Guest writer Adam Razzell, head of transport and infrastructure at Advance Resource Managers, reflects on the diversity of talent in the rail industry and questions whether more needs to be done.
With an average staff turnover rate of just three percent (compared with the UK median rate of 13.6 percent), the UK’s rail sector has less experience than most of dealing with skills gaps – but its landscape is changing quickly.
An ideal time for reflection
Due to retirement alone, the industry is expected to lose as many as 50,000 workers by 2033 (from a total of around 240,000), most from operative roles. The futures of a further 15 percent – the workforce’s EU nationals – also remain uncertain because of Brexit.
Then there’s rising demand from passengers (in contrast with falling interest in bus and coach travel) and plans for a new era of high-speed rail infrastructure to create the need for even more staff.
As UK rail looks to steady itself for the future using a range of recruitment and training initiatives, we find ourselves at an ideal point to take stock of its current talent, and the diversity of that talent. Does its recruitment approach need to change drastically for a more secure future, or is it on the right track already?
A general snapshot of rail talent
According to Department for Transport data from December 2019, around 240,000 people work in the UK rail sector – 67.8 percent for rail infrastructure firms and 25.4 percent for train operators, the two biggest categories.
With salaries ranging from £16,000 up to £71,000, the average rail worker earns just over £35,500 per year, although this rises to £39,000 in London and falls just short of £32,000 in Scotland. Average salaries in all other areas of the UK sit between these two figures, meaning all are above the wider national median salary of £30,300.
Given rail’s low staff turnover rate, it’s unsurprising that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of its workers have eight or more years of experience in their roles. Sixteen percent have between four and seven years of experience, and 20 percent have three years or less. And, while this implies that a retirement surge could cause serious issues, the amount of experience currently present in the sector does bode well for the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce (STAT), a body set up in 2016 to address skills gaps and increase diversity across UK transport using apprenticeship programmes.
Gender representation in rail
The rail sector cannot avoid major skills shortage without diversifying its workforce – that’s something that Mike Brown, the recently departed Transport for London Commissioner and STAT chair, implied in STAT’s latest update report.
“A skilled workforce is vital to future economic success,” he said. “Quality training at all levels is fundamental and we need to broaden our talent pipeline if we are to drive productivity and innovation across the transport sector.”
Right now, the data shows a huge imbalance. Of its quarter-million employees (including those working in passenger services, freight operations and the wider supply chain), only 17 per cent are female. That falls to 13 per cent in the commercial rail workforce, and again to 12 per cent in signalling and design – both areas with significantly higher average salaries (£45,800 and £37,900 respectively).
Some companies and regions are more diverse than others. Network Rail – by far the sector’s biggest employer – TFL and Southern Railway hold the most female talent, while London and the South East lead the list of regions. But more needs to be done.
What’s positive is that we are seeing action from some of the sector’s biggest operators. Southeastern and East Midlands Trains, for example, recently introduced anonymous candidate screening and targeted advertising campaigns in attempts to encourage more women to become train drivers. Southeastern is aiming for 40 percent of applicants for driver roles to be women by 2021 (from 4.5 percent in 2019), and East Midlands has already seen the number of female applicants double.
But skills gaps and underrepresentation aren’t challenges that employers can address individually – there needs to be an industry-wide shift. And, as the seemingly inevitable skills gap inches closer, it must happen quickly.
South Western Railway (SWR) has announced new charity partners for the next two years. SWR staff were asked to nominate local charities across the network which they wanted to support, and one was selected in each region.
The announcement follows SWR becoming the first train operator to partner with Missing People UK in late 2021. The national partnership sees SWR staff receiving notification on missing people and supporting reunite loved ones.
As part of the new charity partnerships, Missing People UK has also become an official charity partner of SWR at a network-wide level.
SWR will work with the charities on a local level to provide the best support for them while raising awareness of their respective causes via a range of ways including donations, advertising space, volunteering time, collaborative events, and collections.
Staff chose the following organisations as the operator’s new charity partners:
Missing People UK – works to unite missing people with their loved ones across the UK. SWR has recently signed up to the charity’s Safeguarding Briefing Network, becoming the first train operator to receive live missing person alerts. Those alerts are then sent to SWR’s frontline colleagues who can be on the look-out for these vulnerable people.
Ace of Clubs – a family-like community centre which provides transformative support for homeless, vulnerable, and otherwise marginalised people in the area by linking them to a range of services, including accommodation, rehab, welfare, and many others.
SERV Surrey and London – a network of volunteers who provide an urgent 24-hour blood delivery services at no cost to the NHS.
The Alex Wardle Foundation – set up by Steve Wardle a Rail Community Officer at SWR, in memory of his son Alex who passed away from Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome, the charity aims to support research to further understand SADS and prevent deaths from the condition. SWR already works closely with the foundation and this year hopes to further expand its support.
Baby Necessities Baby Bank – a bank providing new and pre-loved items to families in need to alleviate child poverty and promote the reuse of items.
“I’m proud of the five new charity partnerships we’re announcing today, because they show how our staff truly care for the communities they serve,” said Amy Dickinson, Head of Sustainability at South Western Railway.
“Across our network we are always looking to do more, and through these local partnerships we will support the important work each charity does to help people in these challenging times.”
Future rail engineers are being encouraged to apply for a place on the Arkwright Engineering Scholarship, the application deadline for which has been extended to 21 January.
Now in its 30th year, the Arkwright Engineering Scholarship is one of the most respected schemes of its type in the UK with over 6,000 Scholarships awarded to date. The Scholarships are awarded to hard-working 16-year-old students through a rigorous selection process, supporting them through their A levels, Scottish Highers or equivalent qualifications.
Every Scholarship is sponsored by a commercial company, trade association, university, professional institution, armed service, government organisation, worshipful company, charitable trust or personal donor.
This means that support is offered in various different ways, for example, valuable hands-on work experience, support for your curriculum project and a personal mentor who can help you with aspects of your studies and career planning.
Era Shah is a chartered Civil Engineer at Costain, a UK smart infrastructure solutions company. She was named as one of the Women in Engineering Society’s ‘Top 50 Women in Engineering 2021’ and has worked on some of the biggest rail infrastructure projects in recent years, primarily with Network Rail, HS2 and Crossrail. Era completed an Arkwright Scholarship and is an advocate for the organisation.
“The Arkwright Scholarship is part of the Smallpeice Trust, a children’s education charity, and the idea behind it is to widen the access around engineering and give young people of all backgrounds, and who have an interest in STEM subjects, the ability to understand what engineering is and what it means to be an engineer.
“It’s nationally recognised and really prestigious, but the key is that you are afforded a sponsor who can give you connections. Through your sponsor you can set up further work experience, get funding, and access to engineering courses.
“The scholarship helps you to understand and learn more about the different disciplines. You’re able to get practical experience with real life experts and if you have an interest in any particular discipline you can tell your sponsor and they’ll help to set that up.”
Arkwright Engineering Scholarships are for the ‘brightest and best’ students that have the passion and determination to succeed in their future studies and career. Applicants must have a strong desire to have a future career as a leader within the Engineering Profession.
Applicant must be in the school year in which they will sit their GCSEs, Scottish National 5s, International Baccalaureate Standards, BTEC level 2s or equivalent exams. They must intend to stay at school or sixth form college for two years to study A levels, BTEC level 3 Diploma/Extended Diploma, Scottish Highers / Advanced Highers or the International Baccalaureate higher level.
Unless studying for a BTEC Level 3 in engineering, applicants must make a commitment to study one of the following subjects to A level (England, Wales & Northern Ireland), or Advanced Higher (Scotland): Engineering Science; Maths; Physics; or Computer Science.
If you know a school student who would make an ideal candidate, direct them to the Arkwright website for further information. Candidates have until 4pm on Friday 21 January 2022 to submit their completed applications.
Well-known rail industry consultant Richard Carr has been appointed the Railway Industry Association’s (RIA) Business Engagement Manager for the North of England, supporting the organisation in the roll out of its Nations & Regions network.Richard has extensive experience working in the sector, having worked as Owner and Managing Director of rail equipment manufacturer Mechan, and having provided consultancy services for the University of Huddersfield and several supply chain companies. He was also an active member of the Rail Supply Group SME and Export workstreams and helped establish the Rail Sector Deal SME Collaboration pilot scheme.
Richard Carr, RIA North Business Engagement Manager, said: “It’s really exciting to be joining RIA North at such an important time for the industry. With the Integrated Rail Plan now out, the Transpennine Route Upgrade underway, and preparations to bring HS2 to Manchester beginning, amongst many other projects, there is a huge amount for rail businesses to get involved with. I’m really looking forward to working with RIA, the Executive team of RIA North and businesses and stakeholders across the region, to build a strong rail supply chain across the North.”
RIA Director & RIA North Lead David Clarke said: “Richard’s appointment marks a key moment for the roll out of RIA’s Nations & Regions network. RIA members now have a dedicated professional in Richard who is ready to support them in the region, helping deliver a strong and successful Northern rail supply sector. Congratulations to Richard on his appointment – and welcome to the team!”
Justin Moss, Chair of RIA North, said: “I’m delighted to have Richard join the RIA North team as we begin 2022. We have a really exciting year ahead, building on the work of the Northern Rail Industry Leaders as we strengthen our partnership with RIA and further grow our executive team for rail suppliers in the North. It will mean even more support, events and activity to help your businesses succeed and grow in the North.”
