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Talent and gender diversity in the rail sector

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).

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Both photo credits: Southeastern.

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.

Network Rail appoints new capital delivery director for Wales and Western region

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Network Rail’s Wales and Western region today announced Tim Walden as its new capital delivery director.

Tim joins from the company’s Southern region, where he has held the role of capital delivery director since June 2022.

A driving force behind the completion of CP6 (the five-year railway funding period from 2019-2024), Tim has supported the creation of the Southern Renewals Enterprise, taking the region into CP7.

His leadership saw the successful delivery of major resignalling schemes at Victoria and Feltham and completion of the impressive Gatwick Airport Station works. In addition, he led the delivery of the Access for All portfolio which was the biggest of any region in CP6.

He replaces Stuart Calvert, who has moved to the role of capital delivery director for Network Rail’s Eastern region. Kayleigh Spires is currently interim capital delivery director for Wales and Western.

Regional managing director Rob Cairns said: “I’m delighted to welcome Tim to Wales and Western. There’s no doubt he’ll be an incredible addition to the leadership team and will help us to achieve our goals and ambitions for CP7.

“I’d also like to offer my sincere thanks to Kayleigh Spires, who is currently covering the capital delivery director role since Stuart’s departure and has been doing an absolutely fantastic job holding the fort.”

Photo credit: Network Rail

Network Rail appoints new directors to its executive leadership team

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Network Rail has today announced two new directors who will join its executive leadership team, filling roles made vacant by recent moves and secondments.

Appointed to the vacant role of group director, system operator, is Anit Chandarana who returns to Network Rail following his DfT secondment. Anit will take up the position from 29 April on a permanent basis*.

Liam Sumpter has been appointed into the role of managing director for Network Rail in Scotland, following the announcement that Alex Hynes will be moving to the DfT on a two-year secondment as director general, rail services.

Liam is currently route director Scotland and will take up his new position from 15 April on a two-year secondment.

Image credit: Network Rail

Balfour Beatty appoints Steve O’Sullivan as Project Director for HS2’s new super-hub station

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Balfour Beatty today announces the appointment of Steve O’Sullivan as Project Director with responsibility for Balfour Beatty VINCI SYSTRA’s HS2 Old Oak Common station project. Steve replaces Nigel Russell, who was promoted to Chief Executive Officer of Balfour Beatty’s HS2 Major Projects business in January 2024.

With over 40 years’ experience in the industry, Steve has been involved in the delivery of some of the largest and most complex infrastructure projects in the UK and overseas including Nam Cheong Station West Rail interchange in Hong Kong and Terminal 2B and Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.

In addition, he was responsible for Balfour Beatty’s joint venture project with Morgan Sindall and VINCI Construction, as Senior Project Director, on the Whitechapel Elizabeth Line station project and more recently, was Balfour Beatty’s Senior Representative on the Sizewell C Nuclear power Station project.

Steve joined Balfour Beatty as an Electrical Engineering apprentice in 1980 and is testament to the company’s commitment to attracting, training, and retaining its employees to offer customers the best capabilities whilst providing the quality leadership required to drive forward world-class infrastructure projects.

Nigel Russell, Chief Executive Officer of Balfour Beatty’s HS2 Major Projects business said: “I am pleased to hand over the reigns of the HS2 Old Oak Common project to Steve.

“Steve’s detailed knowledge and understanding of the market, combined with his wealth of experience, makes him perfectly placed to perform this role and lead the delivery of the UK’s best-connected and largest new railway station.”

Steve O’Sullivan, Balfour Beatty VINCI SYSTRA Project Director at HS2 Old Oak Common station, said: “I have worked in the construction and infrastructure industry – and at Balfour Beatty in particular – for many years, helping to deliver iconic schemes around the world.

“But there is no infrastructure scheme more recognizable than HS2. It’s a household name and is critical for thousands of people and communities in the UK. It is therefore an honour to be leading the 2,000 employees who are already working tirelessly at Old Oak Common to ensure its success and be part of the regeneration of the area in which I grew up.”

The Balfour Beatty VINCI SYSTRA joint venture was awarded the HS2 construction management contract for the Old Oak Common station project in 2019, with responsibility for the final design, construction and commissioning of the station and delivering six underground platforms as well as up to eight platforms on the adjacent Great Western Main Line.

