slow death – not willing to change the way it did things in order to attract new people. I think the investment in infrastructure that has come has meant the industry has a wonderful opportunity over the next 20 years, and let’s not waste it.”

Scale of opportunity

By 2028, 25 per cent of the industry’s workforce is set to retire. When you combine this with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the impact it will also have on the rail workforce – 20 per cent are from non-UK EU countries – it leaves rail with a big problem.

Mark continued: “We have to attract new groups into the industry in order to make the industry sustainable. This is where the issue of doing the same thing for the last 20 years gets us into the problems we are in.”

Mark went on to describe some of the ways HS2 is doing things differently. 

“HS2 is going to build a railway that can be seen from space, and it’s got to be accurate within millimetres. It seems a little silly to say that the best engineers in the UK can’t figure out flexible working. It doesn’t seem like that’s too difficult. Construction sites work on shifts yet we we can’t change the industry to accommodate better flexible practices.

“It is industry standard for contracts to have things like you cannot get paid unless you’re working at the nominated office – regardless of the agile technology we have.”

He explained that HS2 has changed the way it procures consultancy services and the hourly requirements embedded into contracts to enable flexible working. 

Job descriptions

Another key area that HS2’s EDI team has targeted is the language used in job descriptions – a seemingly small area that can have a big impact on the applicants it attracts. Mark had the perfect example to highlight this issue. 

“On my first day at HS2, I looked at why we were having trouble recruiting community engagement people so I said ‘let’s have a look at what we’re asking for’. 

“Number one criteria: must be educated to degree level. In what? Home baking, micro biology, what? It’s so broad it’s meaningless. I thought we wanted people who could talk to the community. 

“The second: must have experience of the transport or infrastructure sectors. Well, if you know anything about the sector, there are only between 13-17 per cent women in the sector, so there went one diverse group. Only six to nine per cent from BAME groups so there went that diverse group. Only two per cent disabled people, so there went that diverse group. And yet, we wanted people to talk to the community and nowhere were we assessing them on the knowledge on that community. 

“Failing at the first hurdle is something that organisations around the sector are very good at.”

He also touched on more obvious obstacles. 

“Does anybody know if they have tested their recruitment website for accessibility?” Mark asked the audience. “If it hasn’t been tested for accessibility, it’s not accessible, and therefore you’re cutting out a whole swathe of people who can’t even get to the starting line.”

Blind auditions

One of the most significant changes to typical recruitment processes has seen CVs removed from applications.

“No research in the world shows that CV based selection is an objective method of selection,” Mark added. “[The Department for Work and Pensions] sent out 3,000 applications for 1,000 jobs in 2009, and, to cut a long story short, if your name was a little different, you have a much lower chance of success. If you had an English name it was one in nine, African or Asian it was one in 16.

“So we have been piloting a type of recruitment called blind auditions. That removes CVs and application forms entirely, and replaces them with an anonymous test, which is what you do in your day job. The line manager has a hand in designing that test, and it is hosted on a platform by a specialist company. 

“When we introduced this form of recruitment, success rates for women in shortlisting jumped 20 per cent, minimum. BAME groups by 20 per cent, minimum. Disabled groups by 15 per cent, minimum. Why? Because it is competency and skill-based selection.”

This is exemplified in HS2’s pool of apprentices, 35 per cent are BAME and 40 per cent women.

“There’s no point inviting diverse groups into the industry to screen them out,” Mark concluded.

Just the beginning

The work to build Britain’s new high-speed network has only just begun and Mark believes HS2 can achieve so much more on the EDI front in the years ahead. 

He said: “Less than two and a half years into the programme, a majority of our tier one contractors have achieved their EDI accreditations. And I firmly believe HS2 will be the first infrastructure programme in the world to have a tier one construction supply chain which is fully EDI accredited. 

“We’re winning awards for the way we’re inventing new methods of practice but this is only the beginning. As the programme expands we will get more innovation through SMEs, more innovation through understanding and monitoring the supply chain performance. 

“At the moment, all HS2 contracts are outperforming industry averages in terms of diversity and inclusion. But this is just the start for us. We have another 17 years in which to help the industry fundamentally change the way it practices diversity and inclusion.” 