Richard will support RIA members in the North by engaging and influencing key decision-makers in the region, delivering networking and intelligence-sharing events and supporting the delivery of the RIA North Leadership Group’s priorities.
After 7 years at MacRail, 3 of which have been as Managing Director, Tim Westwood has decided to retire in the Spring. Adam Crago has been promoted from Operations Director to Managing Director to succeed Tim. Adam has been with MacRail for 12 years, starting on the front line in the Control Room and progressing through many roles on his way to becoming Managing Director. Adam has now assumed control of MacRail with Tim providing advice, guidance and mentorship for the next few months until he retires.
Adam Crago said, “I am very pleased to have been offered this opportunity and I look forward to working with the MacRail team to continue to grow the business. Hopefully, the knowledge that I have gained during my career with MacRail will be invaluable as Managing Director. I would like to thank Tim for the mentoring and support that he has provided during my career journey”
Steve Featherstone, Chair of MacRail, said, “I would like to thank Tim for his great service to MacRail and wish him well for his retirement. It is great to be Chair of a company that values internal talent management and succession planning the way that MacRail does. Adam’s journey from the frontline to Managing Director is a great example of what is possible when you join a company that cares about its people. I look forward to working with Adam and his team and to helping Adam to be successful in his new role.”
Phil Munnelly, CEO of Munnelly Group, said, “Since purchasing MacRail in 2018, it has been great to see Adam develop in his role, joining the Board of MacRail in 2021 and now assuming the role of Managing Director. I wish him every success in his new role.”
MacRail Systems is an industry leading provider of site access and control room services for the UK rail sector, focused on keeping UK rail worksites and workforces safe. Their specially trained access controllers, 24 hour control centre and our use of technology ensures that our site access and welfare services deliver a service which enables efficient on-site access and support industry standards and safety. Their services have been designed to ensure that their people and technology act as project gatekeepers, protecting your worksites and workforce from the risks and hazards that are presented on UK construction and infrastructure sites. Through having a comprehensive understanding of the industry their people are trained to provide a service that ensures the compliance, quality and safety of your projects. By placing service at the centre of everything we do we can provide you with the confidence and reassurance that your site access and welfare is being expertly managed. For more information visit www.macrail.co.uk
West Midlands Trains (WMT) has announced the appointment of Charlotte Ritchie as the organisation’s head of external communications and engagement.
Charlotte, who started her role earlier this month, replaces the outgoing Francis Thomas, who will shortly retire from his role as head of corporate affairs after nine years with WMT and its predecessor London Midland.
Francis first joined the rail industry in 1983 as a management trainee with British Rail. He spent a decade working in various communications roles as well as a stint ‘on the front line’ as a customer services manager at Birmingham New Street station.
He later worked in senior communications roles at The Boots Company, LEGO and in both local and national Government, before rejoining the railway in 2013 with London Midland.
Francis said: “It has been a privilege to work with so many dedicated and talented people over five decades, in sectors such as transport, healthcare and education that are key to people’s everyday lives.”
Charlotte Ritchie has a background in transport, education, and Chambers of Commerce. She joins WMT from National Express, where she has been head of public affairs since 2015.
Charlotte said: “It is an exciting time to join the rail industry and I am delighted to join the team at West Midlands Trains where so much hard work is going on to build a strong, reliable railway.
“While our primary focus continues to be on managing the impact of the pandemic, we are also looking forward to the introduction of two new train fleets which will make a real difference for passengers across our network.”
Lawrence Bowman, WMT deputy managing director, said: “The pandemic has changed the face of the railway and Charlotte will play a vital role as the industry works together to build a system which works for everybody.
“I would like to thank Francis for his hard work and dedication over the past nine years and wish him an enjoyable retirement.”
Balfour Beatty VINCI (BBV), construction partner of HS2, is launching a major recruitment drive to boost its workforce as it prepares deliver a huge programme of construction works through 2022 and beyond.
With approximately 1,700 staff already working at construction sites and in satellite offices across Solihull, Warwickshire and Birmingham, the company is now looking to welcome more recruits.
2022 will be a significant year for HS2’s construction. Tunnel boring machine ‘Dorothy’ is set to become the first TBM on the HS2 route to breakthrough. And following this achievement, which is expected in the spring, she will return to Long Itchington to bore her second tunnel.
Work is also gathering pace at HS2’s two new station sites – Interchange in Solihull and Curzon Street in Birmingham – where preparatory works are underway to construct the series of viaducts that will bring HS2 trains into the city’s flagship terminus station.
BBV is seeking to fill a number of positions. Jobs for those seeking a site-based role include materials technicians, signallers, general operatives, traffic marshalls, and engineering assistants. Office-based roles include opportunities in the firm’s procurement, transport planning, skills and education and finance teams. In total, BBV expects that it will support around 7,000 jobs to deliver its programme of work on HS2.
“Having already achieved a number of significant milestones in the construction of Britain’s new high-speed railway, there has never been a better, or more exciting time to consider joining Balfour Beatty VINCI,” said Shilpi Akbar, Head of Stakeholders and Communities at BBV.
“As we work to bring HS2 to the region, we have a monumental construction programme ahead of us. With thousands of career opportunities in the pipeline, across a multitude of disciples, we are committed to giving people of all backgrounds the chance to develop and hone new and existing skills, while working to deliver one of Europe’s largest infrastructure projects.”
Rail workers from across the industry have been recognised in the 2022 New Year’s Honours List, published on 31 December.
Among the recipients were Simon Edward French, Chief Inspector of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, who was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Railway Safety.
Barry Macdonald Graham, Senior Rail Adviser at Northern Trains was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to the Rail Industry. Marie Addison, Regional Community and Sustainability Manager, Northern Trains Ltd, also received the MBE for services to the community in Northumberland.
Milla Mazilu, Principal Programme Controls Manager at Network Rail, was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for her vital work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On top of her Network Rail duties, Milla volunteers with the Royal Academy of Engineering on a project called COVID-19 African Rapid Entrepreneurs (CARE). Milla has led projects for the academy and trained other members in using new technologies.
The main aim of the CARE programme is to support African engineering entrepreneurs to make and supply Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which is effectively used in hospitals and clinics in sub-Saharan Africa.
“I am delighted to see Milla receive this recognition, her passion for innovation and improvement extends not only in our work place but within volunteering work across the industry,” said Stuart Calvert, Head of Capital Delivery at Network Rail Wales and Western. “To be able to support Royal Academy of Engineering with CARE shows Milla’s dedication to her profession, her desire to share that passion and the true team spirit that the railway is known for.”
Two other Network Rail employees across the business were recognised in the New Year’s Honours. Akthar Hussain and Vince James were awarded BEMs for various work including crucial volunteer and community work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, boosting diversity in the rail industry, and helping ex-prisoners get the skills and qualifications they need for a career on the railway.
“I would like to congratulate Akthar, Milla and Vince for their inclusion in the New Year’s Honours list,” said Network Rail chief executive, Andrew Haines. “It makes me proud to hear about the incredible, selfless work employees are doing to improve the lives of others in their communities and further afield. As a company we benefit from their outstanding commitment, and it is great to see their dedication acknowledged at the highest level.”
Richard Holliday, who works for TransPennine Express (TPE), was given the BEM for services to mental health in West Yorkshire. He regularly gives up his time to provide life-saving support for Samaritans, and has been a strong advocate in raising awareness about suicide prevention on the railway.
Richard is passionate about creating opportunities for young people and helps lead TPE’s annual apprenticeship programme, where individuals are also given the opportunity to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. Outside of work, between 2013 and 2018, he volunteered with Kirklees Council as an Appropriate Adult supporting 10–17-year-olds in police custody.
He also played an important role in supporting his colleagues through the Covid-19 pandemic, introducing ‘Zoom elevenses’ calls that anyone could dial into. He champions mental health awareness in the workplace and is open about his own experience in this area when providing support to others.
“I’m completely overwhelmed,” said Richard. “I didn’t realise I’d been nominated but am thrilled.
“Samaritans do such important work and I am proud to do what I can for them. Giving back to others is so important and I’m so happy that my contribution has been recognised in this way.”
The rail and rolling stock maintenance specialist, Loram UK, has announced a multi-million-pound deal with Network Rail to repurpose at least 250 side tipper ballast wagons.
The work will involve removing the tipper element of the wagons to create reusable and more versatile non-tipping static containers.
Loram UK and Network Rail have worked together on maintenance and infrastructure programmes before, and Andrew Watson, Loram UK’s International Business Development Director, said the programme would further strengthen that relationship.
“The availability of wagons generally is an issue so to be able to repurpose 250 provides much greater flexibility for Network Rail,” he said. “It’s a project we’re very excited to be involved in and allows us to expand our horizons.
“We are always looking at diversifying and this allows us to not only carry out the work, but manage the logistics regards collecting the wagons, the processes around the repurposing and sending them back to Network Rail.”
The two-year repurposing programme will be carried out in Derby, where Loram has its UK base, and will help secure around 35 jobs for the duration, along with 20 others across the supply chain.