Last year, Balfour Beatty VINCI SYSTRA celebrated a significant milestone at Old Oak Common, with two years of permanent construction completed including the installation of the 1.2 mile diaphragm wall for the underground box which will contain the six new high-speed platforms and the first base slab concrete pour in the western end of the station box.

Image credit: Balfour Beatty

Joanne Maguire appointed ScotRail Managing Director

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Scottish Rail Holdings today announced that Joanne Maguire has been appointed interim Managing Director of ScotRail following Alex Hynes’ two-year secondment to the UK Government Department for Transport.

The appointment will be effective from Monday, 15 April 2024.

Network Rail has also announced that Liam Sumpter has been appointed Managing Director of Network Rail Scotland. He will take up his new post, on secondment for the same two year period as Alex Hynes, on Monday, 15 April 2024.

Transport Scotland, Scottish Rail Holdings, and Network Rail remain committed to the Alliance Agreement, which has delivered collaborative working between ScotRail and Network Rail Scotland and ensures a close relationship between track and train – for example, the joint Integrated Control in Springburn, one of the first of its kind in the UK railway. The organisations will work together over the coming months to update and further strengthen the Alliance Agreement between ScotRail and Network Rail Scotland.

David Lowrie, ScotRail Chairman and Scottish Rail Holdings Chief Executive, said:

“Joanne Maguire has been an outstanding leader of ScotRail over the past two years and I am pleased that she has accepted the role of interim Managing Director. I know she will continue to work with the team to build on our recent successes, including strong passenger growth, customer satisfaction, and punctuality.

“We remain fully committed to the Alliance Agreement, which has delivered close collaborative working between ScotRail and Network Rail Scotland for the benefit of our customers. Over the coming months we will work with Network Rail and Transport Scotland to update and further strengthen the Alliance Agreement to continue delivering the best possible service for our customers.”

Joanne Maguire, incoming ScotRail Managing Director, said:

“I am very proud to take on this new role and grateful for the opportunity to build on the work we have been doing together at ScotRail to deliver a safe, reliable, and green railway for the people of Scotland.

“Everyone at ScotRail continues to work hard to increase passenger numbers, grow revenue, and deliver value for money for the taxpayer. I am looking forward to continuing to play my part in this new role.”

Alex Hynes, outgoing Scotland’s Railway Managing Director, said:

“I am delighted for Jo personally and know she will do a great job. ScotRail is in safe hands with her at the helm.

“ScotRail’s greatest asset is its people and I know Jo will lead them to even greater success.”

Image credit: ScotRail

Network Rail announces appointment of three new non-executive directors to its Board

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Network Rail has today (Tuesday, 9 April) announced the appointment of three new non-executive directors to its Board.

Dyan Perry OBE (nee Crowther), Steve Scrimshaw and Stuart Harvey will join the Board from July, and will be bringing with them a wealth of knowledge and experience from a variety of public and private sector roles.

Dyan Perry

  • Dyan Perry has over 30 years of experience on the railway, having started her career as station manager at Peckham Rye
  • Since then, Dyan has held a number of senior positions within the sector, most recently as chief executive officer at High Speed 1, with prior roles including chief operating officer for Govia Thameslink Railway and route managing director for Network Rail. Dyan is also on the Board for the Great British Railways Transition Team
  • Dyan was the first ever female managing director in UK rail history and was the winner of the outstanding personal contribution award at the 2023 National Rail Awards

Steve Scrimshaw

  • Steve Scrimshaw has held multiple leadership roles within the energy and transport sectors over the past 45 years, and has worked both domestically and internationally
  • Steve retired from Siemens Energy at the end of March, after four years as CEO of the UK & Ireland business, leading the company transformation as it navigated the complex energy transition landscape
  • Steve was a member of Governments Hydrogen Delivery Council, Green Jobs Delivery Group and is Chair of the Dept for Business and Trade Hydrogen Propulsion Manufacturing Taskforce

Stuart Harvey

  • Stuart Harvey is currently chief capital officer for Transport for London, having joined the organisation as a signalling engineer apprentice in 1981
  • During his time at Transport for London, Stuart has overseen the delivery of several major schemes, including the extension of the Northern line, Barking Riverside Extension and major digital signalling schemes
  • As chief capital officer, Stuart is responsible for all enhancement projects, driving the capital efficiency progress and programme management office controls, as well as setting engineering standards and providing engineering and asset strategy expertise to the business

Network Rail chair, Peter, Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill, CBE, said: “I’m delighted to welcome Dyan, Steve and Stuart to the Board. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience and we look forward to having them join us.”

