Home Blog

Freightliner: Moving on up

Aggregate Industries and Hanson, two of the UK’s largest producers of aggregates, awarded a long-term, bulk rail-haulage contract to Freightliner through their Mendip Rail joint venture in December.

Beginning in November this year, Freightliner will haul an expected eight million tonnes of aggregate per year from the two companies’ quarries to terminals in London and the southeast of England, to support various housing and road improvement projects. 

“By adding one of the largest bulk haulage contracts in the UK, we are also adding to the foundation of our long-term bulk business as we have successfully replaced traffic losses caused by the collapse of the UK coal industry in 2015,” said Freightliner chief executive Gary Long at the time of the announcement.

As part of the agreement, Freightliner will also acquire Mendip Rail’s fleet of eight EMD Class 59 locomotives, adding to its 250-strong fleet. 


The Mendip Rail contract is one of a number of recent major wins for Freightliner, and with a growing demand from the government to move more goods by rail, the company is looking to further invest in the business to support future growth. 

While significant sums of money were injected into establishing even higher safety standards following its takeover by American freight company Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W) in 2015, technology is the focus of a new “multi-million pound” investment.

Lynn Crump, head of corporate communications, said: “Our parent company is investing heavily in new technology which will drive further improvement in service performance and efficiency from a customer perspective and also facilitate future growth. We are introducing new HR and payroll, global asset management, and planning and rostering systems, all resulting in a major transformation in technology.”

Outstanding customer service

With its commitment to delivering high standards of customer service, it’s fitting that Freightliner has returned to sponsor the Outstanding Customer Service Award at the RailStaff Awards. 

“After sponsoring it for the first time last year we were really keen to get involved again. We think it’s a great opportunity for staff at all levels to get together to be recognised and celebrated. I think it’s the only awards ceremony that does that.

“We submit entries in several business awards but I think this is the one that means more to the people who work in the rail industry.”

Last year the category was won by bylaw enforcement officer Paul Arnill. Paul, who worked for Land Sheriffs, dealt with anti-social behaviour, fare evaders and enforced railway bylaws but was praised by passengers in East Anglia for small gestures that have made a big difference to their day.

One person said the 50-year-old, who was based at Cambridge station, “really went the extra mile” when they left a rucksack onboard a train, describing him as a credit to his employer. While another heaped praise on Paul for “a very kind deed” when he came to the aid of a woman who was left stranded one night when her phone ran out of battery.

Last year, Lynn and Glynis Appelbe, HR director for G&W’s UK/Europe Region companies helped to judge the category and Lynn said they will be on the lookout for similarly strong candidates for 2019. 

“Judging it and reading all those amazing stories and the things people are doing for customers is fantastic,” she added.

 “Everyone wants to provide a good service but I think it’s going that one step further, it’s really going above and beyond and going out of your way that really makes a difference.” 

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

Westermo: A long-standing ally of the RailStaff Awards

Of the group of current supporters, only charities the Samaritans and the Transport Benevolent Fund have backed the RailStaff Awards for longer than industrial communications specialists Westermo. 

A partnership that began in 2013 with a ‘Back to School’ themed evening at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham now enters its seventh year. This year’s venue is set: the NEC, Birmingham; and so is the date: November 28; but the new theme, which directs the night’s entertainment and immersive decor, is yet to be revealed. 

“We’ve been doing it for seven years and I think we are well known in the rail industry now,” said Phil Mounter, transportation sales manager for Westermo, who credits the awards, the Railway Industry Association and networking events for boosting the company’s profile. 

Founded in 1975, Westermo is a Swedish company that manufactures robust data communications products for mission-critical systems from its sites in Stora Sundby and Västerås. 

For example, one of Westermo’s products, its train backbone industrial ethernet switch, can carry all the required data for control (doors, propulsion, light), security (CCTV) and passenger information (announcements) on-board trains. 

Phil predominantly works in rail, but the company also supplies its off-the-shelf products to water utilities, subsea and power distribution sectors, as well as any other industry that has critical telecommunications infrastructure and an essential need for high reliability, rugged and resilient products.

When Phil began in 2005, Westermo only had a couple of products accepted for use by Network Rail. Now it is a preferred supplier with more than 20 accepted products. 

2018 was a successful year for the company. It secured a number of contracts for supplying on-board industrial ethernet switches and wireless LAN products as well as support services for product training and detailed network design services for the refit of rolling stock. It also saw Westermo successfully provide data networking technology during the first phase of the East Cornwall Capacity Enabling Scheme. But for 2019, Westermo has even more aggressive targets. 

“Opportunities are looking pretty good this year,” added Phil. “We’ve got off to a good start with Network Rail so far, who are looking more and more into managing assets. Rather than routine maintenance they’re looking into predictive maintenance, for which we supply 3G and 4G cellular modems, allowing them to monitor assets remotely. 

“Internationally, Network Rail are years ahead of any other railway in doing that.”

On-board train networks continues to be another important growth area for Westermo, with more and more contracts being secured from large train manufacturers such as Bombardier and Alstom.

Name change

As we step from one control period into another, one of the RailStaff Awards category titles has changed to reflect a theme which has a huge part to play in the modernisation of our rail network. 

Control, Signalling & Telecomms Person or Team of the Year, which was won by telent’s Garry Andrews in 2018, has now become the Digital Railway Person or Team Award.

At last year’s ceremony, judges said that Garry stood out from 14 other finalists for his work in developing the rail industry’s workforce in the specialist field of telecoms. Out of around 30 persons in charge of testing (PICOTs), which are responsible for putting telecoms systems into service in the UK, Garry trained and mentored 10. 

Speaking after his award win, Garry said: “From my point of view, a lot of the telecoms we do on the railway is still quite old-fashioned. We’ve only just started to move into IP networking. A lot of it is still two bits of wire down the train track. It’s not sexy and I think telecoms often gets missed off when people talk about projects.”

Supporting the name change, Phil said it reflected how the fields of control, telecommunications and signalling are moving, particularly the latter. 

He added: “Signalling is changing; it’s becoming more automated. You’ve got the big ROCs rather than the small signal boxes, and the ROCs will control a route or a large geographical area, so it’s becoming a lot more automated. 

“They require a lot less people to provide the same functionality as provided before. So, it’s all about de-manning really. Whether we like it or not we’re involved in that process.”


As the months go by and the nominations flood in, Phil will be keeping an eye out on the people and their stories that are put forward. Come November 28, Phil will once more step on stage in front of hundreds of industry peers to hand out an award and recognise yet another unsung hero. 

He added: “I’ve been doing this job for 14 years this year, so I’ve been in rail for about 12 years, and the industry has been quite good to me. 

“The people in the industry are very approachable and friendly, it’s a very touchy-feely industry, they like to see what product you’re offering before they buy it but it’s quite a loyal business in a way. They come back to you time and time again provided you give them the support they ask for. 

“Supporting the RailStaff Awards is a way of repaying that loyalty to an extent, putting something back from what we get.” 

RailStaff Awards: A conduit for change

When Lee Woolcott-Ellis was recognised at the 2018 RailStaff Awards, it launched a roller coaster ride that he’s yet to get off. 

The Rail Person of the Year was awarded one of the night’s major prizes for developing a sophisticated mental health support scheme for colleagues at Southeastern.  

After a successful pilot between July and December last year, the mental health advocate programme has now entered its second phase and will be rolled out to all of the train operator’s 4,500 employees. 

Such is the size of the project that Lee, an onboard train manager turned mental health professional, was promoted to HR mental health coordinator in January. 

Lee was the victim of historic childhood sexual abuse and his story of turning his negative experience into something so positive has attracted the attention of the BBC and Financial Times in recent times. 

Before the RailStaff Awards trophy, he was already busy with work. A presentation to Southeastern’s management forum in Ashford the morning after the awards ceremony in Birmingham meant he was unable to pick up his award in person. But since the award win, work has really kicked up a notch. 

“To be honest, my feet haven’t touched the floor. It’s just been an incredible journey and it makes me smile every day. 

“The award has really enhanced our profile, without a doubt. It was a real conduit for change.”

The programme

The mental health advocate programme Lee is credited with driving forward supports the early intervention of problems that can be signposted to appropriate support, before issues such as absenteeism emerge. It is also an agent for reducing stigma surrounding mental health, particularly for men, who make up 81 per cent of Southeastern’s workforce.

As it steps up from a pilot covering part of the network to phase two covering all of the Southeastern network, an extra 14 volunteers have completed their Level 2 counselling accreditation with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, creating a total group of 25 volunteers. 


Growing exposure of the programme and its high level of engagement with the workforce has led to conversations with companies such as Eurostar and P&O Ferries, as well as mental health charities, about sharing best practice.

He added: “Since the awards I’ve constantly been contacted by other organisations that have obviously seen some of the publicity that has gone on LinkedIn, for example, to find out what we’re doing and what we’re doing differently from everyone else.

“I’m pretty sure we’re leading the field with it. To have a full-time mental health employee within the organisation is just amazing. What it’s done is give me the opportunity to focus fully on what is a cultural change initiative.

“I’m really pleased I’ve been given the opportunity to do what I’m doing now, I’m really proud to be a part of Southeastern, I think they deserve a huge pat on the back as well for being so open to change.”


It’s been five months since Lee received the call late at night telling him he was the ‘Rail Person of the Year’ but he’s been so busy that it’s yet to sink in. 

“The next morning I woke up and opened my phone to an incredible avalanche of congratulations,” added Lee, who said he was proud enough to be nominated and to read back his colleagues’ submissions in the first place.

“I have a lot of organisations come to see me at Margate where I’m based, to discuss what we’re doing. I have the award here on my desk because I’m obviously very, very proud of it. I also look at it with disbelief as well, it seems incredible to receive such an accolade.” 

The RailStaff Awards returns to Birmingham’s NEC on November 28 and nominations have opened! To put forward one of your colleagues for one of the 20 awards or find out more information, head to www.railstaffawards.com.

Get to worx!

The time is almost here for the launch of the rail civils and systems show Railworx

Live demonstrations, working machinery and innovation will all be on display at Railworx, which takes place at the East of England Showground, Peterborough, between June 11-13. 

Co-located with Plantworx, the UK’s largest working plant and equipment exhibition, the new show has been made possible thanks to a new partnership between Rail Media, publisher of RailStaff which has experience of managing outdoor rail industry shows, and Plantworx organiser the Construction Equipment Association. 2019 will mark the first time that rail has had such a significant presence at the show, and – with major civil engineering projects such as HS2 – reflects the growing importance of rail infrastructure to the UK construction industry.

What to expect

Railworx will appeal to all of those involved in station refurbishment, resignalling schemes, bad-weather resilience, infrastructure maintenance and reconstruction, high-speed communications, electrification and power, systems engineering, building information, remote monitoring and so much more. 

While more than 380 companies have confirmed they are exhibiting across the combined show so far, around 20,000 visitors are expected to attend this year. 

Joining major construction equipment players such as JCB and Komatsu will be rail businesses such as: Dual Inventive, Van Elle, Hitachi Infocon,  iLecsys, Thomson Engineering Design, Rowe Hankins, CPM, Hilti, Fenix Signalling, Bolle Safety and RSS Infrastructure. Network Rail – including its Signalling Innovation Group and Group Digital Railway – the National College for High Speed Rail and the Railway Industry Association (RIA) will also be supporting the show. 

As well as the chance to see rail civil and systems engineering used for rail civil engineering, including piling, reinforcing, drainage, access, lifting, surveying and monitoring, live and working – the only exhibition to do so – organisers have worked hard to arrange a number of special features:


Network Rail’s Signalling Innovation Group, as well as 33 of its suppliers, are showing off their latest developments, products and techniques in signalling, telecommunications, electrification and Digital Railway.

Meet the Buyer

RIA is assembling a group of buyers and procurement specialists from major UK rail companies and contractors. These important buyers will be holding meetings on site so that visitors and exhibitors alike can arrange discussions, present their offerings and hopefully plan to meet again to discuss cooperation in more detail.

Consultants Row 

Where the industry’s designers and consultants show what they can do.