More than just an awards ceremony

The 2007 RailStaff Awards.
The 2007 RailStaff Awards.

If you’ve been to the RailStaff Awards, you’ll understand it’s an event like no other. 

Not only does it bring frontline and corporate staff together in one big celebration of people, but it does so in the form of the most extraordinary spectacle. 

Ever since the awards began in 2007, organisers have pulled out all the stops to ensure guests go home with a lasting memory of the night’s entertainment. Although recognition of the industry’s everyday heroes has remained at the core of the RailStaff Awards, its entertainment has become an attraction in its own right. 

Memory lane

Twelve years ago, when the inaugural ceremony was held at Birmingham’s ICC, railway champion Pete Waterman was the evening’s host. 

Compared to the awards in its current form – which attracts close to 1,000 guests to the NEC, the UK’s premier event space – the first event was a modest size but hundreds turned out to recognise their colleagues in an industry first.

Between that year and 2011, comedy was the prime entertainment with some of the country’s biggest names performing in front of packed crowds.

Dominic Holland (2007), Milton Jones (2008) – a last minute replacement for an injured Michael McIntyre – ventriloquist Paul Zerdin (2009) – who would later go on to win America’s Got Talent – as well as Alun Cochrane (2010) have all left audiences reeling with laughter at the RailStaff Awards.

RailStaff Awards themes:

  • 2011 – Halloween
  • 2012 – Prohibition in the United States
  • 2013 – Back to School
  • 2014 – The Circus
  • 2015 – Out of Africa
  • 2016 – Bollywood meets Hollywood
  • 2017 – The 1980s
  • 2018 – Enchanted Forest
  • 2019 – To be announced

In those early days, none of the events had special themes. It was only in 2011, when the awards coincidentally landed on the same day as Halloween, that organisers decided to try it out. 

And when the majority of guests dressed as werewolves, witches or as, er, Elmo, the decision was taken to introduce themes to future events. 

Subsequent years have seen guests transported to destinations all over the world, back in time, back to school and even to the circus. 

If you want to take a trip down memory lane, photos from every single RailStaff Awards ceremony are available on our website – there’s even video footage from most of the ceremonies too.


Since these themes were introduced, the entertainment has grown and grown, with live acts, live performance actors, themed decor and, since 2014, a fun fair.

Every year has provided a new experience for guests and 2019 promises to be no different. While we can’t yet reveal the theme for the evening on November 28, we’re excited to build on the success of the enchanted forest last year and will shortly let you know where guests will be transported to in 2019. 

Do you work with an extraordinary recruiter, signaller or cleaner? Nominate them in one of 20 categories today: 

  • Apprentice of the Year
  • Award for Charity
  • Customer Service Award
  • Depot Staff Award
  • Digital Railway Person or Team Award
  • Graduate or Newcomer Award
  • HR, Diversity & Inclusion Person or Team Award
  • Learning & Development Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Marketing & Communications Team Award
  • Rail Civils / Infrastructure Team Award
  • Rail Engineer of the Year
  • Rail Manager of the Year
  • Rail Person of the Year
  • Rail Project Manager Award
  • Rail Team of the Year
  • Recruitment Person or Team
  • Safety Person or Team Award
  • Samaritans Lifesaver Award
  • Station Staff Award

Tickets for the RailStaff Awards are now on sale. To secure your ticket or table, go to www.railstaffawards.com 

RailStaff Awards: Three is a magic number

It’s been a busy few years for on-track plant hire specialists Total Rail Solutions (TRS). After investing millions of pounds in reliable, new equipment as part of its aggressive growth strategy, the company announced the successful completion of a management buy-out in November, with new owners taking over from founders Martin Mould and Julie Caldwell. 

Former chief operating officer Paul Bateman was promoted to chief executive officer in the change of hands, and now leads TRS with the rest of the senior management team. 

Three key focuses

TRS’ three key operational enablers are its plant, processes and people. 

Over the course of five years, more than £15 million has been invested in the first element – it now has a fleet of more than 80 machines. 

Now, at the beginning of a new control period, TRS is focused on the other two as part of its “new journey of growth and investment,” as Paul explained. 