Network Rail has also announced that Rob Brighouse, senior independent non-executive director, will be stepping down from the Board after eight and half years in position. Rob is a chartered engineer and has over 40 years of experience in the rail industry and was previously the managing director of Chiltern Railways.

Peter, Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill, CBE, added: “I’d like to thank Rob for his invaluable contribution during his time on the Board. It has been great to have Rob with us, and I wish him all the best in his future endeavours.”

Image credit: Network Rail

Andy Bagguley named as Porterbrook’s fleet services director

Porterbrook has announced the appointment of Andy Bagguley as fleet services director.

Andy will join on 3 June from East West Rail Company. Taking responsibility for regional management teams and digital engineering services, Andy will collaborate with customers and industry partners to deliver Porterbrook’s strategic rolling stock objectives across more than 4,000 passenger and freight vehicles, representing one quarter of Britain’s fleet.

Ben Ackroyd, chief operating officer at Porterbrook said: “I am delighted to welcome Andy onboard. We’re leading transformative investments in new and existing fleets, and crucially in our asset management capabilities for the long term, for example through the recent acquisition of Long Marston Rail Innovation Centre in Warwickshire and our 49% stake in Brodie Engineering in Kilmarnock.

“Andy’s wealth of rolling stock engineering experience, energy and leadership will focus these capabilities on supporting our customers and the vital services they operate.”

Andy said: “Joining Porterbrook presents an exciting opportunity for me to contribute to shaping the future of rail. I am looking forward to being part of a dynamic team leveraging Porterbrook’s innovative solutions and industry expertise to enhance sustainability, efficiency and accessibility across the rail sector.

“I believe we can not only meet but exceed the evolving needs of the industry and ultimately add substantial value to the growth and development of the railway.”

Neil Foster has taken up the position of engineering director within Porterbrook.

Image credit: Porterbrook

QTS Group announces Andy Steel as new managing director

National rail contractor, QTS Group, has announced that Andy Steel, currently the company’s Operations Director of Civils and Geotechnical, has been appointed as the new managing director (MD), effective Tuesday 2nd April 2024. The news follows the appointment of the current MD, Alan McLeish, to Group Chairman.

Alan McLeish, who founded QTS in 1992, will remain an integral part of the business as he takes up the position of group chairman, which will allow him the opportunity to provide a more strategic role within QTS Group as the company enters into Network Rail’s Control Period 7.

Since its inception, Alan has grown the business into a leading railway contractor, delivering a multi-disciplined approach to provide services including rail engineering, infrastructure, electrification, design and training. Today, QTS employs over 700 people across the UK, boasting a turnover of more than £120 million annually.

Andy Steel joined QTS as design manager back in 2012, moving up through the company to operations director in 2016, where he’s been responsible for the Civils and Geotechnical Departments.

As the new managing director, Andy will be responsible for further cementing the company’s leading position in the rail industry, ensuring operational efficiency, and developing strategies to continue QTS’ growth in the years ahead.

Alan McLeish, commented: “My tenure as managing director for QTS Group has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. For over 30 years, I have built the business from one man in a van to being one of the leading rail contractors in the UK, with over 700 dedicated employees.

“I could not be prouder of what we have accomplished as a team over these years, however, now is the right time to hand the reigns over to Andy and move away from the day to day running of the business. I am confident that he will do a fantastic job in leading QTS into its next chapter, supported by the board of directors.

“I look forward to the new challenge involved in becoming chairman for the Group and I am pleased that I will continue to have input into a company that I love and give input from a strategic level as we navigate into Control Period 7.”

Andy Steel said: “Having spent over 12 years at QTS Group, it really feels like home to me, so it is an honour to have the opportunity to take over the MD position from Alan. While they are big shoes to fill, I’m excited about the challenges ahead.