The design of the new ballast boxes, integration and modifications are being carried out by global testing and certification company TUV Rheinland Risktec Solutions, which has a UK base on Pride Park in Derby.
Laura May, Business Development Manager, said: “We are especially excited about this project because of the local, collaborative opportunity it presents working with Loram, who are a stone’s throw away from our offices in Derby.
“We support the mission behind the project of repurposing the wagons and improving the renewal of the infrastructure of our railway. People of all levels of skillset will be utilised in supporting this project from our apprentice to our principle consultant, so there is great opportunity across the board.”
A Network Rail survey has revealed that two-thirds of the British public see the railway as a green mode of transport, however 73% of those surveyed primarily use cars for their journeys.
Despite volatile fuel prices and rail’s significantly lower carbon emissions, Network Rail found that people need further convincing to travel on trains rather than cars. However, using the train for leisure travel is on the rise.
The survey was carried out as part of the industry-wide ‘We Mean Green’ campaign which aims to encourage travellers into making greener travel choices. Two thousand people across the country were surveyed ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, and were asked a wide range of questions about their travel habits.
Of the 2,000 people surveyed, 67% said they would consider using the train instead of a car for a day out with friends or family, and 55% would also consider using the train for travel to a big music or sports event. The rise in leisure travel re-affirms the major impact Covid-19 has had on shifting passenger travel patterns with many still working from home.
“Rail is the greenest form of public transport there is,” said Tim Shoveller, managing director for Network Rail’s North West & Central region. “We want to encourage as many people as possible to make the shift from car to train more regularly, particularly for long-distance travel – not just for the planet, but for reliability, comfort and safety.”
Passenger numbers have increased by 19% in the past two months, helped by incentives such as the introduction of flexible season tickets. Total passenger numbers are now at around 65% of pre-Covid-19 levels, and commuters are steadily returning.
Network Rail has committed to reduce its own operational carbon emissions by 25% by 2024 as part of its pledge to become Net Zero by 2050 in line with government policy. Another commitment is to do more to protect and conserve wildlife habitats on its land.
Arc Infrastructure is on the lookout for skilled engineers to help manage and operate its thousands of kilometres of rail infrastructure.
Operating the only freight rail network in the southern half of Western Australia, Arc Infrastructure vital to businesses in the region and is crucial to connecting the western and eastern states of Australia.
This year, the company has continued major works on a key segment of West Australia’s grain rail network. This comes as part of a seven-year upgrade program that will see $54 million invested in the Midland Railway (MR) line, running from Midland to Geraldton. The MR upgrade program runs from 2020–2027 and this year has seen Stage 2 of the works carried out, resulting in a $17 million investment.
In November, another of Arc Infrastructure’s projects earned them the Freight Rail Excellence Award at the Australasian Rail Industry Awards 2021. The award was won for delivery of the Hampton Intermodal Terminal (Hampton IMT) in just 98 days.
Arc provides a range of health and wellbeing initiatives including fitness challenges and annual skin checks, and employees often take part in volunteering, team sports activities, and team building days to get to know each other better and build strong relationships.
The company currently has opportunities available for track engineers, signal technicians, project supervisors, signaller – network controllers, maintenance planners and more. If you’re open to the opportunity of a lifetime, visit www.arcinfra.com/careers.
Transport for Wales (TfW) has become the first train operator in the UK to offer an accredited NVQ level 3 qualification in train driver operations as part of its apprenticeship.
It hopes to have more than 100 apprentices signed-up by the end of the year and aims to recruit around 100 every year over the next five years.
Adam Bagwell, Operations Training Manager at TfW, said: “I am absolutely proud and delighted we are now able to offer a recognised level 3 qualification and apprenticeship for train drivers for the very first time in Wales.
“This has been a long time coming and the hard work from our training team in partnership with the Rail Delivery Group’s (RDG) train driver academy, Coleg y Cymoedd and the national Trade Union for Train Drivers, ASLEF, has now come to fruition.
“The train driver’s role is a professional, highly skilled job and our drivers deserve the recognition for their hard work through training in the form of this qualification. It shows we are committed to provide the best possible training to our drivers in Wales and the borders.”
The first eight drivers to join the apprenticeship are Kevin Whitlock, Drew Bradley, Robyn Williams, Richard Lee Hext, Joel David Hier, Rhys William, Stephen Edward Jones and Michael Davies.
TfW has invested heavily in its training facilities including new train and platform simulators and all its driver trainers have recently started or completed an NVQ level 3 qualification in learning and development.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, said: “We are thrilled the first ever accredited qualification in train driving, in Wales, is finally in place. It’s a great step forward for training, for train drivers, for the railway, and for Wales.”
Network Rail Wales & Borders is carrying out its biggest ever tree survey to identify and safely remove as many hazardous trees alongside the railway as possible. The task, which began in summer 2020, is expected to take around two years to complete and involves the inspection of almost 1,000 miles of track.
The main concern of Network Rail’s environmental specialists is the presence of ‘ash dieback’: a fungal disease that scientists predict will threaten up to 80% of the species. A Europe-wide problem, the fungus prevents water and nutrients from flowing throughout ash trees and causes the tree to slowly die.
To help prevent the spread of ash dieback, Network Rail tree surgeons will work to remove only the infected ash trees, allowing the genetically resistant ones to flourish and repopulate the species; less competition means more light and space for the healthy trees to grow.
To maintain and increase biodiversity, the teams will leave the trunks of the removed trees to become homes for roosting bats and more than 62 species of lichen; three of which are endangered.
Network Rail is also looking at replanting schemes on their land to establish native species with ‘high-habitat value’ and aim to match the number of trees removed.
“Our top priority is safety, so removing these trees succumbing to ash dieback is crucial in order to protect the line, our passengers and staff,” said Asset Engineer, Mitchell Pether, at Network Rail.
“We also want to minimise disruption for passengers and freight users while maintaining our green corridor, so this isn’t just about cutting down every lineside tree, it’s a targeted and proactive approach that will protect the line and increase biodiversity.”
Natural Resources Wales is in support of the survey being carried out by Network Rail. Andrew Wright, Specialist Advisor at Natural Resources Wales, said:
“Ash Dieback is one of the most significant tree diseases to affect the Welsh landscape, ash trees affected by this disease potentially pose a significant health and safety risk and we understand the measures taken by Network Rail to reduce the risks and welcome any work to recover lost biodiversity.”
Around 1,500 Samaritans volunteers across the nation are expected to answer calls for help on Christmas day, as new data reveals family caller concerns are on the rise.
As the nation prepares to travel to spend time with loved ones this festive season, new figures from Samaritans reveal that caller concerns about family have risen for the fifth year in a row.
So far throughout 2021, family worries have made up 34% of emotional support contacts with the charity across the UK and Republic of Ireland – a 26% increase (7 percentage points) over the past five years. Mental health/illness remains the top overall concern at 46%, with isolation and loneliness ranking third at 28%, and relationship problems at 24%.
Now, the rail industry is supporting the charity with its latest Christmas campaign to ensure volunteers are on-hand to provide emotional support throughout the festive season, which can be a particularly difficult time. This Christmas, Samaritans volunteers will respond to more than 250,000 calls for help.
As part of the rail industry’s suicide prevention programme and Network Rail’s partnership with the charity, rail companies and staff are being encouraged to nominate and celebrate their own Christmas stars – from those who have saved lives on the railway to those who have raised vital funds for the charity this year. Train operators are also encouraged to promote the campaign across social media and station screens over the festive month.
One rail industry worker who can call themselves a Samaritans Christmas Star is Bessie, a heavy haul shunt driver for Freightliner. Bessie was the charity’s top fundraiser for Samarathon in July this year, walking over 106 miles and raising £5,864 to help Samaritans be there for anyone struggling to cope.
“For every person that sponsored me I wrote their name on a piece of rail ballast and put it in a backpack which I carried everywhere with me,” says Bessie. “I had 121 pieces and it weighed over 7lbs. I thought it would be a nice message to show how I’ll always be there to pick them up and carry them, just as Samaritans does.
“In the rail industry, we can also help Samaritans by looking out for passengers and each other. Christmas time can be a very busy and hard time for some people. I always try to be extra vigilant and talk to people that might need help. But I think we should remember to take time for ourselves too. There’s always a pressure to think of others and get everyone the best presents – but we can make a difference in small ways like supporting small businesses or donating to charity.”
Bessie is encouraging rail staff to ‘Be A Samaritans Christmas Star’ this season by making a donation or helping Samaritans volunteers be there for others by fundraising for the charity like her. By donating as little as £5, it will help Samaritans keep its helpline running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Making a difference
“Whilst many look forward to the Christmas period, at Samaritans we know this time of year can actually be a huge challenge for some people,” says Julie Bentley, Samaritans’ CEO. ”Our amazing volunteers will, as they do every hour of every day, be giving their time this Christmas to anyone who needs support. I think that is a pretty special gift to give. I’m so proud of the work Samaritans does, and I know what a huge difference the service makes to people’s lives. So, for anyone who is struggling this Christmas time, Samaritans is here for them, for free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Samaritans has worked in partnership with the rail industry and British Transport Police (BTP) to reduce suicides on the railway for over 10 years. The charity has trained over 23,000 rail and BTP staff to look out for passengers and make conversation if they feel someone might need help.