A lengthy process to recruit half a dozen new members of staff in operations, business development as well as in accounts and finance is almost complete. The new recruits will address specific weaknesses in the team to strengthen the company’s 300-strong workforce. Behind the scenes, digitising back systems to improve efficiency and drive cost savings is now a key activity.

“Currently, a lot of what we do is based on Excel, which has been fine up until now but obviously we want to grow the business, to streamline processes and put systems in place to enable us to transfer information from site to office and office to site, to boost efficiency across the business,” said Paul, who has been with TRS since December 2016.

“We’ve gone through a round of investment back in November and we’ve completed the management buy-out now. So the focus for the next six to 12 months is to be looking at the business and professionalise things – that means introducing new systems to enable us to scale, a big push on recruitment too, but all while trying not to lose the company ethos that has got us to where we are today.

“We’ve got to where we are by being reactive. We also work very closely with our clients and that relationship is key. So, there is always a balance between trying to grow the business but remain ahead of our competitors by doing what we do well – provide a quality service, react quickly and all with an attention to detail.”

Third year running

Three is also the number of years that TRS has consecutively sponsored the Rail Team of the Year category at the RailStaff Awards. 

Last year’s ceremony, with its enchanted theme at Birmingham’s NEC, was Paul’s first show, and what he saw was enough to dazzle him and make TRS one of the first few companies to commit its support for 2019. 

He said: “We see the benefit in working with the RailStaff Awards. It was my first year last year and it was a very good event. 

“We had two tables of 10 and took a mixture of clients and office staff. It was a good venue and the entertainment was fantastic as well, it was quite a good mix of awards and post show celebrations.

“I think it’s a good forum to get everyone together at the end of the year and recognise what the industry does and the good people we’ve got in it. And from our point of view – and I know it’s a bit cliché to say – we get to where we are by being a good team, which is why we sponsor the Rail Team of the Year.”


Last year’s Rail Team of the Year Award was won by the project SWIFT (superfast wi-fi in-carriage for future travel) team – a cross-industry team made of Network Rail, Cisco, telent and ScotRail. 

After years of talking about using trackside equipment to improve digital connectivity onboard trains, the team proved it can be done on an operational railway. As a result, ScotRail customers between Edinburgh and Glasgow have been the first in the UK to experience on train wi-fi at broadband speeds.

The category attracts entries from different types of teams working on different types of projects and is one that highlights the variety of activity that goes on in the industry. It does, however, make it a tricky category to pick a winner from.

Paul added: “It’s difficult to say what makes a good nomination because you get such a broad selection of teams. It could be anyone from the British Transport Police to someone who has implemented an IT system. No two nominations are the same.” 

To find out more or nominate a colleague in one of 20 categories, head to: www.railstaffawards.com

Training in the virtual world

Stewart Thorpe tests out two of the latest virtual reality training tools

With a whistle pressed against my lips, I take one final look along the platform to check for any late running passengers. On this occasion, there aren’t any, so I signal with my baton and blast the whistle to safely dispatch the train. 

It’s not a particularly busy station, so far I’ve only had to deal with passengers asking for service information, but I need to remain vigilant. Potentially dangerous situations could unfold if I become distracted and fail to spot an intoxicated passenger or someone standing too close to the platform edge. Even worse, there might be someone looking to take their own life.

Yet, in reality, I’m not in a station – and I don’t even have a whistle. I’m actually stood inside a three-sided “CAVE” (cave automatic virtual environment) holding a games controller at Railtex. 

After working with operators Northern, Transport for Wales and Great Western Railway, Virtual Reality Simulation Systems (VRSS) is about to launch the second generation of its virtual reality (VR) training tool for train operators – which works just like a role playing video game. 


Using either the CAVE system or an Oculus VR headset, users step into this immersive world and into the shoes of either a conductor, member of station staff, driver or dispatcher.

Left to freely roam around stations and in trains that have been modelled on real world environments, they’re able to familiarise themselves with the exact sights and sounds they’ll experience on the job, all while testing out their skills and knowledge. 

Pre-selected inputs and the user’s actions will determine what happens in the virtual world, but they’ll also come across randomly occurring events. Changing weather conditions, the rush hour surge and on-board fires are an example of some the environment changes. 