“My priority will be leading the company into its next chapter of growth, as we continue to scale up our operations nationwide. Likewise, I’ll be committed to driving forward with unwavering commitment to safety, quality and sustainability, ensuring QTS remains a leader in the rail industry.”

Image credit: QTS

Alex Hynes appointed DfT’s director general for rail services

The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced the appointment of Alex Hynes to the role of director general, Rail Services. Alex will join the DfT on a two-year secondment from his current position as managing director of Scotland’s Railway on 15 April 2024.

In his current role, Alex has successfully led the Scotland’s Railway team, which has been accountable for devolving more responsibility for rail in Scotland, while working effectively with our partners Transport Scotland and ScotRail to grow collaboration for the benefit of rail users across the country.

Commenting on his appointment, Alex said; “I am delighted to have the opportunity to undertake the role of director general Rail Services within the Department for Transport.

“Our railways play a vital role connecting people right across the country and I look forward to working closely with DfT colleagues to help industry deliver the services that passengers rightly expect, while laying the track for a simpler, more effective rail system.

“One of my primary objectives in my current role has been to deliver a better, safer and more reliable railway for our passengers and our staff across the country. I am proud that over the past five years Scotland’s Railway has become more efficient and improved the reliability of train services for our customers. We have redeveloped Glasgow Queen Street station, opened new freight facilities, and delivered a programme of electrification, which has enabled ScotRail to transform the quality of service to passengers on those routes.

“We have brought track and train closer together and the relationship between Scottish Rail Holdings, Network Rail and Transport Scotland has developed a clear route map for the future of rail in Scotland.

“We have also connected more of our local communities to the rail network. We have made the railway safer through our commitment to getting everyone home safe every day, and we have undertaken a huge amount of work to make rail more accessible, which I have no doubt will continue to be the focus for Scotland’s Railway.

“I would like to thank the team at Scotland’s Railway for their support over the past seven years and I look forward to watching your continued success.”

David Lowrie, ScotRail chair and Scottish Rail Holdings chief executive said; “Scotland’s Railway’s loss is the UK Department for Transport’s gain. It has been a pleasure to work with Alex over the past few years. He has a strong track record of success in his seven years at the helm of ScotRail and Network Rail Scotland, leaving behind a railway that is the best performing large operator in Britain, with the fastest growing passenger numbers in Britain, and where nine out of ten passengers are satisfied with our service. That’s a record of which to be proud.

“I am grateful to Alex for his leadership and support in making ScotRail’s transition to public ownership a success and laying strong foundations for the future. We wish him every success in his new role as he seeks to build on his work in Scotland to deliver a better and more integrated railway with passengers at the centre.”

Image credit: Network Rail

Liz Baldwin named new director for Southern Integrated Delivery

Liz Baldwin has been appointed as the Southern Integrated Delivery (SID) director to deliver Network Rail’s Southern region’s renewals portfolio for the next 10 years.

The SID is part of the Southern Renewals Enterprise (SRE), a new and innovative model being introduced across Network Rail’s Southern region at the beginning of Control Period 7 (CP7) in April 2024 to deliver the £9 billion renewals portfolio between 2024 and 2034.

The SID partnership combines the strengths and expertise of Network Rail and four business partners – VolkerFitzpatrick, Octavius, AtkinsRéalis, and VolkerRail.

In a first for the railway industry, Network Rail’s Southern region formed the SRE model based on the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Project 13 principles – an industry leading approach to delivering infrastructure projects that is more collaborative, allows long term planning and has proven to deliver better outcomes for customers.

With the SID, the Southern region seeks to make transformational change in how renewals work is delivered by merging the capabilities of Network Rail and its supply chain to develop an integrated approach to delivery that will make the best use of resources, maximise efficiencies and collectively incentivise partners to deliver value to taxpayers and the right outcomes for passengers, freight and railway funders.

Liz joined as SID director on 19 February from Mott MacDonald, where she held the position of managing director for Highways and Intelligent Transport Systems Division. A Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and project management professional, she has over 25 years’ experience in engineering and construction.