Louise McNally, Suicide and Trespass Prevention Lead at Network Rail says “With Christmas just around the corner, it’s more important than ever that we continue to look out for each other and ourselves. For anyone going through a tough time, Samaritans and its team of volunteers are on-hand to provide round the clock support through the festive season and beyond.”
Anyone can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone (even a mobile without credit) on 116 123. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. You can also email [email protected] or visit www.samaritans.org
The news cycle never stops and it’s safe to say that a lot has happened since the last edition of RailStaff – much of it with implications for the Rail Industry.
October had not yet come to a close when news arrived of the collision in Salisbury which sadly left 15 passengers hurt and a driver with life-changing injuries. To date the RAIB’s investigation has revealed that wheel slide was likely to blame. Colin Wheeler discusses this further in his regular safety review.
In mid-November the Government released its Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) to mixed reviews. The plan outlines how major rail projects will be delivered in the near future and is an effort to accelerate improvements to the network by up to 10 years.
However, the scrapping of the Leeds leg of HS2 has not been well received and industry figures are concerned about the plan’s impact on the benefits of the high-speed project. George Chilcott comments further in his Young Rail Professionals update.
Many in the North of England felt betrayed by the plan. The Board of Transport for the North has expressed its disappointment and said the plans, as proposed, breach the commitments previously made on Northern Powerhouse Rail. The Government has promised that the upgrade of existing infrastructure will ‘level’ up Northern towns and cities more quickly than HS2. Either way, we won’t see the results for quite some time.
More recently, December has not been a good month for news about Covid-19. At the time of writing, Boris Johnson remains in office but his reluctance to swiftly condemn stories of a party at No 10 has impacted the Government’s authority to impose further Covid restrictions.
In the face of Omicron, this could be bad news indeed. One can only hope that everyone sticks to the use of face masks and gets vaccinated, and that the health of rail staff on the frontlines is not compromised.
That said, the threat of further lockdowns is also a concern. The financial health of the industry and those who work within it was severely affected by the economic squeeze that resulted last time around. Those impacted may find support from the Railway Benefit Fund (RBF) and I spoke to a member of their team to discuss the challenges this year brought.
But it’s Christmas, and we’re on the brink of a new year. Can we find some light in these stories?
We can take some comfort from the fact that more people were not injured in the Salisbury collision – due in part to what South Western Railway describes as the “impeccable” and “valiant” actions of the injured driver who put his passengers first. The £96 billion investment promised by the IRP will go a long way to improving our ageing rail network and, if the Government is committed to levelling up, the updates to Northern infrastructure could well bring benefits and create jobs.
The reaction to violations of Covid rules at the governmental level, displays to us the importance with which the public has treated these measures so far and the sense of fairness that runs throughout the country.
Finally, the selfless actions of those who work for and support charities such as the RBF and Samaritans shows us the humanity that is often missed by the news reports.
RailStaff wishes you all a very happy and relaxing holiday. To those who will be working, stay safe.
Stephen Chaytow of the Manchester and East Midlands Rail Action Partnership (MEMRAP) discusses the group’s campaign to restore and upgrade ‘the peaks and dales railway’.
The former ‘Peak Line’ was closed in 1968 by Barbara Castle, having delivered East Midlands to North-West connectivity for 101 years. Though not a Beeching closure recommendation, that infamous report set the scene for rails’ rapid decline in the 1960s. With motorways and cars in their ascendency, the sun seemed to be setting on rail as a 19th century technology. Yet, after closure, nothing replaced the Peak Line’s direct connectivity. As a result, today’s road and rail journeys are far slower than the best non-stop time of 75 minutes by train between Derby and Manchester available 60 years ago.
Post closure, 13 miles of track was lifted and ownership gradually changed, with eight miles transferred to the Peak Park Joint Planning Board for £1 in the early 1980s. With an undertaking that the alignment would be protected for rail’s return, the curtain was raised on Monsal Trail aspirations. However, even the last feasibility study (Scott Wilson, 2004) did not prioritise trail reprovisioning as, with its tunnels still closed, a strenuous climb over and around ‘gaps’ along the route limited usage.
Monsal Trail success
The re-opening of those tunnels in 2011, funded by the Department for Transport (DfT), was therefore a significant milestone, and visitor numbers increased along this newly-level trail despite poor visitor accessibility to all but road users. As the Monsal Trail became a successful multi-user affair, especially in peak tourist season, official commitment to rail reinstatement faded, despite that 30-year-old undertaking. Indeed, claimed pre-Covid levels of 300,000 annual users have risen further through the pandemic’s staycation effect.
Re-provisioning the trail is therefore an important aspect of this reinstatement, an opportunity to create a unique, integrated and more sustainable ‘rail plus trail’ experience. Fortunately, the campaign believes it can now deliver a suitable replacement trail to complement the rebranded ‘Peaks and Dales Line’. Socio-economic case
The decades after closure saw various re-opening attempts, culminating in Derbyshire County Council’s support for the Scott Wilson study. However, restricted scoping and overly cautious projections led to Derbyshire and the East Midlands losing out, as success of the seemingly-less-likely Borders Rail project showed. Study assumptions and projections were flawed, and the report ignored any effects from not bringing back the line.
Campaign research revealed a silent, continuing economic slide as anticipation evaporated, evidenced by Office of National Statistics data from 2002 onwards. Relative economic decline in central Derbyshire is highlighted by two district councils now sitting close to the bottom of Gross Value Added tables − the ONS productivity measure for comparing all 382 UK districts. Central Derbyshire’s unimproved fixed-link infrastructure is a significant contributor and, with residents dependent on cars, the area’s appeal diminished for access and inward investment.
Angst about the trail has concealed a pressing socio-economic case, rated ‘strong’ by the DfT in 2020. For example, the Peaks and Dales’ catchment between Leicester, Derby, and Manchester supports seven million people − nine million when benefits for Sheffield and Hope Valley are realised through reopening. Network Rail rated this the leading freight prospect in round three of Restoring Your Railway. Chief among freight beneficiaries would be three quarry operators in the Peak Forest and Buxton area, moving 12 million tonnes of aggregates by rail annually, with scope for further modal shift off inadequate and busy Derbyshire roads. Reinstatement also brings the opportunity to realise Peak Rail’s 40-year vision, with heritage services connecting Matlock and Buxton.
Of course, the greatest post-Covid opportunity for this reinstatement is from an expanding domestic leisure sector. Ninety percent of pre-Covid National Park visitor volumes (13.25 million annually) arrived by car, which the chair of the Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA) has called “unsustainable”. However, with the PDNPA’s website stating that 20 million live within one hour’s drive, further growth could be accommodated by rail’s return, without additional road congestion. MEMRAP’s recent carbon study, partnered with University of Nottingham, highlighted rail’s sustainability, suggesting that with modal shift of 48%, road-based visitor traffic to the Peak District National Park (PDNP) could be halved.
In this context, in June 2020 a now unsupportive Derbyshire County Council (DCC) and PDNPA wrote to the campaign’s promoter, Peaks and Dales Railway Ltd, seeking consideration of both economic and environmental implications. This request helped to shape campaigning plans, striving to be respectful of reinstatement requirements for this former alignment, through a National Park.
The proposed reinstatement aligns well with the popular Restoring Your Railway aim of reconnecting communities left isolated by Beeching. There is potential for transforming the area’s appeal through enhanced connectivity for Central Derbyshire and its 150,000 population (38,000 in the National Park itself). Matlock and Bakewell would be within commuting reach of Manchester to access jobs, education, and leisure. In the other direction, Buxton residents could again access Derby and Nottingham.
Underpinned by further analysis of that 2004 study, with its flawed projections and economic case, the campaign has built on the socio-economic benefits of reinstatement, already rated “strong” by the Restoring Your Railway assessment panel chaired by Minister of State for Transport, Chris Heaton-Harris. In a subsequent detailed communication with DCC and PDNPA, the economic case was fully set out and the campaign now believes that its evidence shows such a compelling socio-economic case as to leave reinstatement sceptics with no remaining rational basis for complaint, in relation to socio-economic considerations.
Monsal Trail re-provisioning
The campaign then refocused to develop its environmentally-led perspective, appropriate for rail reinstatement through a National Park, helped by three important collaborations, one with the Buxton Town Team (BTT) and two with the University of Nottingham.
The campaign’s BTT associates surveyed an equivalent and possibly more appealing replacement route for the Monsal Trail. One of the disadvantages of the current route is that it starts and finishes in the middle of nowhere, connecting little of note in between.
The reprovisioned route brings desired enhancement, intersecting all proposed stations and connecting settlements en route. One example benefits schoolchildren in Ashford, who gain a traffic-free cycle route to school in Bakewell. Discussions about these proposals have commenced with the PDNPA.
Biodiversity net gain
To help reverse a long-term trend of biodiversity loss, parliament aims to legislate for future development to progress together with related biodiversity net gain. To evaluate this for the Peaks and Dales Line, the campaign collaborated with the University of Nottingham. This Masters-level project firstly assessed the status of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) along the route, and then explored ways of improving these by creating a Nature Recovery Network, augmenting further the integrated ‘rail plus trail’ approach.
This project − which helped earn the post-graduate a distinction for her Masters − showed that the reinstatement could both create a ‘protected reserve’ along the rail corridor, and be significantly extended through reprovisioning the Monsal Trail, thus upgrading Wye Valley biodiversity, in alignment with the PDNPA’s own biodiversity action plan.