By playing out these job-based scenarios, users can be tested on what they have to do, what they have to keep an eye out for and what they have to think about to, for example, dispatch a train. 

At the end of each session, users are scored on how well they performed their duties, and this data is stored in VRSS’ content management system to track progress. 

VRSS’ system has obvious time and cost savings by bringing the training environment to the user, and significantly reduces safety risks by taking the member of staff out of the station environment. 

The tech firm also claims that those who use the simulator are able to more effectively carry out the ‘live task’ than those who go through more traditional methods of training. 

Lookout planning

VRSS wasn’t the only company promoting the use of VR for enhanced workforce training. 

Motion Rail, which featured in the March issue for its VR level-crossing scenario, demonstrated its ‘engineer scenario’ to RailStaff at Railtex. This tool assists in the training of on-site workers who are responsible for placing lookouts. 

Again, using a VR headset, the user is transported to the Severn Tunnel where they have to place five lookouts in locations so that, together, they have an unobstructed view of the up and down lines on a work site, all while being in a place of safety. 

With the recent rise in near misses on track, Motion Rail aims to increase workforce awareness of the appropriate amount of time needed to move out of the way when a train is approaching and, therefore, reduce the number of incidents.

Pushing the boundaries

The application of VR technology for training purpose has come far as innovators push the boundaries of what is possible. 

Rather than systems that only allow the user to explore virtual environments, companies such as VRSS and Motion Rail are creating immersive worlds that can also be interacted with. 

With more and more companies turning to VR to train their staff, it’ll be interesting to see how far the technology advances in the years ahead. 

Railtex recap…

Innovations were showcased, knowledge shared and friendships renewed at Railtex 2019 – the 14th such show. Organised by Mack Brooks Exhibitions, the biennial show is the industry’s biggest for rail suppliers and this year took place between May 14-16 at the NEC, Birmingham.

There were more than 400 exhibitors at the 2019 show, and they enjoyed a steady footfall and made some quality connections. 

And the show certainly attracted a number of high-profile guests. From the political sphere there were keynote speeches from rail minister Andrew Jones and shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald. Export and trade minister Baroness Rona Fairhead was expected to open the show but those plans were cancelled at the last minute after she resigned from the government.

Darren Caplan, Anna Delvecchio, Nicola Hamann and Gordon Wakeford.

Opening panel

To a packed Seminar Theatre on the first day, Mack Brooks managing director Nicola Hamann began proceedings. 

“Many of the exhibiting companies will be presenting cutting-edge innovations and technology as part of a huge showcase of rail infrastructure, rolling stock and supply chain solutions,” she said. “We are here at a time when the industry is looking forward to the undoubted opportunities that Network Rail’s CP6 offers, aided by the largest financial investment in the railways since the Victorian era.”

Nicola was joined by: Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA); Anna Delvecchio, commercial account director at Amey; and Gordon Wakeford, chief executive of Siemens Mobility, on the opening panel.


Darren reminded the audience of rail’s importance to the national economy and how the sector is much bigger than previously thought. 

Instead of the reported 240,000 people that rail employs, that number is closer to 600,000, and rather than having a gross value added (GVA) of £10.4 billion, the annual GVA supported by rail-related demand is actually around £36.4 billion. 

But it wasn’t all positive from Darren, who reminded colleagues about the uncertain times we live in. He said the four factors contributing to this uncertainty are: the start of a new control period, the impact of Network Rail’s 100-day plan, the Williams Review, and Brexit.

Whether a deal is agreed upon for Britain’s exit from the EU or not, Darren said it will create a challenge around standards, trying to establish frictionless trade and access to a skilled workforce – 46 per cent of the rail workforce south of Derby comes from the EU. The chance to strike up new trade deals and export more goods and services is one opportunity, however. 

Darren added: “Linked with the uncertainty is the possibility of a general election this year. We could be having elections this year, next year, 2022. Whatever happens, that will bring back debate about nationalisation versus privatisation and, again, uncertainty. That’s the world that we live in, the world we have to plan for and try and grow in.”

Gordon told delegates that the show is “always a highlight” when it comes around. Anna, who worked with Gordon on the Rail Sector Deal, was equally as upbeat. 