The Get SET Zone

Designed to help visitors explore employment opportunities and access services that may well help them to find a new job, get back into work, or get started in their career. RailwayPeople.com, the rail industry’s largest online job board, will be hosting a recruitment wall on which exhibitors can post vacancies and visitors can see what jobs are available. A number of recruitment company directors will also be attending each day to talk about the industry while Julie Wilkinson CVs will be providing a writing service and MIND will be offering free advice to visitors about mental health support in the workplace.

The Skills Conference

The organisers are keeping details as to who is speaking at the conference under their hats for the moment but expect to see the programme filled with construction and transport experts who will discuss how the two sectors can work together to meet the demand for engineering and professional skills. This is due to be held on the final day of the exhibition.

Major civil engineering contractors and front line suppliers to Network Rail and HS2 will be in attendance at Railworx to connect with their existing and potential supply chains. Being a rail show, the Railworx team has arranged for Network Rail to supply track panels so that exhibitors can show off their equipment in an environment that is as close to a live railway as possible, but without the safety hazards that being on a live railway would bring. They have even managed to get hold of a working set of points for one exhibitor!


In addition, visitors to Railworx will also be able to enjoy the features of Plantworx: 

The Simulation Zone

The UK’s first fully interactive construction simulation zone will highlight the latest technology and how it is being used for ‘virtual’ training. Nationally there is a shortfall of machinery operators in the UK, especially with upcoming projects such as HS2 using large numbers of operators. It is hoped this zone can inspire some of the young engineers who will be attending the show. 

Classic Plant Exhibition

At the very heart of the show, visitors can take a step back in time, revisiting the kit that inspired today’s modern machines.

The Drone Zone

An aerial revolution is happening with the use of drones in rail and construction growing dramatically in recent years. Reflecting this change, Plantworx will host its first ever ‘Fly Zone’ where visitors can experience drones first-hand over 2,300sqm of indoor space. 

Combined, the two shows will occupy approximately 50 acres of land, with plenty of opportunities for cross-sector information gathering, networking and for striking up new business. Can you afford to miss it? 

Young Rail Professionals: A call to action

Speaking at the YRP Annual Dinner, Polly Payne, rail group director general at the Department for Transport, delves into the industry’s diversity problem

Before joining the rail group, I had the privilege of moving between different sectors – most recently higher education. This has given me a useful perspective on how rail compares with other sectors. I am continually impressed by the people who work across the industry. Their passion, their hard work, their commitment. Their ‘can do’ attitude, even if things are hard. And I am enormously grateful for the welcome I’ve received. 

But there is a significant diversity problem in the rail industry. This is not a new revelation. But I have been genuinely shocked by how far behind we are in rail. 

Let me give you a few examples. Within a couple of months of arriving in rail I went to Peter Hendy’s Bradshaw Address. He made a point of mentioning my appointment – because I am part of a job share and he wanted to call out and argue against those in the industry who were saying our job could not be done by a job share. I was very grateful to Peter for doing this – but surprised by the need for it. 

I have just been judging the Women In Rail Awards. In many ways an uplifting experience, with many stories of improved diversity, but in other ways depressing. 

One employer shortlisted for a diversity award provided as evidence, that 25 per cent of its executive team were women – as if a three to one ratio of men to women was a great achievement. But then the overall rail workforce is over 85 per cent male. 

I recently spoke at a Great Western Railway Women In Rail event where a director described how in 2011 he attended a company celebration where most colleagues brought their wives. He brought his male partner and was taken aside the next day by a fellow director to be told how uncomfortable he had made everyone feel. 

Then there was the rail awards dinner last year which hit the headlines, with its mock terror attack, sexist jokes and women in provocative leather outfits. 

And finally the lack of decent female toilets and changing facilities for Network Rail and train operator staff. We have recently discussed this with Network Rail – over £150 million has been put aside to improve frontline staff facilities in CP6 with a focus on ensuring female facilities are up to standard. This is an example of the kind of concrete action we must take. 

I fully believe the vast majority of the industry want a more diverse, inclusive workforce. 

But as St Bernard pointed out almost a thousand years ago ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. It is the actions that count. 

I call on you all to act to improve diversity and inclusion in your organisations. Let’s not accept unacceptable behaviour and barriers to inclusion as normal – just because they have been normal for the rail industry. 

I know a huge amount’s being done by YRP, promoting, inspiring and developing a new generation of diverse talent, sending rail ambassadors into schools, promoting STEM, and organising Rail Week. 

There are other green shoots and islands of excellence which show what can be done: 

I recently met the MTR Crossrail driver apprentices – an inspiring group, including recruits from the ‘working mums’ website;

I was delighted to meet Louise Cheeseman – an equally inspirational managing director at Hull Trains who leads a team made up of 50 per cent women;

Rail companies, such as Southern Railway, are working in partnership with The Prince’s Trust to deliver “Get into Railways” training, targeted at young people from difficult backgrounds;

Women in Rail is also doing fantastic work. 

But there’s so much more to do. 

One area that is close to my heart is flexible working – key to diversity and inclusion. I’ve only worked full-time for four out of the 25 years I have been in the civil service. I’ve had a five-year career break, I’ve had periods with part-time and home working and I have job-shared for the last decade. Flexible working can mean many things, it can be full or part-time – it is about flexibility around when and where you work. 

It is not just for women or carers. Around a third of UK workers work flexibly. 

As you progress through your careers, and lives, I’d urge you to think about what way of working is best for you, will allow you to fulfil your potential, and not to be afraid to ask for what you want. You will not be your best at work if you don’t work in a way that fits with the rest of your life. 

The first job I had after my career break was mornings only term-time. I wasn’t lucky enough to see such a job advertised at the right time. I worked out that was what I wanted and went to an ex-boss and asked for it. 

If you want to work flexibly you need to take the responsibility for persuading people to give you flexible jobs. 

You may well have employers with preconceived ideas about flexible working, who just see problems and risk. You need to reassure them and show them you have thought about how to make it work. Certainly, the interview panel for my current post had doubts. 

We were asking for the first ever jobshare at director general level in the civil service. We tackled this by being open about it in the interview, setting out the concerns we thought they’d have and providing evidence to show our plan would work. In the end I think they saw it as a strength. 

Two brains for the price of one. And a more resilient set-up – we support each other. 

I urge you all to think about flexible working for yourselves and to encourage flexible working when you manage people. You will be delighted by the talent you attract. 

The above was taken from a transcript of Polly Payne’s speech, which has been edited for clarity.

Railway Children to reconquer Kilimanjaro


Following the announcement that the charity’s colossus fundraiser will return, Adam O’Connor, RailStaff production director, recalls his unforgettable experience from 2010

Think back to 2009 and you might remember watching a group of celebrities take on the challenge of reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day. It was a great challenge to undertake, and the coverage of the preparation all the way to the ascent was very good. 

Spurred on by this, Railway Children decided to organise ‘Train2Kili’ in 2010, its own challenge to summit Kilimanjaro. ‘Eight days on a mountain versus a lifetime on the streets’ was the tag line.

Katie Mason, Railway Children’s events manager, managed to get together 25 industry colleagues to take on the challenge. Originally Katie had approached myfather, the managing director of RailStaff’s parent company Rail Media, to take on the challenge for which he was keen to take part in. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for me, my mother would not allow him to, so the position on the team was offered to me, and I jumped at the chance.

Ten years on Railway Children has decided to organise a follow-up trek to Kilimanjaro. So, to encourage the next party of Kilimanjaro adventurers, I’ve re-told my own experience from 2010, through each camp on the way to the summit of Uhuru, detailed below. If it catches your imagination, watch the film ‘Lion’ and the 2009 and 2019 Red Nose Day treks on YouTube, then get in touch with Katie Mason at Railway Children and sign up. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

Arriving in Tanzania 

After months of preparation during which I gave up smoking in return for sponsorship and trained by running, hiking, playing hockey and badminton, the team set off for Africa. 

Arriving in Tanzania set my heart racing. Looking out the window of the plane and seeing Kilimanjaro at the same height as the plane brings it home to you. Kilimanjaro is 5,895m high. Toto got it right when they sang that ‘Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti’.

Day one: Rainforest Trek

The fully assembled group were ready to go. The trek started in the Lemosho Glades at 1,981m. This is the longest and most remote route to the summit Uhuru. After our first day of walking through the beautiful forests of Kilimanjaro we arrived at the first camp, Big Tree Camp at 2,800m. The forests felt alien, the trees heavy with hanging moss like a sci-fi movie.

Day two: High Altitude Desert

Then came Shira Camp One at 3500m where it started to get cold. We left the comfort and warmth of the forest and walked away through this high altitude desert. That night was one of the most perfect night skies I have ever seen. Every star was out and the Milky Way looked beautiful. 

Day three: Shira Plateau

Shira One to Shira Two was tough for me. It was my first dose of high altitude sickness. The day was very cold with some of the worst rain and hail we would encounter on the mountain. Despite the cold the climbers added an hour to the day’s trek by going up to Shira Cathedral. At the top the mist cleared. What a view it was. My jaw dropped in awe. My eyes had never seen such a beautiful sight before. When I got back to camp, however, it was a headache filled evening of feeling ill.

Day four: Southern Flank

After Shira two came the Lava Tower and another extremely cold day. We reached our highest point yet climbing up Lava Tower at 4600m. The altitude was hitting some people hard. Two people were quite ill but the whole team rallied round. 

Day five: Barranco Wall and the Karanga Valley

The team then set out for the mighty Barranco Wall. The mountain leader was being extra serious that day and made me assistant leader. I was placed at the back of the group with Mark Wilson, of TransPennine Express. I think this was the day I enjoyed the most on the mountain. The nerves soon went and I really enjoyed going off-piste with Mark and scrambling around.

Day six: Barafu Ridge

Then we left Karanga at 3900m and headed for Barafu, the final camp before summit night. My lasting memory of Karanga will be waking up, looking out of the tent and seeing that we were above the clouds. Everyone got on with the job of hiking to Barafu. It was a desolate place, and a very rocky camp.

Day seven: Summit Day

The big day finally arrived. After an evening meal of army rations full of calories to give us the energy to get to the top, I rested before setting off at 11.30pm. After an hour of walking I looked behind me and saw a trail of lights coming up the mountain. Arriving at Stella Point was very emotional. I am choking up just thinking about it. Everyone was physically and emotionally drained. Hugs and congratulations all round caused many of us to tear up with emotion. 

The toughest part was yet to come. I should never have stopped, as leaving Stella Point was agony. I had no energy and was running on backup. My water was frozen. I had a weird chemical taste in my mouth. Very slowly I shuffled my way from Stella Point to Uhuru, Kilimanjaro’s upper most point at 5895m. People at the top were sick with altitude sickness and falling about all over the place. Luckily for us none of our group were that bad.

After summiting, the downward trek back to Barafu for lunch was tough as energy was in short supply. After a short break at Barafu, the team continued down to Millennium camp, the end of a long day, 15-17 hours of trekking at high altitude. 

Day eight: Descend to Mweka Gate

Leaving Millennium camp for Mweka Gate was another good day for me. After a very long sleep my batteries were fully charged and I decided to join leader Andy and Steve Frost in running down the mountain. It was good fun, I got a good sweat on, and it was interesting overtaking porters for a change. 

The conversation on the way down was great and arriving at the bottom was joyful. We had done it! We had really gone and done it! 

Living alone on the streets

After their eight-day adventure, the mountaineers visited a Railway Children project in Tanzania to learn how sponsorship money is spent. 

Team members played football with Mkombozi project children, who won the impromptu international, Tanzania vs England and Scotland, 4-1 (pictured above). 

The most moving part was meeting the kids that will benefit from the money the group raised. They were all well spoken in English, and all clearly set on making their future positive. Hearing their aspirations to be musicians, artists, teachers and doctors was wonderful.

An unforgettable experience

As an original Railway Children Kilimanjaro trekker, I cannot speak highly enough of the charity Railway Children and the work it does, or how great it is to join in on one of their challenges. I can thoroughly recommend joining up to one of their challenges, apart from enjoying my whole time in Africa on the mountain, I helped raise money for the charity and I have met some great people who I have kept in touch with. Some of them even joined me to celebrate my wedding last year. 

Railway Children’s 2020 challenge will take place between February 1 and 13. For more information, head to www.railwaychildren.org.uk.