Government statute obliges the UK to attain net zero emissions by 2050, so the campaign scoped a further collaborative project with the University of Nottingham. Working at PhD level, the project considered the modal shift and carbon reduction implications for the National Park and created a model to assess the extent to which net zero might be reached for the PDNP through reinstatement.
To reflect reality on the ground, the PDNPA area was increased to include the Peak Forest quarries and the market town of Buxton. Results have been most promising. The model shows that, with an achievable modal shift covering visitor traffic and freight, the government’s net zero target can be achieved within the required timescales. The associated congestion reduction across PDNP roads would be an additional and, for residents in particular, welcome bonus.
Restoring Your Railway – round three
The campaign’s innovative bid to the DfT in March 2021 proposed combining reinstatement of the Peaks and Dales Line with the operation of the Hope Valley Line to create, in effect, an integrated, four-track, east-west crossing of the South Pennines, mirroring original Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals for the North Pennines. This would allow segregation of current, often conflicted, mixed traffic flows, with southbound aggregates traffic rerouted via the Peaks and Dales Line, freeing up the Dore South curve and Hope Valley Line.
In addition to improving sustainable access to the PDNP, the proposal would enable new, direct, fast services from Leicester and Derby, flighted behind upgraded fast Sheffield services via the Hope Valley, towards Manchester.
However, the Peaks and Dales Line was not among the winners of £50,000 funding from the DfT/RYR Ideas Fund. While disappointing, the process was highly competitive and 75 other bids were also not successful. Despite this, the acceleration of both proposal and case development has been hugely beneficial and the campaign continues to go from strength to strength, supported by nearly 20,000 signatories to the associated petition to reopen the line, and an encouraging clutch of MPs, councillors, local authorities, and key stakeholders.
The campaign team continues to engage with key stakeholders, aiming to secure the funding to develop the Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) as the next step. To be included by Network Rail in its pipeline of development projects, the Peaks and Dale Line SOBC must be acceptable to the DfT, Network Rail, and Great British Railways as it mobilises. These will be the first steps towards returning this significant and strategic rail link, connecting the East Midlands and North-West.
Colin Wheeler looks at the latest rail safety incidents including November’s collision at Salisbury, the dangers of abandoned half trollies, and the derailment of a freight train at Sheffield station People skills, knowledge, motivation.
The use of railway engineering and operational judgement. These are the qualities I believe are needed to make the services and safety of our future railways − the Great British Railways – the best in the world. Recent reports of accidents, incidents, and near misses indicate the size of the task, but it will be worthwhile.
Unfortunately, while we await an announcement about the appointment of Simon French’s successor as Chief Inspector for the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), the organisation’s workload has been substantially increased by recent events.
Salisbury passenger trains collide
On 3 November, Anna Witherington, on behalf of the RAIB gave an update on the causes of the collision between two in-service passenger trains that occurred on 31 October. At around 18:45 that evening, the 17:20 South Western passenger train from London Waterloo to Honiton collided with the side of the 17:08 Great Western passenger service from Portsmouth Harbour to Bristol Temple Meads at Salisbury Tunnel Junction. The junction is near Salisbury in the immediate approach to Fisherton Tunnel. The South Western train was using the junction to join the Down Main from the Down Dean line as the Great Western train approached the junction from the Basingstoke direction.
Low wheel/rail adhesion
The collision impact caused the front two coaches of the South Western train and the rear two coaches of the Great Western train to derail. Both trains continued for some distance into Fisherton Tunnel. The RAIB’s preliminary investigation established that the South Western train driver had braked on the approach to signal SY 31 and, 12 seconds later, made an emergency brake application. A second emergency brake was applied by the Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) but the train still passed the signal and reached the junction where the collision occurred.
The On Train Data Recorder analysis showed that wheel slide occurred “almost certainly as a result of low adhesion between train wheels and the rails.” Doubtless we will learn more when the RAIB has completed its investigation.
Injuries at Grosmont
On 21 September there was a 10mph collision on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway at Grosmont Station. It happened around 10:32 when a Class 20 diesel locomotive ran into the back of a passenger train. Five passengers suffered minor injuries and there was some damage to the train. Following a preliminary examination, the RAIB has decided that they will publish a Safety Digest.
Another UWC incident
On 18 September − soon after I reported on the mid-August incident at Kisby on 19 August − there was a near miss on Forestry User Worked Crossing (UWC) between Thetford and Brandon in rural Norfolk. This occurred in the early morning at about 06:05 when two cars were involved in a near miss with a passenger train. Again, following their preliminary examination the RAIB has decided to issue a Safety Digest. Local press reports have suggested that the level crossing itself may have been faulty.
Passenger train crashes into bufferstop
This accident at Enfield Town station involved 75 passengers though fortunately only two required treatment for minor injuries. It occurred at 08:21 on the morning of 12 October when a passenger train ran into the platform two buffer stop and ended up in a raised position, balanced on top of the buffer stop, which was also detached by the impact. On 25 October the RAIB announced that its investigation will “seek to identify the sequence of events leading to the collision,” as well as the “facts influencing the driver’s actions, the training, supervision and management of drivers by Arriva Rail London, design and configuration of the buffer stops, and the assessment and risk control of terminal platform overruns at Enfield Town Station”.
Half trolley struck at speed
At 06:10 on 21 October, a Great Western train struck a half link trolley at Challow, between Didcot and Swindon, at a speed of around 100mph. Thankfully there were no injuries, but the train was damaged and ended up with the trolley wedged beneath it. One hundred and thirty-five passengers were stranded, and the Down Main line was closed for three and a half hours. Network Rail’s Safety Advice comments that “the trolley had been left behind after the work”.
The Controller of Site Safety (COSS) had signed out with the Engineering Supervisor by telephone and the worksite was then handed back by the Person in Charge of Possession (PICOP) as “Safe for the passage of trains”. The website item adds that “this was the second occasion in recent weeks that a trolley has been left behind after work and then missed by the “clear of line verification arrangements”. Once upon a time the PICOPs actually walked through to check for themselves!
Derailment of freight traincarrying cement powder
The RAIB report on this accident that occurred on 11 November 2020 was published on 5 October this year. The RAIB’s 50-page report is titled “07/2021 Freight Train Derailment at Sheffield Station”. Its contents are both relevant and significant in railway operating, and the responsibilities and competencies needed for track engineering inspections, maintenance and renewals. It is recommended reading for those designing the future track inspection and maintenance organisation of Great British Railways.
This incident saw 16 of the freight train’s 34 wagons derailed at the north end of Sheffield Station. The train was travelling from Hope in Derbyshire to Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. The wagons were loaded with cement powder carried in PCA tank wagons, hauled by a Class 66 locomotive. PCA cement tank wagons have two axles, a wheelbase of 4.88 metres, and weigh 13 tonnes when empty and 51 tonnes when loaded.
The train had been “coasting” through the station at just 12mph when the derailment happened. A number of the wagons were damaged and there was also significant damage to the track. This resulted in the partial closure of the station.
The leading right-hand wheel of the 12th wagon had dropped between the two running rails which were too far apart due to gauge widening. The train was stopped when the signaller saw a number of equipment failures on a display screen and alerted the driver.
Track screws broken
The report says that a number of track screws had broken “several weeks or perhaps months before the derailment.” These had not been identified by Network Rail’s maintenance and inspection activities, despite being a “location with a potentially high risk of derailment”. The RAIB found that “Network Rail’s guidance for identifying such risk had not been applied”.
The report clearly states that the train driver did not contribute to the derailment. The track maintenance engineer (TME) had worked on the railway for 12 years, six of them as assistant TME at Sheffield and was appointed as acting TME just five months before the derailment. The Sheffield Infrastructure Maintenance Engineer (IME) had 29-years’ experience with six of these as TME at Sheffield. His appointment as acting IME was also made just five months before the derailment.
The derailment occurred between the crossing and switch rail of 4062 points. The left-hand wheel then climbed over the left-hand rail because the outer face of the right-hand rail was constrained as the gauge tightened approaching the switch toes of 4062 points. When the derailed wagon 12 reached the points of 4068A it did not follow the diverging right-hand route but attempted the straight route into the shunt neck siding, causing it to fall onto its side and wagon 11 etc to derail.
There were no injuries, but the north end of the station remained partially closed for five days. There was damage to both wheels and couplings on wagon 11 and wagons 13 to 26. Wagon 12’s suspension was severely damaged and largely detached. Its tank was ruptured, resulting in cement powder being spilt onto the tracks.
Causes of the derailment
The RAIB found that the derailment occurred due to: (i) multiple track screws securing the rail baseplates to the bearers had failed prior to the derailment; (ii) failed track screws had not been identified by the inspection regime; (iii) there was no additional mitigation at 4062 points as they had not been identified as a high-risk location; and (iv) the design of 4062 points did not include a check rail on the sub-200 metre radius curve between the crossing and switch heel.