Liz said: “I’m very excited about joining the team and taking on the role of SID director as part of the SRE. This is an amazing opportunity to make a step change in how efficiently and safely we can deliver renewals in a more effective and collaborative way across the region.

“I’m looking forward to working with Network Rail as the Capable Owner to really challenge how we approach the renewals work bank, to get the very best outcomes for our teams, and improve the passenger experience across Southern.”

Prior to joining Mott MacDonald, Liz was the alliance manager on the Wessex Capacity Alliance for Network Rail, and previous roles also include project director on HS2 and Crossrail 2.

Liz built on her skills gained as an army officer in the Corps of Royal Engineers, delivering projects across a variety of sectors, from transport and highways schemes and leading Local Authority project delivery teams, to leading major multi-disciplinary infrastructure projects in the rail sector.

Ellie Burrows, managing director for Network Rail’s Southern region, said: “I’m delighted to have Liz join the team. A huge amount of effort has gone into building the Southern Renewals Enterprise, and I’m excited that Liz will be supporting us to deliver this new and radical approach – the first of its kind in the industry. She’ll be central to making the Southern Integrated Delivery a reality. Her role is hugely important for this new phase of CP7, so we can deliver the best for the communities we serve and make the Southern region a great place to work.

“The rail industry has consistently demonstrated that when it comes together, it can do amazing things. This transformational step will bring all those ingredients together for the long-term delivery of renewals and make a tangible difference to passengers and freight-users alike.

“Rather than being restricted by the limitations of traditional contracting models, we’re creating long term relationships with our supply chain partners where everyone is truly incentivised to deliver better outcomes for our passengers and freight users.”

The Southern region is the busiest and most congested in the country. The region covers Dorset, Hampshire, East and West Sussex, Surrey, Kent and South London as well as the Network Rail High Speed route which carries Channel Tunnel services.

Over 7,000 passenger and freight services operate on the region every weekday – more than a third of Britain’s rail services.

Image credit: Network Rail

Network Rail appoints Jason Hamilton to lead railway in North & East

Jason Hamilton has been named as the new route director of Network Rail’s North & East route. He will take over the role from Matt Rice, who is leaving the organisation after four and a half years to join Northern.

Jason is in his sixteenth year at Network Rail and most recently has been a part of the East Coast route’s executive team as route programme director (works delivery), leading a multi-disciplinary maintenance, renewals, and response principal contractor organisation.

He has previous experience working for Network Rail in major projects on the Great Western and South East routes as part of the Crossrail Programme before moving north and continuing in further leadership roles.

As route director for the organisation’s North & East route, Jason will hold overall responsibility for the day-to-day running of the rail network throughout Yorkshire and the North East, including in places such as Sheffield, Leeds, Hull, and Middlesbrough.

He will also oversee key infrastructure projects such as Network Rail’s involvement in the Northumberland Line, which will see passenger services reinstated 60 years after they were ended, and many Access for All projects at stations including Bridlington, Garforth, and Selby, making rail travel easier for many passengers.

Speaking of his appointment, Jason said: “I am thrilled to have been appointed as the new Route Director on Network Rail’s North & East route. This part of the network hosts major arterial routes across the north of England, connecting major towns and cities which are so crucial to our passengers. It will also see transformational infrastructure investment over the coming years and plays a major role in the north of England economy.

“Train travel is a vitally important and sustainable way to journey, and I want to make sure that our passengers’ experience is a positive one as they travel on the network, whether that be through short-term reliability and punctuality improvements or via the major projects that will deliver a better railway for the future.”

Image credit: Network Rail

CIRO chief executive to step down after 12-years

CIRO Chief Executive Fiona Tordoff has announced she will step down from her role following more than a decade of leadership that significantly improved and modernised the organisation and the services it provides its members.

Fiona has achieved substantial growth for the Institution and departs with a great legacy of accomplishments, including securing the Institution’s Royal Charter in 2021. Today, the Institution boasts more than 12,000 members and leads the way in the professional development of railway professionals throughout the world.

CIRO Chair and Network Rail Regional Managing Director Ellie Burrows FCIRO said: “The CIRO Board and I express our gratitude to Fiona for her dedication, skill, and professionalism in guiding CIRO through its transformation from a micro company to what it is today.