Military is good for rail

Stewart Thorpe finds out why so many service leavers turn to and succeed in the industry

Come February 2020, Major Doug Hallam is set to call time on more than 35 years’ service in the British Army. In his current post, the 54-year-old supports the recovery of wounded, injured and sick personnel at the Ministry of Defence’s Chetwynd Barracks in Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. 

Gearing up for civilian life, Doug has already begun assessing his next steps and is, on the face of it, eyeing something quite different to his present work. As well as environmentally-focused organisations such as the National Trust, he’s looking at swapping the British Army for the Orange Army. 

According to the government, approximately 15,000 people leave the armed forces each year – and many of those will have considered a similar move to Doug into rail.

In April, 135 service leavers, including Doug, attended a careers event at the Derby Conference Centre to scope out the industry’s opportunities. Former military men spoke about their experience and 20 prospective employers were on the lookout for talent. The event, titled ‘Military is Good for Rail’, was organised by industry body Rail Forum Midlands in conjunction with employability services the Careers Transition Partnership and the Officers Association. 

Why rail? 

With a mixture of those who have successfully progressed into rail and those looking to follow in their footsteps, the day provided a great insight into what attracts ex-forces personnel to work on the railway. 

“Golden opportunities” in the local area with HS2 passing nearby and the NET tram system in Nottingham proved the initial draw for Doug, but, for him, there’s more to it. 

“I want fresh air and I want to be outside. I don’t mind getting cold and wet at all because I’m an infanteer by trade, so no formal engineering qualifications and all that. Would I go to college or university? Absolutely I would if the right job came along. 

“The rail network is similar to military because you’ve got structure. At some stage I want to be told what to do. When I know what to do then I can advise and tell other people what to do and how to do it. And that’s what drew me.”

Before the networking between recruiters and jobseekers began, a line-up of military personnel who have successfully resettled into rail shared their own experiences. 

Ex-Royal Navy marine engineer Elliott Watson was on the lookout for a new career, not just a job, when he left the armed forces. Unhappy with the prospects in the first job he landed, he eventually found what he was looking for when he joined Network Rail as a scheme project manager during a similar Military is Good for Rail event three years ago. 

“I came along just to have a look really and see what it was all about,” said Elliott. So far during his time at Network Rail he has held five jobs on one project and completed an engineering degree at Staffordshire University. “I didn’t really know anything about the rail industry, I didn’t really know if it was for me but after attending this I decided that, yeah, it was for me.

“Overall, I’d just like to say that the change that I made from what I was doing before into the rail industry has been really positive. And I really appreciate the time that the industry has spent, not just Network Rail but other people and contractors, in helping me feel at home and part of a team again, which is what I was missing in that first role I went into.”

It’s almost a decade since DB Cargo’s Mick Jackson left the Royal Engineers to become an engineering safety coordinator. 

He doesn’t think that rail attracts ex-forces personnel and believes that many get into rail by chance, much like his own story, and that more needs to be done to help them discover the great opportunities in rail. Mick was returning from a disappointing interview at Rolls-Royce when he received a call from a recruitment agency asking if he’d like to go for an interview at an engineering depot to fix locomotives. He did, and he was successful. 

“I don’t necessarily think rail attracts the military,” said Mick, now a health, safety and environmental manager. “Most people I speak to fall into it. 

“I don’t know what it’s like now but in 2009 I was based in Chilwell, Nottingham. When I was leaving, apart from Bombardier, I didn’t even know there was a rail industry in Derby as I’m not from there.

“I think it should be doing more on recruitment in general, certainly young people.

“If you take highways, for example, I think they advertise better as an industry.”


Mike’s experience of “falling into rail” was also true for Simon Higgens, a fellow former Royal Engineer who retired after suffering lower-leg injuries while on operations in Afghanistan.

Almost 30 years in the British Army has been followed by a successful seven years in rail, where he has held senior roles at Babcock, ISS Labour, and now Amey as new business development manager. 

Simon, familiar with Derby from his time as CEO at ISS Labour, took to the stage to tell delegates how fitting the venue was to host such an event, as it was once a London Midland training school, which became a military school during World War Two. 

Building on this theme, he described at length exactly why military personnel with their transferrable skills are such a good fit for the industry. 

He said: “Why I joined the rail industry is because it’s not too dissimilar from the services. When I first joined the railways, I kept apologising to big rough railwaywomen and men, apologising that I knew nothing about the railway. And then after about three months this old, wizened railwayman said to me ‘Simon, stop apologising. You come from an industry that is manpower intensive. It’s dangerous and it deals with heavy machinery. And guess what, that’s what the railway is. It’s heavy machinery, it’s man power intensive and it is dangerous.’ Although we mitigate those risks all that we can, it’s not too dissimilar.”

Regardless of rank, trade, degree, branch or service, there is something for everyone, he added. 

The transferrable skills were touched on by a number of speakers, who mentioned services leavers’ ability to be agile, their work ethic, discipline, attention to detail, leadership traits and ability to succeed in a challenging, safety-critical environment as sought after skills. 

“Employers here all want to recruit you because they see the value, they see the worth that you bring,” Simon added.

A unique talent pool

In January, recruiter Morson launched a scheme to offer free rail training to ex-forces personnel as a way of helping them find employment. Similarly, in the past year engineering firm Jacobs and Network Rail have both reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the armed forces in starting new careers through re-signing the Armed Forces Covenant. 

A lot of efforts are made to assist military personnel on their resettlement journey but, according to Pete Liddle, engagement manager at the Officer’s Association, this way of thinking should be flipped on its head.

“Why is it called the Military is Good for Rail programme?” he said. “It’s to move it away from the idea of doing the right thing of helping out the guys who have served our country towards, actually, it makes business sense. 

“It’s a business case as to why we go to this unique talent pool to the advantage of these organisations.”

As the demand for skills within rail continues to grow, so does the importance of exploring other sectors for transferrable skills. Rather than helping them out in their time of need, it could be looked at as a case of service leavers helping rail in its time of need. 

The value of community rail

A new report from the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACoRP) has evaluated the benefits of the community rail movement to individuals, local areas and society.

Across the country, an army of 8,500 volunteers give more than 390,000 hours a year working to bring local lines and stations back into the heart of their communities. 

Adding together the social value of those volunteering on a regular basis (£27.6 million) and the value of their labour (£5.6 million), ACoRP – the national umbrella body for community rail partnerships (CRP) and groups – calculates that community rail volunteering alone is worth £33.1 million each year. 

Community rail is a grassroots movement supported by industry that has grown in scope and influence since the first community groups were formed in the 1990s. Currently it is made up of 61 regional or line-based CRPs – community-based organisations that work along lines or across regions – and more than 1,000 station-based voluntary ‘friends’ groups. Together they aim to connect communities with their railways and help them to get the most from local lines and stations. Work ranges from creating community hubs and gardening and maintenance at stations, to promoting green tourism on community rail lines, working with the rail industry towards a more accessible railway, engaging with schools and organising walking and cycling events.

Examples include:

  • The Kilmarnock Station Railway Heritage Trust, which is transforming a disused station space into a hub for the community while also promoting social inclusion and offering work experience and training;
  • The Sussex Community Rail Partnership’s work to help school children learn about and gain familiarity with rail as a part of sustainable and healthy travel; 
  • Community Rail Cumbria, which is working with train operators to achieve major service and station improvements. It also engages with local employers to promote sustainable commuting.

Announcing the next East Midlands franchise, transport secretary Chris Grayling recently revealed that the next franchise, beginning in August, will see funding doubled for community rail schemes and the creation of up to four new CRPs.


Four years ago, ACoRP produced a similar report assessing the value of community rail. Comparing data from the two, it shows that CRPs have increased by 50 per cent and station groups have doubled in number between 2015 and 2019.

In addition, similar comparisons found that lines with CRPs performed well in terms of passenger numbers. Using a sample of 36 community rail lines, ACoRP has calculated that passenger numbers increased by 42 per cent between 2008/09 and 2017/18. This compares to an overall increase of 35 per cent on the national network. 

ACoRP said that this reinforces the idea that engaging communities in their local railways helps people get maximum use from them, as well as attracting visitors using sustainable means.


Community rail champion and ACoRP chief executive Jools Townsend said the movement “empowers local people to have a greater stake in their local railways and stations, and to access opportunities that may otherwise be out of reach, through sustainable and healthy means”.

She added: “Community rail is playing a unique role, working at a grassroots level so more people can get around through sustainable travel, and helping people to connect with their locality and those around them.”

The report, which was sponsored by the Rail Delivery Group, was also welcomed by rail minister Andrew Jones. 

He said: “Our rail network is simply better for the work of Community Rail Partnerships.  I have seen first-hand the vital work that they do, having met with the inspiring volunteers at the ‘Rail Journey To Recovery’ project in Cumbria last November. 

“They transform our stations into community hubs, provide purpose and pride, and give people a say in how their local rail network can work for them.

“In 15 years we have seen hundreds of successful projects created across the UK, and through a new Community Rail Strategy this government is committed to supporting even more schemes.” 

Reading between the lines

Great Eastern Railway enginemen's dormitory, Stratford, 1911. Photo: National Railway Museum.
Great Eastern Railway enginemen's dormitory, Stratford, 1911. Photo: National Railway Museum.

Historian Dr Mike Esbester touches on illiteracy and the sad death of two track workers from 1914

Today we might take the ability to read and write for granted – but not so long ago that wasn’t a given. In an industry like rail, so dependent on the written word, via rules, regulations and more, difficulties with reading, in particular, might have had real safety implications.

However, perhaps surprisingly, the question of literacy doesn’t come up in official reports into historic worker accidents too frequently. It appears as though, in most cases, railway staff had at least a functional level of reading.

Presumably their level was more than just functional, too, given the key document employees were reading, so far as the companies and railway inspectors were concerned, was the rule book.

One hundred or so years ago, this was a densely-written document, using official, legalistic language – not an easy read by any measure. Given staff were tested on comprehension, it looks like they should have understood what they were reading, too – though of course there were many ways around this. In general, though, for the railway industry the indications are actually that the workforce was relatively highly literate.

Nevertheless, there were workers who couldn’t read. In that case, they were to have the rule book read to them, so they were still expected to know and understand its contents. Accidents caused, at least partially, by a worker’s inability to read do appear from time to time in our database of historic worker accidents, as in this case about J. Kavanagh and T. Cannon.

From a 1930s accident prevention booklet. Photo: National Railway Museum.
From a 1930s accident prevention booklet. Photo: National Railway Museum.

Kavanagh and Cannon

Kavanagh and Cannon were employed by the Dublin and South Eastern Railway as ‘milesmen’, meaning they were part of the permanent way gang that was responsible for maintaining track.

On the morning of March 28, 1914, they were working between Shankill and Bray, on the outskirts of Dublin, under the supervision of ganger T. Doyle, when he left them to obtain assistance.

What happened next wasn’t witnessed – always a difficult situation for inspectors, who had to make a best guess at the probable chain of events, when investigating accidents.

In this case, inspector J. P. S. Main presumed that a train had approached on the line they were working on, so that they had crossed it and the other line to keep well out of the way as it passed. Main concluded that ‘no sooner had it done so than they attempted to return, when a train came along the down line, and the men, failing to observe its approach, were struck by the engine and cut to pieces’ – a typically forthright statement of the time about consequences of the accident.

The crew of the passing engine were unaware that they’d hit the men and ‘it was only through the bursting of the vacuum brake pipe by a keying spanner [the tool Kavanagh and Cannon had been using], and the consequent application of the brake, that the enginemen became aware of the accident’.

The line was on a curve where the accident happened, so it wasn’t unreasonable that the men didn’t see the approaching train or the crew see them. However, as Main pointed out, Kavanagh and Cannon knew the line and he ‘was assured’ they knew that the trains usually passed each other there; as a result the unstated implication was that they should have anticipated and avoided the train that hit them. Who exactly had assured Main of this detail? The report doesn’t state – but we might suspect it was a company representative, possibly seeing an easy route for the company in terms of responsibility.

The rule book

Main noted that the rule book was clear on this case: they should ‘have moved clear of all lines and waited until the train for which they had stepped aside had cleared a sufficient distance to enable them to see that no train was approaching on the other lines before attempting to recross the rails’.