Visual inspections, shuffle and gauge widening
The RAIB found that in the weeks before the derailment all “Basic Visual Inspections” had been carried out weekly and in daylight hours by track patrollers and defects had been identified, although on the last four record sheets no defects had been recorded. The record for 7 October noted “baseplate shuffle at the heel of 4062 points” and a review of earlier records found a note of shuffle back on 5 June 2019.
he requirement is for three-monthly supervisor’s inspections and two-yearly engineer’s inspections. During their investigation RAIB inspectors were told that there were “long standing issues with gaining access to some of the lines at Sheffield Station to perform routine inspections and maintenance.” In September 2020 the gauge at the point of derailment was 13mm wider than that measured a year earlier.
A probable factor
The RAIB found that there had been no dynamic measurement of track geometry for 15 months and states that this was “a probable factor” in the derailment. Network Rail uses a single multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) to measure dynamic geometry and was scheduled to do so at Sheffield every three months. However, no recording runs had been made since November 2019. They also found that of the 19 three-monthly runs only five delivered data on the Down Through line. The RAIB report also observes that “the format of dynamic geometry data output from the MPV track recording vehicle makes it difficult for it to be analysed by maintenance staff”.
The RAIB recommendations relate to: (i) improved management of derailment risk at high-risk locations; (ii) improved implementation of safety critical track maintenance activities; (iii) alignment of standards and practice for the use of check rails; and (iv) improving the ability of track maintenance staff to detect changes in track geometry. In the preface to the reports published by the RAIB they state that “it is inappropriate that RAIB reports should be used to assign fault or blame or determine liability since neither the investigation nor the process has been undertaken for that purpose”.
However, Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road, (and, in the longer term, those who will design the management organisation for Great British Railways) would do well to review their plans having studied this report by the RAIB.
The questions I am left with after studying it include:
Is it good practice to fill vacancies by stepping up a number of safety responsible engineers and inspection staff rather than promoting them to other areas to widen their experience and bring a fresh pair of eyes to bear?
Do local inspection staff have the delegated power and authority to close the railway when they have track safety concerns and if not, why not?
Where maintenance or renewal work has to be deferred or delayed, and track conditions deteriorate, do the local TME and IME have the authority to apply speed or axle weight restrictions or close the railway for safety’s sake and without retribution?
Surely, if the standard requires inspections and dynamic measurement runs every three months, missing more than one should result in line closure?
You may gather that I consider this report to be as far reaching as any I have read. The lessons from it should be remembered when the organisation of Great British Railways is being developed. Perhaps the most important attributes for a safer railway are the commitment and team spirit aimed at always doing the best for the railway.
Whatever the organisation is, there will inevitably be potential conflict between commercial, operating and infrastructure engineering people. But, at the end of the day, local infrastructure engineering staff backed by their professional engineers must take responsibility for the safety of the line and be prepared to stop traffic when running trains becomes unsafe.
The progress of the light rail safety and standards board (LRSSB) is under scrutiny and its organisation, membership, and objectives have been questioned.
The term Light Rail dates back to 1896. It was coined when legislation was passed by Parliament allowing local agreement to the construction and operation of rail-guided transport using lighter equipment, and operating at lower speeds than heavy rail. Tramways have a more specific definition being rail-guided but operating using a significant element of street running.
The existing Birmingham-based Light Rail Safety and Standards Board (LRSSB) was set up in 2018 following publication of the (RAIB) Rail Accident Investigation Board’s report of the Sandilands Croydon Tram accident in 2016 (Report number 18/2017). Its founding was triggered by a recommendation made in that report, but there was some delay before funding was secured.
The recommendation called for “the development of a new body to enable more effective UK wide cooperation on matters relating to safety and the development of common standards and good practice guidance.” The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) adds that it must now question the degree of progress on this and the other recommendations. It has been suggested that the name of the organisation, membership, and objectives should be updated.
There is an obvious comparison to be drawn with the Rail Safety and Standards Board which has earned the respect of the heavy rail industry, but the diverse nature and number of light rail developments over the years makes the work of LRSSB more difficult.
A light touch review
Responding to an invitation from the directors of LRSSB, the ORR launched a review of its operations as a part of its role as the “statutory regulator and enforcing authority for railways and tramways” and the “custodian of recommendation 1 from the RAIB report”. The review is intended to “consider what has been delivered by the LRSSB, the impact of funding on their work and whether in its current form it enables LRSSB to grow and fully commit to the terms of reference.”
On 18 October, ORR published the “Terms of Reference” for its review. ORR has said it will conduct a “light touch review” aimed at assessing the delivery of the RAIB recommendations. It has also said that “a comprehensive review could be conducted once the LRSSB has matured, and its funding has long term security”.
One recommendation refers to the “use of technology such as automatic braking and systems to monitor driver awareness”. The second called for “a systematic review of operational risks and control measures associated with the design, maintenance and operation of tramways”. The third recommended “suitable measures to automatically reduce tram speeds if trams approach higher risk locations at speeds which could result in derailment or overturning”.
Recommendation four calls for research into systems capable of “reliably detecting driver attention state and initiating appropriate automatic responses if a low level of alertness is identified”. Number five mandates that “owners, operators and infrastructure managers should review signage, lighting and other visual information available and required by drivers on the approach to high-risk locations such as tight curves.” The sixth calls for “a review of research to identify ways of improving the passenger containment provided by tram windows and doors”.
A combined organisation?
The adequacy of funding is under review. It would also be good to see more information about the development of a “Tram Accident and Incident Reporting Database” for sharing information, and how it may best assist RIDDOR reporting of accidents and the reporting of incidents as well as the implementation of appropriate research.
The parallels with the work of LRSSB’s big brother RSSB need to be taken into account as does the restricted membership of the Light Rail Group. Maybe Light Rail should be an integral part of RSSB with its own identity? This could benefit them both and clear the way for a combined organisation.
With world leaders having just met at COP26, we would hope no-one would argue with the statement that climate change is high on everyone’s agenda. However, there will always be different views about how sustainability improvements should be delivered. RSSB is prepared for this, with in-house expertise on sustainability topics, ready to serve members and help them with their own sustainability challenges.
RSSB is leading the development of the first industry-wide approach to sustainability, by collaborating with the rail industry and Government. Directly supporting the delivery of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, the Sustainable Rail Strategy, co-created by industry sustainability experts led by RSSB, will set out options and choices to inform development of Great British Railways’ Whole Industry Strategic Plan (WISP).
The Sustainable Rail Strategy will provide clear goals for the rail industry, converting what the Government has set out in policy and what society expects a major industry like ours to be doing in this space. However, a strategy and goals are useless without driving action on the ground. It’s crucial that we identify what needs to be done, what we prioritise, and how much funding is needed. Driving further improvements in areas such as decarbonisation, air quality, biodiversity, and social sustainability, both efficiently and safely.
The industry is already working towards this by introducing new technology, increasing resilience to climate change, and considering the wider social benefits of connecting national and local communities. But more work is needed to ensure we are able to maintain our position ahead of other modes.
As well as investment in the right assets, we need colleagues running the railway to be better informed so they can do the right thing. That’s why our work going forward to support our members will be less about the ‘what’ and more about the ‘how’. How should procurement teams make better decisions when it comes to goods and services to deliver a more sustainable railway? Similarly, colleagues in finance teams will need to understand how they can build investment business cases that account not just for the financial, but the environmental and social capitals using the Accounting for Sustainability approach.
2050 may seem a long way away, but when you consider the work that needs to be done, it’s not. That’s why RSSB is taking rail sustainability so seriously. Focusing our expertise and resources to support the rail industry, as it moves at pace to better understand the barriers to improving environmental and social sustainability, and to develop safe, efficient, and innovative solutions. And our members are just as committed.
This autumn, RSSB launched a detailed air quality monitoring programme at railway sites across the network and will be shortly releasing a tool developed to help our members measure the social value of their operations. Our work on the Sustainable Rail Strategy continues.
RailStaff spoke to Railway Benefit Fund’s Ryan Morgan to discuss the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and the pressures of the festive season.
Around one in every ten working people struggles financially and 15% of households are currently under financial stress. If these numbers sound bad enough, remember they’ve been kept in check by low interest rates which have now begun to rise. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit rail workers hard and, with Christmas racing towards us, greater numbers will feel the pinch. Thankfully, the Railway Benefit Fund (RBF) is committed to supporting current, retired, and former railway employees in financial distress.
Formed in 1858, the charity offers practical help and wide-ranging advice, as well as financial grants to help those facing hardship. Their grants are non-repayable and can help towards a range of everyday expenses including rent, mortgage arrears, energy bills, and more. The RBF adopts a holistic system of support and all applicants are offered a check of their benefit entitlements and government support, along with referrals and signposting to other services that can help. Some of these services are funded through the RBF and others are provided externally.
In the past two years, RBF has been busier than ever and that situation that looks set to continue for some time. RBF’S Services Manager, Ryan Morgan, has been with the organisation since 2019. He responds to requests for help and advice and handles applications for financial support. “We receive on average around 10 phone calls every day that can cover any issue whatsoever,” he says. “The only thing we don’t help with are non-priority debts like credit cards and care home costs, but for anything else we’ll talk callers through their options and provide whatever support we can.”
Out of the blue
When Covid-19 came crashing into our lives, the national lockdown decimated jobs and made many people prisoners in their own homes. Whether you lived alone or with others, the experience was extreme and, while it once looked like the end was in sight, the uncertainty of the Omicron variant means further lockdowns can’t be ruled out.