“Her efforts have elevated the standing of both the Institution and the profession, steering our team and ensuring our customers are at the heart of everything we do.”

Acting Chief Executive designate Annette Shipley has been working alongside Fiona over the past few months to ensure a smooth transition. She will take up the reigns at the end of March and will oversee the process of appointing a permanent successor.

Fiona said: “I have absolutely no doubt that CIRO will just keep growing in impact and relevance to those it serves. I would like to thank everyone who has worked with the CIRO team for their support over the years, as well as every brave and curious adult learner who has taken part in our programmes all over the world. Your journeys have meant everything to me.

“My vision was to make sure the profession had an association which had a full line up of learning and development programmes, an ability to create qualifications and of course the Royal Charter. I feel that my mission has in that sense been accomplished.

“I will miss the team greatly, and I look forward to staying connected with the Institution through my membership, and seeing the launch of those exciting new products and services later this year!”

Image credit: CIRO

Join us at the Rail Safety Summit – 12th March 2024

Britain’s railways have an enviable safety record but reports of incidents and near misses show there is room for improvement.

Time and time again, the Rail Safety Summit has shown that it is the industry’s must-attend event for up-to-date rail safety information.

Now expanded to consider wellbeing and environmental health, the annual event brings together expert industry professionals to present the latest information and developments within their field of expertise, and hosts companies exhibiting the most exciting new products and services.

Taking place on Tuesday 12 March, at Holywell Park, Loughborough, we’ve hand-picked leading industry figures to address attendees. The following speakers are confirmed so far:

  • Andrew Hall, chief inspector, Rail Accident Investigation Branch
  • Abigail Patterson, principal operations safety specialist, Network Rail
  • Chris Knowles, director of system safety and health, RSSB
  • James Hammett, managing director, UKTram
  • Lord Tony Berkeley OBE
  • Richard Hines, HM deputy chief inspector of railways, Office of Rail & Road (ORR)
  • Simon Morgan, head of corporate safety, Network Rail
  • Steve Taylor Cmilt, general manager, Rail Wagon Association (RWA)

Book your tickets now to hear industry leaders discuss the issues that matter.

For further information call us any time at 01530 816 450 or email [email protected].

We look forward to seeing you at the Rail Safety Summit!

Industry reacts to draft Rail Reform Bill

ers yesterday (Tuesday 20 February) put forward their plan for the future of the railways, publishing a draft Rail Reform Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.

The draft Bill sets in motion a plan to deliver punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets, and a modern and innovative railway that meets the needs of passengers and freight users. When passed, it will help deliver the biggest rail reform programme in a generation to create a simpler, more effective rail system.

The draft Bill will see the creation of Great British Railways (GBR) which will bring together responsibility for both rail infrastructure and services, providing clearer lines of accountability, helping to build a more modern and financially secure sector, and a network that is more adaptable and more efficient.

Great British Railways will aim to ensure passengers and freight benefit from industry expertise through a whole-system approach that will drive financial efficiency. When established, it will be the new franchising authority, contracting with the private sector to deliver passenger services and maximise investment, innovation, and opportunity.

The reforms will improve connectivity and choice for passengers, including by encouraging private sector open-access operators, where they add value for passengers through more direct links and more options.
The Bill applies mainly to Great Britain, with Scottish and Welsh ministers continuing to exercise existing devolved responsibilities, but with an option to delegate contracting authority to GBR to enable the integration of track and train across Great Britain if they wished to pursue it.

The draft Rail Reform Bill will now undergo pre-legislative scrutiny to provide Parliamentarians and industry experts the opportunity to review and provide feedback on the legislation. This will allow for time to understand the complexities of these reforms and ensure that the final legislation is as robust as possible. Scrutiny will be led by the Transport Select Committee.

Industry reaction to the news has been largely positive. Andrew Haines, Great British Railways Transition Team Lead and CEO of Network Rail said: “Passengers, freight customers and communities are crying out for a simpler, better railway and the publication of the draft Bill is an important step on that journey. Bringing track and train together under a guiding mind is by far the best way to improve the service the railway offers, unlock the economic potential of a growing network and reduce the burden on the taxpayer.”