What this doesn’t take into account was the pressure to get the work done. If staff were expected – required – to work in amongst moving trains, on a busy route with lots of traffic stopping and waiting until visibility was good might have taken additional time. That might bring employees into conflict with the companies, which expected a certain level of efficiency. In that situation making a decision to move back on the lines a fraction earlier becomes understandable.

Main delved into the question of literacy. Of the three men named, only Cannon could read. Kavanagh had his knowledge of the rules tested just nine days before the accident, and was found competent. Doyle’s knowledge of the rules was tested – possibly by Main, though it isn’t clear – and he was found to have a fair knowledge. Main then went on: ‘It is a question whether a man who suffers under this disability should occupy such a position, unless the greatest care is taken to have the rules read over and explained to him at state intervals’.

Damningly, Main noted that this procedure wasn’t in place on the line but that ‘it is essential that this course should be followed with men who are unable to read, a feature which, I understand, is by no means uncommon with this class of labour on this line’. The Company was directed to ‘give the matter serious attention’.

Great Western Railway rule book, 1904. Photo: National Railway Museum.
Great Western Railway rule book, 1904. Photo: National Railway Museum.


This case, which is not alone, raises all sorts of questions about expectations and class – from the obvious (and to our ears, rather patronising sounding) questions about ‘this class of labour’ to how we read the comment about illiteracy as a ‘disability’. Literally? Figuratively? Both?

If the comment about illiteracy being widespread among track workers on the Dublin and South Eastern Railway was accurate, was it confined to just this role? Was illiteracy an issue beyond just this company – possibly industry-wide? Instinct says not on that latter point, for some of the reasons already outlined, and the demonstrations of literacy we’ve seen elsewhere in our research. However, we’re only as good as the records we’ve seen!

Thinking about how we educate and train staff in the railway industry is clearly not a new issue – and just because the question of illiteracy might today have faded, it doesn’t mean we should ignore it. In any safety-critical role ensuring staff are well-briefed in all aspects remains crucial. Standards today are undoubtedly higher than in 1914 – thankfully – but we can learn from past cases such as Cannon and Kavanagh and check that we’re not assuming everyone meets certain standards, like literacy, without being sure they do. 

The research of Dr Mike Esbester, of the University of Portsmouth, is focused on two key areas: the history of safety and accidents, and the history of mobility. As part of the former, Mike is working alongside the National Railway Museum to run the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project, which is exploring British & Irish railway worker accidents from around 1870s to 1939. To find out more, head to: @RWLDproject or www.railwayaccidents.port.ac.uk.

National College name change

‘High speed rail’ could be dropped from the National College for High Speed Rail’s name as it seeks to extend its reach.

Instead, the engineering institution could be called the National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure, to cover light rail, metro and freight; highways; transport infrastructure such as airports, service stations and bus stations; smart mobility; and digital transport systems. Under the new name, high speed rail brand will still be retained as a centre of excellence.

A formal consultation on the name change will run until May 29.

Chief executive Clair Mowbray said: “As an industry-led and industry-focused college, our proposed name change is a response to the conversations we’ve been having with employers across the transport and infrastructure sectors.

“While high speed rail is core to our brand and offer, learnings from our start-up process have made it clear that our current name does not convey the broader scope of higher-level training that we are capable of offering.

“In our efforts to train the next generation of engineers needed for HS2 and beyond, we want to ensure that our vision and ability to support the broader transport and infrastructure sector is clearly articulated.”

The college launched in October 2017 and is still developing its curriculum, which is based around Level 4 and 5 apprenticeships and full-time courses, right through to Level 6 and short CPD courses.

When it launched, the college had 150 enrolled learners and the capacity to cater for up to 1,200 students. It currently has 336 full-time learners and apprentices.

RailStaff May: A micro mobility revolution

Photo: iStock.
Photo: iStock.

After we tied the knot last month, Eurostar shuttled me and the new Mrs Thorpe into the heart of the French capital. 

A short four-day trip was filled with cheese tastings and time spent in Parisian cafes drinking fruity European beers. As it was our first time in Paris, some of the more obvious, yet still spectacular, tourist spots were taken in. We also had the chance to dig a little deeper with a guided tour of some popular food and drink stores and points of interest (Check out the street art of Gregos in Montmartre the next time you’re there – his face is, quite literally, all over the place). 

Of course, Paris is also home to the second busiest metro in Europe, so it would have been rude not to hop on for a ride. 

Pre-holiday research told me that the network has some striking stations. It’s not something all passengers would take the time to appreciate, but the evolving designs with different styles of art are an attraction on their own. They’re not quite at the level of the Moscow Metro (Europe’s busiest metro) but they’re a refreshing change from the London Underground. 

A quick trip between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Hotel de Ville, one of eight of the network’s original stations, to get to Notre-Dame was unfortunately all we made time for on this whistle-stop tour, but it was enough to whet the appetite.

But the pièce de résistance of the trip – and the reason for this self-indulgent introduction – were the electric scooters for hire that are taking over the city’s streets. 

Think about London’s Santander dock-to-dock bikes but remove the need for docking, add mobile payments and the fact they’re entirely motorised with a top speed of 15mph and you start to understand why they’ve become so popular. 

Arts et Métiers station. Photo: iStock.
Arts et Métiers station. Photo: iStock.

After creating an account, users download an app to find an available scooter, scan it to check it has enough battery and no reported faults, and can then ride off. Riders are advised to follow the rules of the road and wear a helmet but are otherwise left to explore the city within a certain boundary. When they have finished, users prop the scooter up using its stand and, as long as it’s not blocking a public pathway, tap the app to end the ride. 

As a means to cover great distances, the e-scooters are limited as many only have a maximum range of 20 miles. But as a means of covering the first and last miles in urban areas between station and home, it is ideal.  

The growth in Paris has been massive since the scooters first arrived in 2018 but it’s not been without its problems. Issues caused by irresponsible users blocking doorways, paths and driving on pavements has led city officials to look at introducing regulation. 

This same debate has proved to be the roadblock to electric scooters being unleashed on UK roads. 

That was until March, when the Guardian reported that transport minister Jesse Norman said he would “look quite closely” at finding a way of allowing e-scooters and similar vehicles on the road, which has been illegal for at least 30 years.

Market leaders ‘Bird’ and ‘Lime’ already operate in other European countries and more than 100 cities in the United States and, if legislation is changed, we could yet see them on the streets of major cities in the UK.

Not only are they a personal and flexible means of transport but they’re also shared, environmentally-friendly and affordable and proved a quicker means for getting from A to B around the French capital than the Paris Metro.

You can’t help but feel that the e-scooters are a glimpse into the future, a glimpse into what could be a micro mobility revolution. 


New map aids disabled passengers and informs others

A new Access Map has been introduced to guide disabled people, and others with mobility difficulty, of the facilities available at each railway station in the country.

Viewers can interact with a map of the entire network, superimposed on a street map of the UK, find their station, and then click to see what facilities it has to offer, such as step-free access, staff on hand to assist, disabled toilets and so on.

The little ‘flags’ on the stations are colour-coded – green for step-free access, yellow for partially step-free, red for no step-free access and blue for ‘don’t know’, though there aren’t many of those.

So, for example, rail travellers from Maidstone in Kent should use Maidstone East (green – step-free access, staff available to help, accessible toilets, train access ramp), rather than Maidstone West (yellow – step-free access to Platform 2 but steps to Platform 1 and staff assistance not always available) and they should certainly avoid Maidstone Barracks (red, steps to all platforms, unstaffed).

Access Map information for Maidstone East station.

It’s a great resource, and makes it easy for passengers to select which stations to use, and which not to. It will be invaluable, not only to the disabled but anyone with a mobility problem – including children and heavy luggage.

What’s more, it’s a fascinating map to use to explore the rail network. Not only are passenger main lines on there, so are freight-only routes and heritage railways.  And there are satellite views as well as maps.

The Rail Delivery Group worked in collaboration with train companies and the Department for Transport to create Access Map, and a great job they have made of it.

Transport Accessibility Minister Nusrat Ghani was pleased with the result. “I am delighted to see this new interactive map launched,” she said, “marking an important step towards our aim of providing disabled passengers with the information they need to travel independently – a key commitment in our Inclusive Transport Strategy.”

Accessibility campaigner Sarah Ward was equally enthusiastic: “Knowing in advance what features are at a station before I get there increases my confidence hugely. I think the map will be beneficial for a whole range of people. The more information you can have before you travel, the easier it is.”

Access Map is at http://accessmap.nationalrail.co.uk/

Sheepish Network Rail solves woolly problem in Cumbria

The Settle to Carlisle railway is a well-known tourist attraction as well as a transport route. It traverses some areas of outstanding beauty, one of which is Swaledale, lying on the North Yorkshire / Cumbria border.

Swaledale is renowned for two things, its cheese and its sheep. The cheese was formerly made from ewes’ milk, although cows’ milk is more often used today. Still, there remain plenty of sheep in Swaledale, mainly used for lamb or mutton, although traditional sheep’s milk cheese is still produced.

Robert Ratsey with Swaledale sheep during dry-stone wall work. (Network Rail)

The sheep run loose in the countryside, penned in by dry-stone walls. At least, most of the time they are.

However, over the last year, Swaledale’s sheep cleared boundary walls and strayed onto the Settle-to-Carlisle railway line a total of 29 times.

With services travelling through the area at up to 60mph, this puts the sheep in danger and also risks delaying passengers if their trains hit the animals.

So Network Rail has had to learn new skills. As part of a £50,000 scheme, it has inspected thousands of metres of dry-stone wall between Risehill Tunnel and Garsdale before repairing sections of it using traditional methods to original standards.

Access was often difficult while repairing dry-stone walls during the Cumbrian winter. (Network Rail)

It was no easy task. Network Rail staff had to work in all weathers to carry equipment, materials and stone to and from particularly steep and hard-to-access trackside locations.

Sally Deacon, asset engineer for Network Rail, said: “We’ve worked closely with local farmers and the Yorkshire National Park to ensure our dry-stone wall repairs are in keeping with the local environment. This is to deter curious sheep from trespassing onto the railway.

“We want sheep safely in their fields. And we want passengers moving safely and swiftly on their trains. This dry-stone wall work helps make that happen.”

Network Rail has a statutory duty to fence the railway or provide another suitable barrier. The work on the Settle to Carlisle line forms part of its ongoing boundary fencing maintenance work carried out across the country.

An emotional goodbye

LNER staff marked the end of an era on March 20 when train manager Osman Khatri, 69, bowed out after 43 years on the railway.

Osman and his brother arrived in England from the former British protectorate Aden – modern day Yemen – on November 9, 1975 in search of a better life. Conditions “weren’t very good” in his divided home country, said Osman in an interview with RailStaff, but, as Aden was a former British colony, Osman held a British passport and was able to move to England after completing his studies in Pakistan. 

During a trip to the capital, Osman spotted a job advert for a train guard at King’s Cross station. He hopped off the bus he was travelling on, applied for the post and was offered the job, starting work on just his second day in the country.

From British Rail to GNER, National Express East Coast, East Cost, Virgin Trains East Coast and now LNER, there have been many train companies on the InterCity East Coast route over the years. Although his job title may have also changed as many times, one constant has been Osman, who has always been based at King’s Cross depot. He has seen major changes to the station, its platforms and booking offices, so it was fitting that he also celebrated his final day with colleagues and senior management with a send off at King’s Cross too. 

“It’s been very nostalgic for me. Very emotional as well,” said Osman, speaking about his final working day on the railway. “On the train, because the previous train manager had announced that Osman is getting on and that this is his last train, this old lady got up and hugged me and said ‘I have seen you many times on the train’. It was really very, very emotional – the British public are absolutely amazing, every single one of them.”

Ken Begol, who is head of the South region, where Osman was based, said: “Osman is seen as an absolute legend within the teams at King’s Cross. Not only does his passion for rail and customers radiate into everything that he does, he is also a genuinely humble and very nice man. His presence will be missed by all. We wish him a very well deserved rest.”