Throughout the pandemic, RBF has supported rail staff who struggled with their finances and well-being. While the Covid outbreak has tested the whole nation, rail workers had a particularly rough ride, often placing their health at risk in public-facing roles, all while working reduced hours. “Staff in the rail industry have felt the impact of Covid-19 hard,” says Ryan. “The majority weren’t furloughed, but they did lose a lot of their overtime income.”
The charity saw a huge increase in demand for its services as the Covid outbreak gained steam. It saw a 60% increase in requests for financial assistance and Ryan’s team dealt with an unprecedented volume of cases. As railway workers struggled to cover the basic costs of living, entire households faced extremely difficult financial situations, and this was further aggravated by the demands that home-schooling placed on families. Again, RBF stepped up to offer its support.
“Back in January and February 2021 we had a limited time fund,” Ryan says. “It was aimed at families who were having to provide home-schooling but didn’t have the means to purchase the equipment this required. We provided funds specifically for items such as laptops, tablets and printers so that children would have the correct equipment and could continue their education.”
The effects of lockdown weren’t entirely financial. During the pandemic, cases of domestic abuse have soared. People who already lived with physical or emotional violence were virtually locked-in with their abusers and the pressure cooker of life under lockdown saw countless new cases arise. The RBF did what it could to help people at risk escape their circumstances.
“We’ve helped quite a lot of domestic abuse survivors get themselves out of their situations and back on their feet,” says Ryan. “We’ve provided funds for a first month of rent, household bills, and even transport. In one case, the funds we provided went towards a vehicle. The individual was unable to use public transport for safety reasons and used part of the grant we provided to buy a car so she could continue working.”
As the pandemic rumbles on its impacts are still felt by rail industry staff. “The requests for support we’re receiving are still largely Covid-related,” says Ryan. “With railway workers on reduced shifts or not getting their Sunday hours, many are struggling to pay their rent or their mortgage. Some people still aren’t quite sure how they’re going to make it to the end of the month for food.”
Ryan also believes it will take some time for the situation to stabilise. For many in the industry, financial problems that were manageable during the early days of the pandemic have deteriorated over time and are now becoming overwhelming.
“I think we are really beginning to see the effects now,” he says. “For example, I’ve recently been working with someone who fell behind on their mortgage at the start of Covid. That has now progressed to the point where they are at risk of losing their house. We’re able to help by providing our maximum grant, which will hopefully be enough for them to avoid eviction. While the Covid situation is easing elsewhere, the effects of lockdown are still being carried over for a lot of our beneficiaries.”
The festive season
While we continue to deal with Covid, we’re also hurtling toward the Christmas season which, while giving most of us a chance to relax and gather with loved ones, also presents financial challenges. The expense of the season can tip those on the brink of problem debt over the edge as they try to provide a Christmas to remember. The period is always especially busy for RBF which rolls out season-specific initiatives to help alleviate the financial burden.
“We’re always busy during the Christmas period,” Ryan says. “We regularly see people who are not able to cover food costs and we provide emergency funds, specifically targeting beneficiaries through the Children’s Fund. Our usual grant scheme is always open, year-round, with a particular focus on debt. Many people get into debt around Christmas and, as well as providing grants, we also help to try to avoid that. We have a referral scheme with Manchester’s Citizen Advice who can provide benefit checks and budgeting advice. We also have a budgeting calculator on our website, which we would encourage all people to use, so they understand what they can and can’t afford this Christmas.”
“Anyone who has received help from us this year, and who has children at home, is also eligible for a £40 Argos gift voucher. We send these out at the end of the year, just before Christmas. This isn’t a crisis-led grant, it’s for beneficiaries who’ve come to us during the year so we can help provide their children with a nice Christmas. These vouchers will be provided for around 200 children this year and that’s because most of the requests we’ve seen for help during Covid have been child centred. Families with small children have really been affected.”
Get in touch
If you are facing financial distress, or any life event made more difficult by your finances, RBF can help. Their monetary grants and access to expert advice can help you overcome tough situations which may impact your financial, family, mental and physical well-being. The team can be contacted by phone or email and online at www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk/contact-us.
Conversely, if you’d like to help make a difference to people’s lives, then contact the team. RBF would not be able to support their beneficiaries in the railway industry without the aid of generous donors and fundraisers. There are many ways in which you can assist and help raise valuable funds. To find out how you can help, visit www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk/how-you-can-help.
This Christmas, RBF are aiming to raise £40,000, which will allow them to support 130 more families with their Children’s Fund. Donate to support their Christmas Children’s Appeal at: www.justgiving.com/campaign/rbfchristmas.
Cost and reliability are key to attracting passengers and encouraging modal shift as the domestic and international travel markets recover − a challenge we are ready to take on.
In the last edition of RailStaff I continued a series of editorials which voice the views of my peers − young professionals in rail, the future leaders of our industry. It followed an article looking at the changes to working habits caused by the pandemic with a review of the ‘people and culture’ elements of the emerging Great British Railways.
It is clear that international travel is not helping to end the global Coronavirus pandemic, especially when virulent and highly transmissible variants emerge. Constantly changing travel rules have made the majority of holidaymakers think twice about going abroad and the international travel market is struggling to adapt.
As we well know, domestic public transport has also suffered from a suppression in demand, although the recent 70% pre-Covid passenger numbers suggest that people are returning to their old commuting habits and leisure passengers are taking advantage of cheap advance fares to get around and beat the interminable traffic jams. The international travel market will recover similarly, it is just a matter of time.
The truth is that it is not just the pandemic which threatens the decline of international and domestic air travel. The current over-reliance on cheap air travel provides the rail industry with a huge opportunity for market growth both domestically and internationally; sustainable growth which could go a long way to meeting the UK’s carbon agenda. The public is more self-aware than ever and more conscious of the decisions they take and the impact that we all have on the environment.
I’ve discussed this opportunity with fellow young rail professionals and considered how domestic public transport, especially rail, is different to air. Where most international travel provides for the leisure market, rail provides an essential social and economic service which can be efficiently complemented by off-peak leisure journeys. Where international air travel uses unsustainable technology, rail provides a low-carbon method of carriage − ranging from fully renewable-sourced electric journeys to diesel powered freight which utilises efficiency of scale. Where international air travel requires users to drive for miles to reach international hubs, rail can provide end-to-end connections using the extensive existing networks to supplement the international routes.
The national rail network was never designed for long-distance travel. It was designed piecemeal to connect the biggest economic hubs as they developed, and the rest of the network sprawled out of the nodes and mainlines. Investing in the infrastructure to support international rail travel, with new high-speed links between long-distance destinations and services which carry passengers from all over the UK to Europe and beyond will release capacity on the existing UK network.
That capacity can bring benefits such as better service performance, more freight and more frequent passenger services. This is why we are so frustrated and disappointed with the Government’s recent decision to chop off the Eastern Leg of HS2. Why, when there is so much market potential and such a desperate global need to transform the long-distance and international transport offering, are we cancelling a third of the only new railway line being built in Britain?
HS1 is a good example of the sort of forward-thinking we desperately need on HS2. HS1 was built with no prior market for international rail travel; is a railway which bypasses the existing local network (creating the aforementioned capacity benefits); and is a railway which has a much higher performance record for which domestic and international passengers are prepared to pay a premium. Post-pandemic, HS1 will be booming – and HS2 will one day feed that market.
International air travel is outrageously cheap. The lack of infrastructure required for the majority of a flight means operations and maintenance overheads are a fraction of the railways’. Air passengers are happy to travel in uncomfortable conditions if the price is low enough and, therefore, the airlines benefit from economies of scale and driving costs as low as possible. However, cheapness is a function of two things – perception of the service and actual cost.
Clearly, reducing the costs of the industry and protecting passengers from soaring fare increases will make railway journeys more attractive, but the industry must be innovative to extract that additional premium from the market. Passengers will pay more to travel responsibly and more comfortably, and the industry has to build on its green credentials.
Long-distance passengers are less worried about short delays than commuters – no one I know has cared when a flight lands 10 minutes later than planned. Nor do they care if their flight leaves at an awkward time and that there is only one flight to choose from per day. The railways need to redefine long-distance services to meet the expectations of the market. This may mean ensuring redundancy in critical routes and planning timetable space to protect the most valuable services. Reliability is always going to be a challenge with railways, but the future data-driven maintenance and operations approach will be key to reducing failures and keeping passengers up-to-date with the latest information.
I and my Young Rail Professional colleagues are some way from being able to influence public policy and we can only hope that the Government eventually reverses its short-sighted decision on HS2. However, we do know that cost and reliability are key to attracting passengers and encouraging modal shift as the domestic and international travel markets recover − a challenge we are ready to take on.
XEIAD steps up to tackle a shortage of inspection engineers by launching its own training programme.
The rail industry needs you! With a dwindling number of active rail engineers, projects across the UK could be under threat as the industry as a whole lacks competent resources. The trend is particularly pronounced among inspection engineers, especially those trained for difficult access. To help manage this shortfall, the specialist civil engineering consultancy XEIAD has established its own training academy. If you’re unfazed by heights, deep water, or small spaces, read on.