She added: “I stand proud to open Railtex today. Why? It’s a show that I’ve come to for 10 years. I started rail at the age of 19 and to be standing here today, to be opening one of the best exhibitions, for me, as a woman in rail, I stand so, so proud.”

Andrew Jones.
Andrew Jones.

Azuma launch

While Nicola, Darren, Anna and Gordon were finishing their speeches, 100 miles south rail minister Andrew Jones was busy launching the first Azuma train from King’s Cross station. 

The following day, however, Andrew made the trip to Birmingham to provide the keynote speech at RIA’s ‘Future Focus Conference’. During his presentation, the rail minister re-capped the industry’s challenges and gave a confidence boost to the rail supply chain by reaffirming that the government will support and invest in it.

During the session’s Q&A segment, RIA chairman David Tonkin asked whether Department for Transport officials and politicians have come to understand the damaging impact of ‘boom and bust’ funding. Andrew said they had, and reassured the audience that publishing the ‘Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline’ – the new approach to enhancements – will help to create a rolling programme of investment. 

Labour’s plan for rail

On the afternoon of the final day, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald brought a close to proceedings in the Seminar Theatre – one of three dedicated conference spaces at the show.

He said that urgent reform was needed and took the opportunity to outline Labour’s proposals for the country’s railways. This includes: plans for a rolling programme of electrification; extending control periods to seven years and turning them into rolling periods, so they reset two or three years before they expire; and the creation of a 30 to 40-year vision to provide “longer term certainty” for the industry. 

There was also one more major change Labour would make. 

“You’ll be pleased to know that Labour will create a unified rail company which will provide a guiding mind to the entire railway, bringing train and track together,” said Andy. “This will be more at arm’s length from government than the present system and will draw strongly on devolution, since we believe that local expertise can best develop our rail service, while securing national and strategic oversight to secure the best connectivity possible. The unified rail company will include high-speed rail, which is so important for the whole country. 

“The steps I intend to take will redefine the role of the Department for Transport so that it is only concerned with strategic oversight, working in partnership with a unified publicly-owned railway that has the professional freedoms to deliver the rail services travellers need and deserve.”

Andy concluded his speech by saying that Railtex highlights “the fantastic potential of UK rail” – a statement I’m sure even his political counterparts would agree with. 

High street attractions

In a way, Railtex’s aisles are comparable to a town’s high street and its stands to shops. Here, a high footfall means nothing if it’s not converted into visitors and then visitors into customers. 

In an effort to drum up stand interest exhibitors tried all manner of tactics. Cable manufacturer Tratos returned with its all-day offering of Italian food, industrial battery firm Hoppecke gave away teddy bears in exchange for a charitable donation and Hitachi Rail gave out hundreds of branded shopping bags.

One company whose efforts stood out for trying something quite unique was Harting, a company which develops electrical products, for filming an MTV Cribs-styled walkthrough video of its stand for social media. 

Network health clinics

Dr Richard Peters.

Stewart Thorpe went to the doctors to learn about a bold new approach to occupational health

New life has been breathed into a derelict building at London Victoria station. Behind the station’s customer service desk next to Platform 1, Network Rail has opened a bespoke occupational health (OH) clinic for its 3,500 members of staff on the South East route. 

The Victoria site opened earlier this year as a pilot for a planned network of around 20 centres that will open across the country in the next 18 months – a network that sits at the heart of the organisation’s new “Back to Basics” OH and wellbeing strategy.

‘One-stop shops’

Rather than staff attending multiple appointments on different days and sites, the clinics aim to operate as “one-stop shops” for managing their health needs, according to Dr Richard Peters (pictured above), Network Rail’s chief medical officer.

“Our current service delivery model requires employees to attend for a trackside medical, this is done, but if you need to have a hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVs) health surveillance, because you use vibrating tools as part of your day-to-day job, you’d have to come back on another day to have that health surveillance. 

“Then, if there was a problem with that, you’d again have to come back to see the doctor. That’s three separate clinical appointments, whereas here you’re having the whole thing done at once.”

Dr Peters explained that it marks a shift from having health checks completed on a perceived needs basis, as requested by line managers, to conducting them collectively in a systematic task-specific approach at newly established centres, minimising disruption. 