Osman can look back proudly on his career. He was the first manager to work a HST, Mark 4 and White Rose train service on the East Coast main line and hasn’t ruled out the idea of returning to be the first train manager to work an Azuma if the opportunity arises. He also recalls preventing a potential disaster in the 1980s near Grove Road in Retford when he prompted a driver to perform an emergency stop after feeling a train derail. As it happens, safety is the area in which Osman has seen the most change in the industry since the 1970s.

Reflecting on his career, Osman added: “If you love the job, if you love the work, the work will love you, and that is what has happened. I have loved this job.

“I will miss meeting people on trains and bringing a smile to their face. It really makes me very happy when there is a problem and I solve it on the train, either a ticket problem or by helping an old lady or old man, anything that brings a smile, it brings me great satisfaction.”

Osman and his wife were planning a trip to the city of Mecca in the weeks after his retirement. On his return he said he was planning to turn his attention to his four kids,  14 grandchildren and 4.5 acres of garden. 

Young Rail Professionals turns 10

Rail Week Event, Young Rail Professionals (YRP) West Midlands - Welcome to Rail, National College of High Speed Rail, Birmingham. October 11, 2017. Photo: Eleanor Bentall Tel: +44 7768 377413

Former and present-day chairs reflect on the organisation’s success as it celebrates a milestone year 

2019 marks the tenth anniversary of four young leaders coming together to start a new rail industry association.

At the time, the IMechE’s Paul Cooper, IET’s Martyn Chymera, IRSE’s Martin Fenner and the IRO’s Rob Mullen were all heads of their institution’s respective youth divisions. Each attended events and networked within their own circles and felt something was missing. And so, like many good ideas, the notion of setting up a body to unite the fragmented youth memberships was born over a drink in the pub.

It didn’t happen overnight but, gradually, week by week, month by month, with mates pulling in favours and scraping together enough money, Young Rail Professionals (YRP) was formed. 

“All four of us were I guess what you’d call upwardly mobile in terms of our career, we were doing quite well,” said YRP’s inaugural chair Rob Mullen picking up the story. “But every event that we’d go to was full of white, middle-aged, grey-haired blokes – I mean, I’m going to be one of these people so there’s nothing wrong with those types – but there was no youth there, there was no diversity. 

“We got together and said ‘Let’s do something different’ and ‘How do you start that?’ So we picked a black tie dinner because it was a classic example of something that none of those young people would get to go to and have a good time. 

“Whilst it was difficult to scrape a couple of hundred quid here and a couple of hundred quid there for the start-up, I think we’ve pretty much sold out every dinner since.”

The very first YRP Annual Black Tie Dinner was held in the IMechE’s library at its London headquarters on February 4, 2010. Around 150 guests were greeted with a champagne reception and ushered up the building’s grand staircase to the library, which had been transformed into a formal dining room for the night. Figureheads from Atkins, Cogitare and Hitachi spoke between courses and the bill was topped by a keynote from the then-transport minister Chris Mole. A precedent was set and the dinner has become a regular fixture in the industry’s calendar ever since.

A knees-up in the Brewery

For 2019, organisers pulled out all the stops to mark YRP’s milestone anniversary. At the site of the former Whitbread Brewery in east London, in a venue simply referred to as ‘the Brewery’, hundreds of people slipped into their finery for one big celebration. 

As is traditional, Michael Charteris, a scheme project manager for Network Rail, passed on the mantle of the chairmanship to David Westcough, a project engineer for SNC-Lavalin, and the new committee was announced.

Speaking to RailStaff ahead of the Black Tie Dinner, outgoing chair Michael Charteris said the key to YRP’s success over the years has been the enthusiasm and motivation of its people. 

He added: “We’re all volunteers, so we do it on top of our day jobs, but every year there is a really committed committee both nationally and in each of the regions, who help to arrange events and set the strategy for the year. Every year we’re getting bigger and bigger with more exciting events, and it’s definitely still growing. The next 10 years are hopefully going to be even more exciting with loads of new things planned.”

Michael, who has been a YRP member since joining the industry in 2013, referred to discussions to take YRP abroad and plans to bolster its awards as two such upcoming projects. 

“We’re reaching the point in the development of YRP that it is now getting so big that we’re having to consider whether we need to start getting a paid resource to help with managing the admin and back office stuff that we have to deal with,” he added.


When it was formed all those years ago, YRP was grounded on giving young people a platform to air their views as well as organising events to inspire and support further learning and development. Despite growing from four members to more than 6,000, with a network that sprawls all over the country and not just in the capital, those values are still intrinsic to the organisation today. As well as the Annual Black Tie Dinner, major events now also include Rail Week and, for the first time, last year YRP visited the Netherlands for an international study tour.

“I think the biggest benefit of YRP is that it puts young people who work in different parts of the industry together,” said Michael. “It’s a good grounding for future leaders, to develop a wider knowledge base of how the industry operates and functions.

“We’re at the point now where you can see the impact it has had on the careers of the founding members. In the early stages it was too early to tell, but you can see now a lot of people who have been involved in YRP are now doing really well in their careers, whether that’s through the networks they’ve made or the fact the industry is recognising their efforts and motivation.” 

Where are the four founding members now?

Rob Mullen, then a senior driver manager for c2c, is now operations director at Great Western Railway. He looks after train drivers, performance as well as control, operations standards and negotiations with ASLEF.

Martyn Chymera worked for Cogitare on its London Underground line upgrade contracts in 2009. He now works for Keolis Amey Metrolink as an electrical and mechanical maintenance manager. Along the way he helped to instigate and champion the Elizabeth line’s maintenance apprenticeship scheme.

Martin Fenner was a signal engineer for London Underground ten years ago. For several years he worked on a resignalling project at Neasden depot as part of the sub-surface upgrade programme, which enabled the introduction of new S Stock trains. Martin left London Underground in 2012 to start a new team within Interfleet (Now SNC-Lavalin) in advanced rail control systems. In January he become the director of rail control systems.

Last, but not least, Paul Cooper still works for Hitachi 10 years on. Previously he worked on the Class 395 delivery for HS1 but has worked in Tokyo for the last four years in its railway systems business unit.

Safety gear and tech of the future

Cardiff track work - 26/12/18 - western end of station

Stewart Thorpe shines the spotlight on five innovative new safety products for the rail industry which could become commonplace in the workplace

Brightboot – Hi-vis wellingtons

RailStaff first reported on Brightboot’s new wellington boots in March when they were showcased at Safestart. The boots combine the traditional protection offered to a wearer’s feet with the use of hi-vis materials to increase visibility.

Marcus Aldred, managing director and founder of the UK-based manufacturer, said that when trousers are tucked into boots, a significant amount of the lower body can be left unmarked by hi-vis. He has overcome this problem with this new range of boots for men and women, which was launched in 2018. 

Whilst there are some safety boots that do increase visibility, Brightboot research found no such product that provides 360 degree hi-vis, day and night, existed in the UK. 

No standard currently exists for hi-vis footwear but the neoprene material incorporated within the boots is compliant to a number of standards, including EN ISO 20471, the European standard for hi-vis workwear, and the orange boots also meet the specification of RIS-3279-TOM, the rail industry standard for hi-vis clothing.

Marcus said: “If you can increase visibility in the workplace, in any way, shape, or form, you’re going to lower the risk of injury to the wearer and enhance their visibility, which will contribute to a joint goal within industry to attain zero harm in the workplace.”

Marcus worked in the textile industry for 25 years, mainly out of Asia working with hi-vis yarns and fabrics, before joining the family wellington business Rockfish around five years ago. The decision was later made to enter the PPE market, combining the two things Marcus had great knowledge in: hi-vis materials and rubber, to produce Brightboot. 

After two years of development, a soft launch took place at the Safety & Health Expo in 2018, although this was largely an information gathering exercise. An official launch took place mid-January. Already Brightboot is in conversation with suppliers such as Arco and Hayley Group and the product has been shortlisted in the British Safety Industry Federation’s (BSIF) Product Innovation Award.

The boots come in three different sizes: tall, mid and low, and in three different colours: orange, yellow and pink. They are also 100 per cent waterproof and metal free.

Although Marcus was remaining tight-lipped, he said other versions of Brightboot will be released later in 2019.

Eave – Intelligent ear defenders

Last year’s winner of the BSIF Product Innovation Award was Eave’s Work Mk1 communication headset. The product, which – similar to Brightboot – was also its launch product, builds on the protection offered by traditional ear defenders by allowing workers to communicate to each other without removing the headset by speaking via Bluetooth connected headphones and mics. The Bluetooth connectivity isn’t the innovative part however, it’s the noise reporting system which measures, maps, monitors and records the user’s exposure to dangerous levels of noise, as well as the location and time to help employers mitigate noise risk.

Founder David Greenberg explained the product goes back to solving a problem he regularly encountered working as a clinical audiologist for the NHS with people who had lost their hearing. 

He said there are two main reasons people lose their hearing: old age (although this is a bit of a misnomer) and through working in noisy environments.

“I would say ‘Surely you had hearing protection? Were you not wearing it?’” he added. “They would say that I can’t really wear hearing protection if I need to communicate with colleagues. So that was a bit tricky. After that I got involved with the medical legal side of noise induced hearing loss related to the control of noise at work regulations and understanding the liabilities of employers and employees. 

“Being an expert witness for these kind of things you suddenly find you don’t have any data as to was this person working for employer A or B, were they wearing ear protection, what was the noise they were exposed against to 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years. Equally, is the hearing loss due to what they were doing at work or what they were doing in the evenings and weekend. There was no information on this sort of stuff, it was impossible.

“The idea was, after working as a clinician, I got a bit fed up with people not wearing their ear protection because they can’t communicate and then decision makers not having any information to where the problems really are and the scale of the problem. So then the product kind of designed itself, that it should allow people to communicate in noise while also protecting their hearing and also collect data on noise exposure and wear rate. That was where the product came from.”

Much-like how hand arm vibration syndrome has attracted more and more attention in the industry, David sees hearing loss gaining traction to become a more important issue. He appreciates, however, that it is more difficult to notice the damage being caused by loud noise. 

Launched back in June 2018, and having been tested by BAM Nuttall, a new version of the product is already being developed, but Eave is keeping it under wraps.

Intelligent Fingerprinting – Fingerprint drug test

Sweat instead of urine or saliva is used in a new portable fingerprint drug test developed by Intelligent Fingerprinting, which is being marketed by Rowe Hankins.

The test analyses sweat from fingerprints to determine if someone has recently used cocaine, opiates, amphetamines or cannabis and can be used to support non-regulated drug testing.

Rowe Hankins managing director Mike Hankins said the fingerprint drug test – which was launched in August 2017 – can provide results in minutes. 

He added: “The UK railway sector, quite rightly, has a zero tolerance on employee drug and alcohol usage. This is to ensure the safety of passengers on public transport as well as staff across the networks. Drug testing is widespread, however current testing relies on potentially invasive and biohazardous approaches that use urine and saliva. Additionally, common testing practice is highly disruptive and this has an impact on efficiency.

“In contrast, the Intelligent Fingerprinting test is non-invasive and is a portable solution so can be taken to different locations and deliver results in minutes on site – enabling less disruption to working schedules, unlocking efficiency savings and potentially allowing more tests to take place.”

Fhoss – Exclusion zone light

Many accidents occur from workers stepping too close to vehicles or plant. Fhoss’ exclusion zone light is a safety solution created to curb this problem, creating a clear visual prompt of where an exclusion zone begins around the moving vehicle. 

The light beams are hard wired into the vehicle or plant and come in three different colours: red, green and blue, as well as three types of halo zones: spots, strips and directional arrows. 

Soldamatic – Augmented reality welding training

Back at Infrarail in 2018, engineering solutions firm Flamefast exhibited Soldamatic, an augmented reality training system that aims to reduce costs while increasing the training efficiency for welding. 

The system allows welding trainees to repeatedly practice their technique in the virtual world without any additional costs, as they’re in essence ‘welding’ pieces of plastic with a simulated welding torch. What the trainee and instructor see is a 3D image of what a real weld would have looked like.

By training in the simulated environment, it minimises the risk to things such as welding flash and extreme heat, as well as minimising gas emissions. 

Soldamatic can enhance the learning process for students so they are skilled enough before going to the real workshop.