Jacqueline Starr, CEO of RDG, commented: “It is good news that the Draft Rail Reform Bill has been published, this is another important step in setting up Great British Railways and moving forward with the agreed reforms to improve the railway for the customer. The challenges facing the rail industry are well known, but rail is a vital service and should have a bright future if we work together. I look forward to working with the Government to further develop the reforms needed to deliver for customers.”

Rail Freight Group Director General, Maggie Simpson OBE, said: “We are pleased that Government has listened to the concerns of the rail freight sector, and has set out how the new body will be required to ‘make provisions for the carriage of goods by rail’. This will help create confidence in the new rail structure and encourage private sector investment in rail freight growth.”

But while publication of the draft bill is a welcome step, meaningful action is now required.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA) stressed: “At a time when rail demand in the UK is showing a steady and continuing upturn, and with the RIA-commissioned Steer Report published just this week reporting that passenger numbers will grow between 37% and 97% to 2050, the Government needs to accelerate the legislative process without delay. The faster the Government pushes on with rail reform the faster we can remove uncertainty about the future structure of the industry and get on with building a vibrant and world-class railway for the future, delivering economic growth and enhanced connectivity across the UK in the decades ahead.”

Silviya Barrett from charity Campaign for Better Transport added: “We welcome the publication of this draft bill, which is a much-needed step towards long-awaited rail reform, now we need to see it move swiftly through to the next stage. In the meantime, we urge the Government to move forward with changes that do not require legislation, including meaningful reforms to ticketing that deliver actual benefits and better value for passengers.”

However, the reaction from other quarters was less sympathetic.

“The draft Rail Reform Bill is completely inadequate,” said TSSA General Secretary Maryam Eslamdoust.

“It does not address the damage that privatisation has done to our railways and infrastructure. It does not offer the fundamental changes that we need to deliver a fair deal for passengers and transport workers. The Conservative Government are simply on the wrong track.”

The full version of the draft Bill can be viewed here.

Image credit: iStockphoto / RIA

New year, new start

The weeks after the Christmas break always fly by and somehow we now find ourselves bang in the middle of February. While it may not be quite the beginning of the year, we’re not yet clear of the winter months, and before we emerge into spring there’s still time to consider what we might achieve in the year ahead.

It’s apt then, that this issue includes a focus on careers and recruitment. It’s a time when many are thinking about their next move up the ladder or considering a complete change of course. With features from training specialists City & Guilds, recruitment experts Advance TRS, and Australian rail firm Arc International, we have plenty of options for you.

For some of our wonderful colleagues, 2024 got off to a flying start when they received much-deserved accolades in the New Years Honours List. We take the time to salute these esteemed employees who have gone beyond their remit to deliver excellent service and improve the lives of those around them.

Speaking of a new year, it only seems five minutes since we were celebrating at the RailStaff Awards back in November. It’s hard to believe but we’re already preparing for another spectacular event, and we’d love to see you all there.

As always, Colin Wheeler gives us his regular take on the safety issues of the day, examining the latest reports from the RAIB. He also looks ahead to our Rail Safety Summit, which brings together safety professionals to discuss the latest developments, ideas, and technology. The event will be held on Tuesday 12 March, and we reveal the speakers who are confirmed to appear.

With safety in mind, you’ll hardly have missed the atrocious weather we’ve seen in recent weeks. The consecutive named storms that hit the UK through January have caused chaos for the network, and rising global temperatures mean this will be a regular phenomenon in the years to come. Alice Lake, a climate scientist at the Met Office tells us how climate change is affecting the network and how it will continue to influence the efficiency of our railways.

To a perfect storm of another sort, at the end of 2024 we sat down with Jo Kaye, CEO of Railway Benefit Fund (RBF), to discuss the financial turbulence that many in the industry currently face. As the cost-of-living crisis drags on, those lucky enough to have had savings are seeing them run dry and RBF is seeing increasing calls for help. Jo urges everyone to speak up about their difficulties before they become unescapable.

But before all of this, we start the issue with a celebration of the life of Tom O’Connor, founder of RailStaff, who sadly passed away in January. Tom was a passionate supporter of the UK rail industry and a committed advocate for the employees that make it all work. He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered.