In the British Rail era, there were on-site health clinics that Bupa later took over. But, as Dr Peters explained, these new centres offer more comprehensive cover, putting workers through a newly designed health, safety and wellbeing medical every three years as well as delivering annual medical requirements. 

Part of this medical assessment covers mandatory health surveillances relevant to their job role – for example HAVS, noise, skin, and respiratory checks, to meet statutory requirements. Another focus is the range of voluntary health assessments that look at fatigue, mental health, cardiovascular risk scores, carbon monoxide levels and body fat, to encourage the early identification and intervention of problems before they develop further. Network Rail’s band one employees have access to health assessments every two years, but operational frontline staff have never had this offered to them. 

“I guess we’re going back to British Rail days but with a 21st century enhancement,” said Dr Peters. “I think this is a really new initiative, and I don’t think there’s any other organisations that are doing this. TfL has a very large on-site clinic, but no one I know is up at this level providing this level of medical service on one day as a one-stop shop. I don’t believe there is anyone across industries. Network Rail is therefore leading in this area.”

Tony Stalgis, rail director for Optima Health – Network Rail’s healthcare provider – works with such companies as ScotRail, Eurostar and HS2 in the rail industry, while colleagues also work in other sectors. He agreed that there is nothing that comes close to Network Rail’s new approach. 

He added: “We cover all industries as a supplier and this is a unique approach. There are different initiatives in different organisations, but this is a very, very comprehensive approach. It’s innovative and a reflection of Network Rail’s commitment to ensure the management of occupational health evolves to reflect the needs of the business.”

Network Rail plans to open clinics in the following areas: 

  • Ashford
  • Basingstoke
  • Bedford
  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Derby
  • Doncaster
  • Glasgow
  • Ipswich
  • Manchester
  • Milton Keynes
  • Newcastle
  • Perth
  • Peterborough
  • Plymouth
  • Stratford
  • Swindon
  • Wrexham
  • York

An appointment at Victoria

Not all of the clinics will open at stations – plans for a centre in York involves the use of a purpose built clinic in the delivery unit – but their strategic placement will mean that 94 per cent of Network Rail staff will be within a 90 minute commute of them from their home address. 

Signage was yet to be installed at the Victoria station clinic during the visit by RailStaff in April, but it appeared to be the only major teething problem at the scheme’s pilot site.

Inside, the facility looks very much like a typical doctor’s surgery with a reception, seating area and white walls everywhere.

Instead of working in isolation, an eight-person team of OH technicians, advisors and doctors work together in the Victoria site, which is equipped with all the kit they need to conduct tests, such as drug and alcohol test toilets (the water is diluted blue to prevent sample dilution), a sound booth and consultation rooms. 


By establishing a web of ‘one-stop shop’ health clinics across England, Scotland and Wales, Network Rail believes there will be a significant uplift in the number of health assessments it will be able to conduct – as evidenced by the Victoria pilot.

Looking at working at height assessments, in 2018 only ten were conducted network-wide. In the South East route, the pilot has conducted 82 in the last six weeks alone. 

Overall, 5,000 different assessments were conducted on the South East route in 2018. That number is anticipated to rise to almost 13,000 a year following the clinic’s launch. 

Dr Peters added: “The numbers that are doing night workers’ assessments, skin assessments and respiratory assessments has literally had about a 300 per cent growth in the South East because it’s not relying on line managers to refer. We’re taking that away from them and doing it on a risk-based approach based on the role of the employee. 

“We’re asking our employees specific questions like – do you work at heights, do you drive cars, do you use vibrating tools? We’ve never been in a position in Network Rail to say we’ve got all of these different ‘fitness for task’ medicals because we’ve never worked in that way, it’s always been are you medically fit to work trackside? But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fit to work at night, it doesn’t mean that you’re medically fit to work in confined spaces, it just means you’re medically fit to go on track.”

Not only does Dr Peters expect to see an improvement in the overall health of Network Rail’s workforce, he also expects an improvement in workforce safety, particularly surrounding driving and fatigue. 

A new data bank

The thorough way in which these health assessments are being conducted is also creating a huge data bank too, allowing health and safety managers to make informed decisions on what health risks to prioritise tackling.