Soldamatic also claims that, compared to traditional techniques, the augmented reality training reduces a trainee’s learning time by more than 50 per cent and results in significant reductions in accidents (84 per cent) and lab costs and environmental impact (68 per cent). 

Warming up for Railtex

Whether you’re a visitor or an exhibitor, if you’re in the middle of planning your strategy for the UK’s premier rail exhibition, you’re in good company.

If 2017 is anything to go by, almost 10,000 people will make the biennial trip to the NEC, Birmingham, between May 14-16 this year for Railtex. Such is the show’s draw that hundreds of these will have travelled from overseas to be a part of the hive of activity, with dozens of non-UK companies also exhibiting their products and services.

Despite living in an increasingly digital world, the show offers the invaluable opportunity to network, make new connections, spark new ideas and build on existing working relationships.

Put in context of Network Rail’s plans to spend more than £48 billion for CP6 and you start to understand why there is an excitement surrounding this year’s show.


Wind the clock back two years and Stephen Brooks, chairman of organisers Mack Brooks Exhibitions, opened Railtex by revealing that it featured more exhibitors than at any other point in the last decade. Numbers have steadily risen from 424 to 470 since 2011, so it’ll be interesting to see how many 2019 attracts.

Less than a month before the 2017 show, a general election was called so, with purdah in full swing, politicians stayed away and speakers such as Francis Paonessa, Network Rail’s managing director for Infrastructure Projects, were limited in their presentations. 

Nevertheless there was much to discuss in the exhibition space. 

Innovator 42 Technology had a working prototype of its adaptable train carriage system on display. This system condenses unused seating capacity to free up room for cargo. On a similar theme, Priestman Goode’s stand showed its flexible seating solution which provides a regular seating configuration for off-peak that can be transformed into a higher density configuration at peak times to increase seating and standing capacity by up to 20 per cent.

Rolling stock products were exhibited by many of the major players, including Talgo, CRRC and Hitachi, which both showed concept trains for HS2. Alstom also launched a new EMU for the UK – as well as its new CLever cantilever – blissfully unaware that transport secretary Chris Grayling would scrap electrification plans in the Midlands, Wales and north of England in favour of bimode trains months later.

Looking ahead, with 20,000m2 of hall space bursting full of exhibitors, technical presentations and keynote speeches across three days, RailStaff has picked out some of the presentations and stands which could prove to be highlights for Railtex 2019.

Industry insight

For those wanting to add to their rail industry knowledge, a visit to the show’s three presentation areas is a must. 

Rail Engineer will once more host a selection of technical presentations at the CPD-certified Seminar Theatre (D61), including Baroness Fairhead, Minister of State at the Department for International Trade, who will kickstart the programme on the show’s opening day.

Gordon Wakeford, the head of Siemens Mobility in the UK, will speak on the Wednesday at 10:30. He is also co-chair of the Rail Supply Group and as such he was instrumental in developing the Rail Sector Deal, which he will discuss as one of three keynotes in the Seminar Theatre. 

Joining them as a keynote speaker is Stuart Calvert, interim managing director of the Digital Railway. Stuart recently replaced David Waboso and will talk about Network Rail’s reorganisation and how further devolution will impact the Digital Railway programme.

Elsewhere, in the Railway Industry Association’s (RIA) Knowledge Hub (P81), a selection of project updates, industry briefings and forum discussions with influential industry leaders will take place. 

This includes presentations on: 

  • Opportunities for the supply chain, by Morgan Sindall (Tuesday, 10:30);
  • The Shape of Things to Come from Mark Lomas, the head of equality, diversity and inclusion at HS2 (Tuesday, 14:30);
  • International opportunities for UK rail companies in the Baltics and Turkey (Tuesday, 15:15 and Wednesday, 15:15);
  • RIA’s electrification report, which sets out how costs could be lowered by as much as 50 per cent (Thursday, 10:30).

The speaker programme for the third conference area, the Future Focus Conference, is yet to be confirmed. It will focus on high-speed rail, sustainability and digital rail and will be headlined by a keynote speech from rail minister Andrew Jones. This conference will take place on the Wednesday.

Before we went to press, Mack Brooks Exhibitions confirmed that 420 exhibitors had now booked stands for Railtex with only a few spaces remaining. Full details on all of them are available on the Railtex website. On the following pages we have highlighted a few of the household names and what they’re planning to promote. 

Alstom (S41)
A feature of Alstom’s exhibition will be a new hydrogen train for the UK market. Codenamed ‘Breeze’, this will be a conversion of existing Class 321 trains, reengineered by Alstom and Eversholt Rail to create a clean, green train for the modern age. Alstom will also showcase its Widnes modernisation facility, its experience in electrification as well as its Atlas family of ERTMS products.

Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) (G60)
BCRRE will showcase fundamental university-based research and more developed concepts that are ready to take to market. Visitors will have the opportunity to discuss their research needs and ideas with BCRRE to see how the team could support their businesses. A key part of BCRRE’s stand will be to showcase DIGI-RAIL, an ERDF-funded project designed to help SMEs in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and Coventry and Warwickshire areas get access to world-class expertise to develop in the rail industry.

British Steel (R50)
British Steel will promote its wide range of premium steel products and associated services. It is also once again the official ‘On-Track’ sponsor, supplying 30m of rail track, which will be used by exhibitors to display and demonstrate tools and equipment in an authentic setting. British Steel will also be demonstrating some of its products:

  • HP335 – designed for improved wear and rolling contact fatigue resistance;
  • Zinoco – the most durable system available to combat rail corrosion;
  • SilentTrack – tuned rail damper system to help reduce pass-by noise.

HS2 (U35)
HS2 will be giving delegates an understanding of the pipeline of opportunities on the project, both directly and through the supply chain. In particular, it will be focussing on its rolling stock procurement for 54 new high-speed trains, which has a total budget of £2.4 billion, and the upcoming rail systems procurements which cover the range of services to operate the railway, including signalling and telecomms.

Hitachi (J11)
New trains, innovative digital solutions and signalling technologies will all be on this display. There will also be a range of interactive experiences and competitions throughout the event to showcase how Hitachi will continue to innovate and deliver industry-leading technology for the railways of the future.

Rail Forum Midlands (RFM) (T61)

RFM will repeat the success of Railtex 2017 by inviting a number of members to share its stand space to create a ‘Rail Forum Midlands Hub’. Visitors to the stand will be able to meet:

  • Birley Manufacturing, one of the leading UK manufacturers of rail interiors;
  • Datum Composites, which will be displaying one of the latest generation composite cab fronts manufactured in its Derby facility; 
  • Design & Analysis, which will be pleased to discuss questions relating FEA and structural analysis;
  • CHH Conex showcasing the Sichert range of reinforced polycarbonate electrical cabinets – suitable for use on rolling stock and/or trackside applications;
  • SET Limited, innovative engineers specialising in problem solving and root cause analysis;
  • Replin by Hainsworth, which will exhibit its latest range of materials for rail and aircraft interiors; 
  • J-Flex, which will be exhibiting the Railflex range of low smoke, low toxicity materials compliant to EN 45545-2;
  • Elastacloud, is a leading data science and analytics consultancy which entered into a strategic partnership with Porterbrook last year;
  • Inside Out Group, specialists in time lapsed films, high end, on ground or aerial filming and photography, CCTV and access control installations.

Rail Media (C60)
Rail Media will, as usual, be heavily involved in Railtex. RailStaff – the industry’s most popular read that covers the extraordinary achievements of its people as well as the latest developments in health, safety and training – will also be on the stand, so it is well worth a visit, particularly if you have some good news to share! Sister title Rail Engineer, the magazine written for rail engineers by rail engineers, will be hosting the Technical Seminar. RailwayPeople.com, the industry’s biggest and most productive job board, will be powering Railtex’s own Recruitment Wall, so you can see the recruitment team there – stand C65. Rail Events staff will also be on hand to discuss industry conferences and awards that are very different from the formal gathering at Railtex. The Partnership Awards, at which Network Rail will recognise the excellence of its supply chain, Rail Summits on Safety and BIM & Technology, RailWorx, where civil and systems engineering companies can show off their latest ideas outdoors and working, and the RailStaff Awards, the only industry awards evening that celebrates the industry’s people and champions, will all be represented, so drop in to find out more.

RIA (P61)
For the first time in the show’s history, RIA will bring its members together in a dedicated hub to offer a platform for SMEs. RIA is also organising the Knowledge Hub and the Future Focus Conference.

RSSB (E91)
Rail industry body RSSB will be profiling some of its most popular products and services, including the Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme (RISQS) and the Rule Book app. The team will also be on hand to talk about how RISQS can help suppliers access the GB rail market, and scheme members can arrange to meet the RISQS team on the stand by appointment. Staff will be there to talk through the wider product range and benefits of joining RSSB as a member or an affiliate.

Safety in Numbers (B31)
Three leading PPE companies: Polyco, JPS and Pulsar, which have a combined experience of more than 150 years, will be exhibiting together as ‘Safety in Numbers’ at Railtex 2019. Included in the joint display will be JSP’s Powercap Infinity – a fully integrated TH3 powered air respirator providing eye, face, hearing and respiratory protection in one compact, head-mounted unit, which has engineered out cumbersome and restrictive waist-mounted units and hoses.

Siemens (D51 & E51)
Visitors will be able to experience the benefits of digital rail technology through an automatic train operation rail simulator and other applications that Siemens has developed in this area. There will also be displays of the low-cost, digital-ready technology deployed for the first time on the North Wales Coast upgrade programme. Solutions developed for smart ticketing, passenger information systems, passenger flow and station information systems will also be presented. Siemens Mobility’s latest high-speed train, the Velaro Novo, will be on display. Finally, there will be an ‘innovation station’ for visitors to explore. This area will showcase some of the research projects and plans that are in development plus concept products for level crossings will sit alongside new grab handles, best practice across equality diversity and inclusion, careers and education.

Talgo (Q10)
Following on from announced proposals to build a factory in Longannet, Scotland and an innovation centre in Chesterfield, England, should it secure a major order, Talgo returns to Railtex. Already it has a presence in 28 countries and hopes to significantly step up its UK footprint.

The above is but the briefest of introductions to the hundreds of companies which will be exhibiting at Railtex. Make sure you plan in advance, pack those business cards and don’t forget to register before you get there. Entry into Railtex 2019 is free for all visitors who pre-register their attendance before the May 13 cut off point, from which point it will cost £20. For more information, go to: www.railtex.co.uk.

New problems require new thinking

Hipster business successful teamwork concept, business group assembling jigsaw puzzle

Ford & Stanley chairman Peter Schofield asks whether talent policies are costing rail companies more than they save

The UK rail sector is currently in the midst of a conflicting way of thinking that we have not experienced since the automotive boom in the 1990s. It is one that sees operational managers crying out for additional staff to meet performance targets or take advantage of growth opportunities, pitched against purchasing or HR departments that are charged with reducing the cost of recruitment.

For want of a nail

Back in 2007, the Daily Telegraph ran a front page lead on its business section on some ‘whistleblower’ research we had compiled from submissions made to us by employees of UK companies. Those case studies showed the real cost of recruitment and revealed hidden losses to UK businesses of such eye-watering proportions that the famous ‘For want of a nail’ poem by Benjamin Franklin represented a perfect analogy. 

Example one

There was the case of the first-tier parts supplier whose faulty products halted the production line of an automotive manufacturer for so long that, along with the cost of the vehicle recalls, the company was fined the equivalent of two years’ worth of net operating profit. Whilst the incident was apparently reported in the company accounts as a quality problem, the truth was that its recruitment policy prevented it from using external recruitment suppliers. In a skills-short market this led to the failure to recruit four quality engineers, which in turn led to a serious product fault being overlooked until it was too late.

Example two

A civil construction company was reportedly prevented from tendering for around £22 million per quarter because they were unable to recruit the site agents essential for the environmental, health and safety elements of the bids. Whilst HR blamed skills shortages, the reality was that the policy of paying no more than 10 per cent agency fees meant that the capable agencies chose instead to supply to this company’s competitors at a more realistic market rate. The ‘saving’ was apparently in the region of £230,000 per annum, but the conservative estimate from the operations director who blew the whistle was that the company was losing at least £7 million worth of work over the same period.