Founded in 2003, XEIAD has extensive experience in providing engineering consultancy services to asset owners and managers. It is one of the leaders in the UK at providing a comprehensive range of services using rope access, diving, and confined spaces skills. The company also uses Remotely Operated Aerial Vehicles (ROAVs) to complement inspections, where appropriate. XEIAD’s teams have exceptional experience of inspecting structures such as bridges, culverts, retaining walls, tunnels and shafts, and the company works across a wide range of industry sectors.
The company has been involved with the Rail industry since its inception and is currently delivering examinations on multiple routes on over 15,000 structures per annum. Although XEIAD works as a tier one supplier to Network Rail, it also supports the wider engineering services community working for many other tier one suppliers, especially when it comes to difficult access. XEIAD was involved with the refurbishment of the Kilsby tunnel shafts in 2018, providing the pre-inspection works for AmcoGiffen, and carried out investigative works on the Grade II listed Tintern Wireworks Bridge this year, prior to repairs. Aside from offering services to the Rail industry, XEIAD also enjoys long term relationships with the likes of National Highways, The Met Office, Babcock, and Atkins, among others.
“We are experts at delivering cost effective and reliable engineering examinations on all sorts of structures across many different industry sectors.” says Chairman and CEO, Olivier Garrigue. “We work notably with Network Rail, National Highways, and with the Ministry of Defence via Babcock. Thus, working as either a tier one or tier two supplier but always helping our clients to keep critical infrastructure safe.
Capacity is the main challenge we face as an industry and attempting to hire engineers out of other companies or Network Rail itself is not going to be much help to anyone. More importantly, it is not sustainable. Cost inflation ensues and overall capacity to undertake all the work that must be carried out remains a challenge. We have therefore decided to substantially invest in the development of new rail examination engineers.
XEIAD’s recent contract awards to serve the needs of Network Rail in the North West and Central, Eastern, and the Southern and Western regions allows us to take the long view and invest for the future”
The company is continuously on the lookout for staff with specialist access skills, but current labour shortages make this difficult. In response, XEIAD has established its own Training Academy, based at its offices in Ilkeston, so it can give engineers and technicians the skills they require to tackle difficult access inspections, within a condensed timeframe.
“As I said, capacity is our main challenge,” says Olivier, “Until today, there was no real structured pathway to develop a new breed of engineers or create opportunities for people to switch career path and become structure examiners. Because there’s a lack of supply, it’s really important that we can train examiners, help them develop, and give them reasons to stay in the industry.
“We thought the best thing to do was to create an Academy where training will be very focused, intense even. In the past, it could have taken one to two years to get through the training to be able to qualify as a full STE4 examiner. What we’re proposing is a very focused pathway through our Academy which will aim to train people fully through a three-month intense programme coupled with engineering mentorship. Graduates of the programme will be fully competent, effective and efficient.”
What distinguishes XEIAD’s approach is that it aims to train examiners quickly by removing them from operational duties and focussing fully on learning. Historically, trainees have been taught relatively slowly while still working their day job, and have then shadowed qualified examiners for around two years. However, the current industry needs and recruitment environment does not suit this way of training. “We don’t have time to allow for that,” says Commercial Director, Paul Capener. “We need to create resource quickly and what we’re doing is a more cost-effective way of getting people on board quickly. The academy will provide three months of intensive training, focusing purely on structures and inspections, giving them all the competencies and qualifications they need to go out and do their job.”
The company believes this approach will benefit the industry as a whole. The lack of examiners in the industry today has led many to leave their employers and set themselves up as sub-contractors, charging rates higher than many would want to pay. In those situations, it is also difficult for contractors to determine the ability of the examiners they employ. By controlling the training, XEIAD can ensure that competent employees are rolled out within a timeframe that will help to ease the industry’s recruitment difficulties.
The right candidate
XEIAD aims to attract candidates that are already in the industry and are looking to retrain, or those who work in similar sectors and can bring relevant technical skills across with them. The company is looking for individuals with the right approach and the correct temperament.
“People with military experience are a great fit,” says Paul, “because they’re focused, they understand what their objectives are, and they don’t have issues with travelling for site work or staying away from home. All of that ties in perfectly with what we’re trying to do. If we can attract individuals from engineering divisions within the military, then we’re employing people who already have the relevant competencies we require.”
“We will consider anyone who has the right competency, academic background and positive attitude,” Olivier adds, “and we’re going to pay them properly. They’re going to have a fitting salary from when they start which will reach over £30,000 within a couple of years. We want people to feel good about their work. This is a very real commitment from us, and we want people who are serious about the role and have a real passion for this type of work.”
On top of the initial qualification, graduates of the academy will benefit from continual development while they remain with XEIAD. The company aims to add further training modules in rope access, diving and confined space access for individuals who want to specialise further.
“One of the other objectives we’re working towards is getting all of our examiner’s trained up within the ICE up to ENGTECH,” says Paul, so they’ll not only have the XEIAD badge of inspections, but the STE4 competency, and they’ll also be on their route to professional memberships within the ICE.”
Ready for launch
XEIAD’s training academy launches in February 2022, and the company has already opened recruitment. It will first take on 12 people in the first wave and there will be a new intake every three months next year. The company aims to have at least an additional 30 fully trained examiner’s working with them by this time next year.
“We’ve already operated and road-tested the process. We’ve put a few examiners through the programme, we have them fully trained, and the process works very well,” says Olivier. “We are committed to making this work for us and the industry, and, if we get the support, it’s possible we’ll be able to offer our training modules and facilities not just to our own engineers, but to Network Rail and other companies that would want to benefit from our platform.”
“If you want to explore this opportunity, you should get in touch. And if you know someone who currently works on track, but would like to make an exciting career move, we’d certainly like to hear from them.”
Lucy Prior MBE has joined sustainable cable management supplier Trough-Tec Systems (TTS) as its business growth director.
Building on her 17 years’ experience in business development in the rail industry, Lucy will be responsible for Doncaster-based TTS increasing its reach in the rail industry, while building on diversified markets, such as utilities and nuclear.
Lucy has previously held positions in both the domestic and international rail sectors within manufacturing, infrastructure, rolling stock and software development, most recently with Sheffield-based 3Squared.
Recognised in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to rail, Lucy is a staunch advocate for career engagement as well as raising awareness and improving the experience of women working in the rail industry.
“I am really excited to join TTS and help grow this fantastic business even further,” said Lucy. “My new colleagues are getting me up to speed on our products and processes and have made me feel like part of the team from day one. As well as the great team culture, TTS’s admirable commitment to environmental sustainability is one of the many things that attracted me to the role in the first place, as we move to a greener railway.”
Rory Peverell has recently joined SEGULA Technologies as their UK-based senior business development manager for Rail, to further strengthen their sales team in the rail division.
Rory joins with over 10 years of recruitment, business development and account management experience in the rail industry. He will be responsible for supporting and driving the growth of SEGULA Technologies’ rail division within the UK, which includes delivering onsite support, work packages and large turnkey solutions to our customers. During his time in rail, Rory has built his own personal brand along with a strong network which he hopes to collaborate with on this new journey.
SEGULA Technologies is an engineering services group with over 10,000 engineers globally in the automotive, rail, aerospace and defence, energy, life sciences and marine sectors. The company has rail expertise in rolling stock and infrastructure with over 1500 engineers across 30 countries, working with some of the most prestigious and well-known companies in the industry.
Rory commented on his appointment: “This is an exciting move for me – not only is there huge potential for my personal growth in terms of working for an internationally renowned business, it also gives me the opportunity to grow our UK rail division at the same time. The rail market is incredibly buoyant and I am confident that the expertise of SEGULA Technologies in areas such as ETCS, TCMS, decarbonisation and CBM will be well received in the UK. Their commitment to engineering innovation and research and development was of particular interest to me and will continue to provide state of the art solutions to our customers. Please get in touch with me to discuss any rail businesses and understand how SEGULA Technologies can support you.”
Rail Freight Group (RFG) has named Martin Bignell as its new Scottish and Northern representative. He will play a key role in developing the RFG’s strategy for the regions, working with RFG members, key stakeholders and regional bodies across Scotland and the North of England.
Martin has a background in freight and logistics including an MSc in Logistics and Supply Chain Management. He has previously worked for a multimodal freight operator, and in rail freight policy and development with the Strategic Rail Authority.
As a contractor for the last decade, Martin has primarily been involved in transport consultancy projects and contract bidding and mobilisation including for maritime, overnight passenger rail and active travel services, together with providing specialist freight understanding and freight stakeholder engagement to many transport strategy and research projects.
Martin said: “It’s an exciting time to be joining RFG, with the increased recognition of rail freight’s role in our supply chains since early 2020, a renewed sense of its importance to help achieve the UK’s decarbonisation commitments, and as we move into a new era for the rail industry with rail reform. Of course, rail freight customers have known this all along and growing demand is evidence of real momentum that policy and delivery need to fulfil on.”
Maggie Simpson OBE, Director General, RFG, added: “I am delighted to be welcoming Martin as our new regional representative. The potential of rail freight in Scotland and the North of England is huge and will form a crucial part of Britain’s decarbonisation debate. I know his experience and knowledge will be invaluable going forwards.”
RailStaff was launched in 1997 after the UK Rail Industry was privatised and it quickly became established as a leading rail publication in the UK, due to its positive support of the industry, and now reaches over 100,000 readers per month.