For example, of the 162 employees who have been for medicals so far, 55 per cent of them are on medication for high blood pressure or to lower their cholesterol, something Network Rail intends to tackle. 

Dr Peters said: “The data allows us to prove the success of the pilot.

“Overall it has been very positive. We have had trauma cases that have come through the door and we’ve referred them for trauma management. We’ve now got people even being referred to sleep consultants. We’re noticing people are coming here with obstructive sleep apnoea which, potentially, could make them unfit for work, and we’re getting them through into sleep assessments. 

“We also have 24-hour blood pressure monitors on site. So, if people have problems with their blood pressure, we can fit the monitor and have the results the next day, reducing anxiety in our staff and giving timely advice to managers and supporting GPs with the information needed to start treatment as needed. 

“I was with the South East route safety director yesterday and he just said ‘It is fabulous, absolutely fantastic.’ The feedback has been amazing. There’s not much more you can say to that because we’ve had so much grumbles about occupational health. 

“Employees generally don’t want to go to the OH because they think they will be told whether they can or can’t work but now they know that if they can’t work, we will support them with a solution. We want to ensure that the health of our employees is not adversely impacted by the work they undertake to support the optimal performance of our infrastructure thus allowing us to put our passengers first.”

Tony added: “The concept is proven, we’ve got some formal commercial evaluations to do but, in terms of what the medical has achieved already, it’s quite clear that it is a success and it’s about then building on that. 

“The routes are chomping at the bit to have a piece of the action.”

Supplier of the Year

Buckingham Group stole the show at Network Rail’s Partnership Awards as it bagged three of 15 trophies – including the coveted Rail Supplier of the Year gong.

Fergal Kiernan, senior project manager at Buckingham Group, said the awards were a “pleasant surprise” and a reward for the huge amount of work it has carried out with key delivery partners over the past two years. 

As well as the night’s biggest award, Buckingham Group came top in the Best Collaboration and Putting Passengers First categories for its role in the Liverpool Lime Street station upgrade.

Organised by Rail Media, the Rail Partnership Awards was sponsored by Atkins, Colas Rail, RSSB, Total Rail Solutions and VolkerWessels and took place on June 5 at the Vox Conference Centre, NEC, Birmingham. 

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, was among the 570 guests on the night. Talking about the ceremony, he said: “This is a brilliant, brilliant opportunity to recognise just how diverse the railway family is, a partnership that does brilliant things, day in, day out. 

“It’s right that we take times like this, not to slap ourselves on the back, but to recognise the real fantastic work that’s done by such a diverse group of people.”

During his opening address, Andrew touched on a number of key themes for Network Rail and its supply chain. 

He said he makes “no apologies for being unremittingly relentless about putting passengers first”, a key message of the night, because that is where Network Rail’s future lies, and also backed the industry to transform its approach to reliability like it has safety. 

For a full list of the night’s winners, head to www.railpartnershipawards.com/winners

All the winners in 2019:

Best Collaboration: Buckingham Group

Investing in People: Story

Diversity and Inclusion: Babcock

Safety: Colas Rail

Community Engagement: Story

Preserving the History of the Railway: 

Ferryhill Railway Heritage Trust

SME of the Year: Senceive

Driving Efficiencies: Great Western Railway & Network Rail

Best use of Technology: Cambridge Centre for 

Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Best Project over £50m: Siemens

Best Project under £50m: BAM Nuttall

Sustainable Excellence: Amey Sersa

Best Standards Challenge: British Steel

Putting Passengers First: Buckingham Group

Supplier of the Year: Buckingham Group

30th National Angling Championship

Organisers have announced the 30th RailSport National Angling Championship will take place on August 14. 

Makins Fishery, Wolvey, Warwickshire, will once more host the tournament. The site, which is split into three zones, has 18 lakes and is one of the UK’s most popular commercial fisheries.

The teams’ competition requires each of the four members to fish in a different section. They are then scored based on their performance in that section, with the winner awarded one point, second two points, third three points and fourth four. The scores are then added together and the lowest combined total wins.

British Transport Police’s Simon Woods, a scenes of crime officer based in Leeds, was crowned the overall winner in 2018. 

For more details, please email railsportgb@ntlworld.com.