“We have a target of 95 per cent direct sourcing”

This is a statement we are hearing again now, this time in the rail sector. Given the headline cost of recruiting, such bold initiatives sure are alluring and noble; particularly where high volumes of agency recruitment are involved, and that headline cost becomes a significant number on the balance sheet.

And that lack of ‘accountability’ is the real issue. There is no section in any company’s accounting procedures called ‘cost of poor recruitment practice’. The benefits of recruiting well are never compared against either the cost of recruiting or, more relevantly, the cost of recruiting the wrong person or the business impact of waiting too long for candidates to be directly sourced.

Whilst purchasing departments hypothetically receive bonuses for hitting their recruitment cost reduction target, there’s every likelihood that operational managers are left having to explain why their performance targets are being missed or why the company is paying late delivery or quality penalties. Meanwhile, HR is looking for ways to reduce unwanted staff churn, as over-worked staff walk to competitors who are better resourced and have more realistic talent attraction and retention strategies.

Are you compromised?

There are three points you should consider when evaluating the true cost of direct sourcing. The first is that, in a skills-short environment that currently shows some 800,000 unfilled vacancies in the UK, are your direct sourcing teams compromised or prevented from proactively approaching employees of certain competitors for skills due to non-solicitation agreements?

Secondly, does your in-house team have the skills to proactively approach target individuals with a compelling and detailed opportunity pitch, rather than mailing people with “We’re recruiting” messages? If not, considering that skilled people are now consumers of employment opportunities with multiple choices of where to ply their trade, it is unlikely that you are going to be interviewing the cream of the crop; rather, just the best of a bunch that happen to respond.

Finally, as a statement of fact rather than a question, as the employer you ARE compromised in the eyes of the prospective employee. They know that your resourcing team are not in any way neutral, because they have recruitment quotas to hit and cannot represent them with any other employer. 

Ford & Stanley recruiters are trusted for being very honest with employers and candidates, but ultimately, we know we are compromised because, unless the employer and the candidate says yes, we do not get paid. The new employer is compromised because it wants the person to join, just as the current employer is compromised because they want them to stay. Who does this person go to – their partner, their friends? 

New problems require new thinking

One of the fastest growing areas of the Ford & Stanley Group is our neutral SoundingBoard service. Launched several years ago as a bridge between our recruitment brands and GENIUS performance consultancy, it was designed specifically to support employers and individuals with this new conundrum brought about by skills shortages and demands for keeping costs down. One client in particular with a strong direct sourcing platform saw its offer-to-acceptance ratio shift from 70 per cent rejection to 70 per cent acceptance as a result of introducing SoundingBoard.

If you are saving money by direct sourcing, then of course it is the correct thing to do. Giving you the benefit of some 30 years’ experience of improving business performance through people, I would urge you to consider the bigger picture and sense-check that it is not a false economy. Whilst easiest to legislate and administrate, it is rare that the ‘one size fits all’ approach is the right one. 

Co-operation over criticism

Mandy Geal, founder of culture change specialist Learning Partners, calls on the industry to drive out the blame games

Have you ever been blamed for something at work that you felt was not your fault, or something you didn’t do? Maybe you received an email that made your blood boil, or encountered disparaging comments, aggressive questions or finger pointing in a meeting.

What did you feel like doing in response? It’s likely that you did one or more of the following: You blamed someone else. You got angry with the person and had a row. You complained about the unfairness to anyone who would listen. You gathered information to justify your position and defended yourself in long detailed emails. Maybe you looked for opportunities to get back at the person who accused you. You might have emailed lots of people to cover your back just in case. You might have kept information to yourself so that you couldn’t be accused of doing the wrong thing. 

Or maybe you felt powerless to do anything about the injustice of the situation and worried what people would think of you. All these reactions use up time, attention and energy, but for what result?

Cause of blame

The reactions described above are created by the brain’s hard-wired survival mechanisms of fight, flight and freeze in response to perceived threats. They have been natural human reactions for the 3.4 million years that humans and their ancestors have been on the planet. 

Our evolved human brain monitors the environment both for physical dangers and psychological threats, which are experienced through our thoughts and emotions. Being blamed constitutes a number of psychological threats at a fundamental level of personal security, and as a result generates strong emotions. Thoughts such as: What was I supposed to do? Who’s in charge here? Do I have the power to do anything about this? 

Blame generates feelings of injustice, anger, revenge, guilt, and hopelessness. Blame damages trust, which is essential for successful collaboration. Blame is a widespread problem in the rail industry, and affects people at all organisational levels. 

Punitive key performance indicators (KPIs) designed to attribute fault create reporting structures that take up extra time and cause frustration. Blame occurs when people are working under pressure within tight timescales to find out what’s gone wrong, in order to solve problems quickly. The intention is positive but the human response is frequently negative, leading to wasted time, poor information, and delays.

The alternatives

In contrast, there are many instances where people in the rail industry pull together in difficult circumstances to solve challenging problems above and beyond their day-to-day responsibilities. These successes occur when people trust and support their colleagues, work together to solve problems, and deliver the service that passengers and freight users require. 

Neuroscience demonstrates that human beings experience trust and support in the brain’s reward system rather than the threat system. The reward system reduces psychological threats and enables people to think with a broader perspective, complex reasoning and balanced judgment. People feel confident and more open to sharing information and admitting mistakes. They solve problems quickly with better data and achieve wider-reaching solutions.

When organisations share KPIs that are designed to measure success, they promote a positive and collaborative culture of problem solving. When people have sight of what work is like for those in different parts of the rail industry, they tend to show more empathy for them and have realistic expectations of what can be done.

Why is it important to drive out blame?

Passengers see the rail industry as one integrated transport service and have little understanding of all the different organisations involved. They want problems and delays sorted quickly, and to know when this will happen, rather than who is to blame. 

We have seen many examples where people have changed behaviour to focus on collaboration rather than blame and have achieved significant improvements in performance because they work more efficiently. When people change the processes of measuring and reviewing results to include some recognition of people’s contribution and successes, as well as discussing outstanding problems, motivation and levels of engagement increase. In this culture, opportunities for people development arise, and for cross-fertilisation of ideas, benchmarks and best practice. 

As a result of making these changes, organisations have reduced cost, improved revenues, increased quality, and developed better relationships with customers and partners. Collaboration makes good business sense.

So, what can we do? Driving out blame is not the kind of change the rail industry can make in a day, but on an individual level you can make an immediate impact on the people around you. 

Take a breath before blaming others. Find out more information. Try to understand the situation from the other person’s perspective. Think about the outcome, find some common ground, and make a suggestion to move the situation forward. Your differences will be minimised and easier to reconcile.

Leaders in the rail industry could harness the pride that people working in the industry feel and use this as a motivation. First, praise success, acknowledge hard work, recognise the dedication to deliver and then be clear about the challenges of improving, which are significant. Blame wears people out; pride energises them.

The traveling public could recognise that improvements to the network are necessary. They could be more tolerant of delays and closures caused by bad weather. These are outside the control of the people working hard in the industry to keep the railway going. 

RailStaff Awards: Time to embark on a new journey

Where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday that the new line-up of rail industry heroes was crowned at the 2018 RailStaff Awards for the difference they make to customers, colleagues, communities and the collective rail industry. 

Whether it was through exploring the enchanted wonderland, taking in the jaw-dropping entertainment or recognising an unsung hero, it was a night of making memories for so many people. 

If you wanted to turn back the clock, spend three minutes of your day watching the highlight reel from last year’s show to see for yourself how spectacular it was. Trust me, you won’t regret it. The video, masterfully woven together by the magicians at Inside Out Group, is available on the RailStaff Awards website.

As we step into April, the RailStaff Awards team is already working hard behind the scenes to put plans in place. The date has been booked – Thursday, November 28 – and the awards ceremony will once more return to one of the 19 halls at Birmingham’s NEC, a fantastic central venue that is up there with the country’s very best.

So far we have 12 supporters on board: Bolle Safety, Colas Rail, Freightliner, Great Western Railway, Heathrow Express, Land Sheriffs, Pulsar, Samaritans, telent Technology Services, Total Rail Solutions, Transport Benevolent Fund and Westermo Data Communications. The awards ceremony wouldn’t be possible without them so a heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes out to them all. We look forward to finding out more about them and exactly why they’re backing the industry’s only national people recognition scheme in the months ahead. 

A new year means a new theme and we’re excited to let you know all about it but I’m afraid we’re keeping it close to our chest for the meanwhile… More on that in due course.

Nominations are now open

The time is also upon us to announce that nominations are now open! 

Think of those colleagues who have done something extraordinary in the months since October last year. If they deserve some recognition, spend a little time telling us why, it could make a huge difference to them knowing their efforts are appreciated. 

If you should need it, we even have a handy guide to help you through the nomination writing process.

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

Eagle-eyed readers will notice there have been a number of changes to the 20 award categories this year. Some have merely had their titles tweaked but others have faced bigger change to reflect wider industry trends. 

The RailStaff Awards engravers will no doubt be grateful to hear that Control, Signalling & Telecoms Person or Team of the Year has become the Digital Railway Award, taking on the remit for an area that is so important to the future of our railways. 

‘Graduate of the Year’ will have ‘Newcomer’ once more added to the category to reflect the number of career changers who enter the rail industry and not just those starting out in their career. 

Trainer or Training Team of the Year Award becomes the Learning and Development Award to increase the focus of a category that covers so many different types of job roles.

Finally, perhaps the most fundamental change is the launch of a new category. HR, diversity and inclusion is a topic that has been recognised multiple times in other categories but, we feel, it now deserves its own to recognise the industry’s efforts to create a workforce that better reflects society. 

The most important part of the awards night has not and will never change, however, and that’s the focus on the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the rail industry, including you.

With the countdown now beginning, we’re looking forward to reading through your nominations, meeting so many more of you and, in November, revealing the rail industry heroes of 2019.

For more information, head to: www.railstaffawards.com

Network Certification Body: Where it came from and where it’s heading

Sam Brunker recalls how Network Certification Body was established and discusses what he’s doing differently as its new managing director

After six years at the helm, James Collinson stepped down from the Network Certification Body (NCB) in August to join Network Rail’s Infrastructure Projects as one of its heads of design.

The move sparked a four-month process to recruit a new managing director, which was concluded with the appointment of perhaps the most suitable candidate for the job: Sam Brunker, NCB’s founding father.

Originally, Sam, who was also one of the certification service provider’s first employees, decided not to throw his hat into the ring but assumed the role of managing director on an interim basis. When a boost in performance followed, largely down to cost cutting exercises and product diversification, so did his mindset. 

By that point the recruitment process to source James’ successor had stalled and head-hunting had been initiated. Sam’s unrivalled knowledge of the company’s inner workings as well as its 60-strong workforce saw him finish ahead of the pack. A fitting appointment for a man who had been seconded from Network Rail six years earlier to establish the specialist subsidiary. 

“I realised that in fact I did have the new ideas that were needed to take the business forward, so I decided to apply,” said the chartered engineer. “I was also thoroughly enjoying it, and am now very pleased to be leading not only a great company, but a great team – our business is our people.”


Back in 2012, revised interoperability regulations were introduced by the European Commission to continue the promotion of a single market in the rail sector. The interoperability regulations require that new, upgraded or renewed structural subsystems or vehicles have to meet essential safety, reliability, health, environmental, technical and accessibility requirements. 

“The railway interoperability regulations had changed to introduce the concept of a designated body or DeBo,” said Sam, who headed up product acceptance at Network Rail prior to this assignment. “Network Rail decided they wanted to be the DeBo for the UK, so they asked me to go on a secondment to work out how to set it up.”

Although he was the only employee dedicated to the project on a full-time basis, with the assistance of engineering, treasury, legal and human resources departments, as well as the Department for Transport and the ORR, Sam set up various workshops to brainstorm ideas of what the new organisation was to become.

Network Rail had various subsidiaries at the time, but none were outward-looking and selling services like NCB was going to do. Although this complicated the process, NCB was created and began trading in April 2012.

Sam joined as infrastructure conformance manager and later moved up to the technical leadership role of ‘professional head’ in 2015.

A new development stage

Since its inception, NCB has completed certification work on a number of high-profile rail vehicles and rail infrastructure projects. This includes: Caledonian Sleeper carriages, Loram rail grinders, ScotRail’s Class 385s and projects such as Thameslink, Crossrail, EGIP and the Borders Railway, as well as hundreds of smaller schemes. 

But, according to Sam, that calibre of work will play a smaller part in NCB’s plans in the years ahead. 

“We really need to look at diversifying what we’re selling,” he added. “NCB has had big high-profile work but, in the future, apart from HS2 and East West Rail, there are less mega projects to speak of. It’s going to be much smaller pieces of work for a much larger group of clients because of the way enhancement work is going to be contracted in CP6.”

The £20 million assessment service contract NCB secured in collaboration with French certification firm CERTIFER for HS2 is one major exception.  Sam said “I remember saying to James Collinson in the first few weeks of NCB’s existence that we will know if we’ve done a good job if we are eventually appointed as the certification body for HS2. And so it happened.”

Although there is £35 billion of government funding for Network Rail in CP6, enhancements, which the bulk of NCB’s work is based on, will only be considered on a case by case basis.

Sam added: “CP6 is quite an unknown for the supply base of the industry. The regulatory settlement does not include enhancements and this means that suppliers have much less certainty about the work that could come their way over CP6.

“We think there’ll be greater certainty in about a year’s time so we’ve got a CP6 year one plan, which is fully detailed, but then we’ve committed to reissuing the CP6 business plan in about a year once we have better information.”

New ideas

Looking ahead to the future vision of NCB, Sam said that he had been considering some “new ideas” to further enhance its role in rail safety. 

“NCB has an enormous amount of talent and experience with exceptional engineers in our teams. We’ve seen many opportunities to support the rail industry further during CP5, so we will be exploring this in more detail during the next 12 months. Our focus though remains on delivering high quality assessment and certification.”

If his success so far as managing director is anything to go by, over the next few years Sam may not only be credited with the creation of NCB, but also its transformation. 

V for vitality

Why one of the uk’s largest suppliers of skilled labour has launched a health mot roadshow

When’s the last time you went to your doctor’s surgery for a health check-up? In fact, have you ever been for one?

According to the NHS, if you’re aged between 40 and 74 you should have a health check every five years, to check for conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia.

People under the age of 40 are still at risk but the older you are, the higher the risk of developing these conditions. The earlier these are detected by a healthcare assistant and managed, the better. 

Nationwide tour

Busy lifestyles mean that a trip to the doctor is often pushed down the priority list. So, recognising the importance in early detection, Vital Human Resources is bringing health assessments to its workforce. 

Since February, the rail company’s specially-trained health and safety (H&S) advisors have toured the country offering health checks to not only its own workers, but any industry colleagues who can be encouraged to step forward. They’re not intended to replace the NHS health check, but they’re an important part of beginning initial conversations. 

Blood pressure, body fat, visceral fat, body mass index, bone mass and metabolic age are all measured using health testing equipment, which has been rented from service provider New Leaf Health, by having workers place their arm into one machine, step onto another and also input data such as height and age into a computer programme.

After the five-minute test, results are privately fed back to the user by H&S advisors, who explain what the information means and what they should do to reduce potential health risks. 

Putting its money where its mouth is

For Vital, which has supplied skilled staff to a number of industries since 1983, it’s about putting words into action, as H&S manager Mark Barrett explained. 

This year the rail company is planning three major health and safety campaigns: the health check roadshow; a focus on one of the industry’s biggest risks, fatigue; and another, which is yet to be decided. 

“You hear these things about health and wellbeing being at the forefront of everything but do we pay a little bit of lip service to it or do we physically do something about it?,” said Mark, who has a background working in human resources in the military and private security sectors. “I wanted to physically do something about it, to show we have the interest of our workers at heart. 

“Every month in our newsletter we’ve been putting a hot topic on – so diabetes, heart disease, nutrition, fatigue, mental health – and we’re going to carry on doing that for a couple more months. Although we can’t physically tell them what to do, it’s given them all the tools and information that may assist them, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”

Conversation starter

Mark said the machine is a great tool for starting some important but sometimes difficult conversations around worker health.

“Some people can be very nervous. You say ‘Look, just come in and just have your blood pressure done, just come in and we’ll do that,” Mark added. “Then when you’ve got them there you say ‘Why don’t you jump on?’ The key thing for them is I don’t keep any results. They are personal to the individual.

“I’ve had people saying ‘Oh, I didn’t really know that’. I’ve had people say it’s given them a kick up the backside, and I’ve had other people turn around and say ‘Well, I’m sort of where I thought I was’ but mostly people saying it’s given them a well needed jolt.”

A particular draw for workers has been the calculated metabolic age, with some 40-somethings earning bragging rights for having the body of someone much younger.

Such is the excitement surrounding the machine that Vital is in the process of purchasing a machine as part of its ongoing health and wellbeing programme. 

Senior buy-in

More than 200 checkups have already taken place since the health machine first hit the road, including on senior leaders at a recent meeting of the Track Safety Alliance. Brian Paynter, project director at Network Rail, left a glowing endorsement of the machine and Vital’s scheme. 

He said: “Having this type of equipment available to our Orange Army helps them understand that we do care about their health and wellbeing and I see this as one of the many tools of free advice we offer to help them understand what they may need to do with their lifestyle choices to make themselves fit for work and fit for life in general.”

Overall, the rail industry is determined to take on more responsibility for worker health and wellbeing, a drive Vital is committed to. 

“Vital’s senior management team have got well behind this,” said Mark. “We’ve generally got an interest because we want to look after our workforce not only on site but off site as well and we want people to arrive on site fit for work. The machine should help us to do that.”

Real people, real stories

Samaritans’ Nikki Mugford writes about its new mental health awareness and suicide prevention campaign

As part of its ongoing work to prevent suicides on the railway, Samaritans, supported by National Rail, has launched a new campaign called ‘Real People, Real Stories’, which sees men who have overcome tough times share their stories to encourage others to seek help by contacting Samaritans. 

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 and 80 per cent of suicides on the railway are by men.  This initiative aims to reduce the risk on and around the railway. By reaching out and interrupting men’s thoughts, it intends to encourage men aged 20-59 to seek help at crisis point, but also at an earlier stage when they are finding life tough. 

Samaritans know that genuine human connection can make someone stop, breathe and think about their actions. They also know that real people sharing their experience is an extremely powerful and effective way of helping others who are finding life tough. Samaritans believe these authentic stories from real men and sporting celebrities – including former footballer Leon McKenzie and international rugby referee Nigel Owens – will help more people to stop, think and realise that Samaritans is there to listen. The campaign also reflects Samaritans’ updated brand essence of human connection, which is focused on being warm, life-affirming and hopeful, by telling real stories.


A survey commissioned by Samaritans in March showed there is still a stigma around men seeking help when they are struggling to cope. 

In England, Scotland and Wales, 41 per cent of men aged between 20-59 do not seek support when they need to because they prefer to solve their own problems. 

The survey also showed that men often don’t want to feel like a burden and don’t feel their problems will be understood. This survey found that some of the main reasons why these men find life tough and struggle with their mental health include: debt or financial worries (36 per cent), relationship breakdown or family problems (30 per cent), loneliness or isolation (29 per cent) and job loss or job-related problems (25 per cent).

Campaign development

Samaritans began developing ‘Real People, Real Stories’ in 2018. 

Building on the research cited above, the charity approached men, who had been through tough times, aged between 20-59 to ask them if they would share their stories. 

These men – brothers, friends, sons and fathers – were open about their struggles and gave Samaritans handwritten words to sum up their story so that they could be included in the campaign to reach other men who may be going through a tough time.

Samaritans has taken these words, and the stories behind them, to create an integrated, multi-channel awareness and behaviour change campaign that draws on this human connection. 

Samaritans also spoke to bereaved families and rail staff to get their feedback and, as the campaign will be seen by the wider public, the campaign was also tested with parents of children aged six to 16 years old.

The feedback was very supportive of the Real People, Real Stories concept. People said that the campaign has “a sense of authenticity” and feels “positive, optimistic and forward-looking”.

Using stories from real people, the campaign’s message is that, when life gets tough, tell others and, if you need further help, Samaritans is there to listen. 

Posters and radio ads

The campaign posters are now on display at sites in and around Great Britain’s rail network.

Members of the public will also see this campaign in and outside the rail environment on other printed and digital posters as well as in the media. 

A key element of this campaign is Samaritans’ new partnership with talkSPORT radio, the world’s biggest sports radio station, to reach more of its intended target audience. 

From March 19 until May 5, Samaritans’ adverts will run on the radio station and there will also be features as part of the Jim White and Gary Bloom shows. These presenters will be joined by sports stars who will candidly share their experiences of getting through tough times and let others know how they came through it. 

Supporting the campaign

After its successful launch at an event in Waterloo station earlier this year, Samaritans is now calling on rail staff to build up momentum and keep the conversations on mental health going. 

You can share the campaign video on samaritans.org/realpeoplerealstories with your colleagues, family and friends.  

You can also support by looking for new opportunities to share the campaign with passengers, such as on digital screens, and by ensuring any existing Samaritans posters from the ‘We listen’ campaign near your place of work are updated. Please email railcompanies@samaritans.org for replacement posters. 

You can also visit Samaritans’ website samaritans.org/realpeoplerealstories to learn more about the men behind the words and view the campaign video. Finally, you can follow the hashtag #RealPeopleRealStories on Twitter and Instagram to see content relating to the campaign and retweet it to your networks. 

Samaritans can be contacted by calling 116 123 for free or visiting samaritans.org.

East Midlands Railway

Transport officials have chosen Abellio to run the next East Midlands franchise. 

Beginning on August 18 under the name ‘East Midlands Railway’, the new operator will invest £600 million in improving stations and trains over the course of eight years. 

The entire intercity fleet of HSTs and Meridians, as well as the entire regional fleet of Sprinters, is set to be replaced, with the first of the new trains entering service by April 2022.  

Almost £17 million will be spent upgrading stations – including £6.9 million for accessibility improvements and the introduction of ticket buying facilities at all stations. 

Plans also include more flexible and convenient smart ticketing, free wifi onboard all services, enhanced delay repay compensation, the creation of four new community rail partnerships and the introduction of 30 ‘pre-apprenticeships’ each year. 

A boost to service frequency will mean that more trains will operate on Sundays and, on weekdays, services will start earlier in the morning and end later in the evening.

A greener railway

Announcing Abellio as the successful bidder, transport secretary Chris Grayling told parliament that the East Midlands Railway “will be at the forefront of the government’s commitment to deliver a cleaner, greener rail network.”

A trial of hydrogen fuel-cell trains on the Midland main line and “zero-carbon pilots” at six stations along the route sit at the heart of these plans. 

While these projects were welcomed by transport body Midlands Connect, it did not see these plans as replacing electrification. 

The Midland main line electrification programme north of Kettering and Corby was cancelled in July 2017, which resultantly led to the East Midlands franchise competition process being restarted.

Midlands Connect chairman Sir John Peace said: “We fully support the move towards a cleaner, greener rail network and we welcome plans to trial hydrogen fuel cell trains on the Midland main line.  

“We will also continue to make the case for the electrification of the [Midland main line] beyond Market Harborough, to support Midlands Connect’s ambition for direct conventional compatible HS2 services between Leicester and Leeds and Nottingham and Leeds, via the East Midlands Hub at Toton.”

Rail Review

Elsewhere, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald was quick to point to the ongoing Rail Review and the potential impact it may have on the existing franchise system. A white paper from chair Keith Williams is not due until autumn and reform will not take place until 2020. 

Andy said: “How can Chris Grayling award Abellio the East Midlands rail franchise when the chair of his rail review has said the current system couldn’t continue, and rail operator Stagecoach has today said it isn’t fit for purpose?”

Grayling acknowledged the review and said that the government will be “guided by the approaches that deliver benefits to passengers and other rail users soonest”, which includes this franchise award.

He also provided updates on the South Eastern and West Coast franchises. With regards to South Eastern, a short-term agreement has been struck with Govia, extending its franchise up until November 10. This includes an option to extend it to April 2020. The West Coast Partnership franchise will be awarded in June.