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In memoriam: honouring the legacy of Tom O’Connor, the visionary founder of Rail Media

It is with profound sorrow that we share the passing of Tom O’Connor, the esteemed founder of Rail Media, on Sunday 14 January 2024. Tom was not just a leader in the rail industry; he was a luminary whose visionary leadership, unwavering dedication, and commitment to excellence have left an indelible mark. His warm and engaging character was a source of inspiration, and his absence will be deeply felt by many.

A rail industry trailblazer

Tom’s legacy in the rail industry is unparalleled. He was more than just a trailblazer; he was a vocal advocate for the industry. His innovative spirit and relentless passion have not only shaped the trajectory of Rail Media but have also influenced the broader rail landscape. As a pioneer, he set new standards for excellence, becoming a beacon of inspiration for all fortunate enough to work alongside him.

A positive force for good

Tom’s impact extended beyond professional achievements. Notably, he spearheaded the creation of the RailStaff Awards, shining a light on those individuals in our industry who often go overlooked. He also established the website RailwayPeople.com, which has helped many individuals across the rail industry find new career opportunities. Tom’s commitment to sustainability, safety, and community engagement has left an enduring impact, embodying his belief that success should be coupled with responsibility. His legacy of corporate responsibility and ethical leadership will continue to guide Rail Media in the years ahead.

As we mourn the loss of a visionary leader and dear friend, let us join together to celebrate Tom’s extraordinary life. His impact on the rail industry and the countless lives he touched will forever be remembered.

A life well lived – Colin Wheeler

I first met and talked with Tom over 20 years ago and his passing after a long illness prompts me to remind railway people about the contribution he made to our railways during a period of over 20 years.

As the dust settled on railway privatisation, I ended up on the payroll of Balfour Beatty Rail as a safety adviser. My memory was full of the progress British Rail had made in reducing track worker fatalities. I was asked to investigate a near miss incident on track and travelled to meet those involved carrying a copy of the latest edition of RailStaff. Those I interviewed were all readers of Railstaff, and appreciated the straight forward writing about the privatised railways.  At that time Andy Milne was the editor.

Track Safety Strategy Group

I was involved in the setting up of rail trade associations for training, on track labour supply and plant etc and under Aidan Nelson’s chairmanship became project manager of the Track Safety Strategy Group (TSSG).  Its members included, among others, Railtrack, contractors, consultants, and trades union representatives. Back then we were already looking to reduce and eventually outlaw the use of flag and horn lookouts to protect workers from trains when working on track. We sought publicity and an approach was made to Tom. We were looking at warning systems used in Europe and Tom and I agreed that construction industry publication copy was often either naïve or misrepresentative of the situation. The TSSG decided to copy earlier initiatives by producing regular track safety videos to be used by organisations that sponsored and employed people to work on track. A contract was awarded to Four by Three and Graeme Bickerdike’s involvement was substantial in being the main speaker as well as producing the videos.

Rail Engineer

Tom and I were agreed that a good start for the diverging rail industry would be for Tom to launch a monthly magazine “written by rail engineers for rail engineers.” Andy Milne was appointed as editor. I agreed to look after the technical side and persuaded engineers with suitable railway experience of signalling, electrification, track, railway structures, and plant etc., to become ‘engineer writers’. It was also decided that to reflect this ethos the additional railway publication from Tom’s offices in Ashby-de-la-Zouch would be titled “the rail engineer.”

Tom then agreed to become a member of the Permanent Way Institution and we travelled together to Linz in Austria as delegates to what was publicised as their “Very First European Track Engineering Seminar”. It was held on 21-22 October 2004.

Gerhard Polterauer of Plasser and Theurer gave the keynote address and Paul Strange then chairman of the UIC Union de Chemin de Feu track geometry committee spoke about changes to track deficiency rules. Andrew McNaughton completed his year of office and President of the PWI and the chain of office passed to Richard Spoors.  This was all reported in the very first edition of the Rail Engineer which was published November 2004. Its editorial welcomed readers, adding “Railtex 2004 is a fitting venue to launch an upbeat monthly magazine devoted to the vibrant field of railway engineering.” Agreed!

A report of a technical seminar held in Nottingham titled ‘Modern Track for Light Rail’ pointed out that the PWI was founded in the city in 1884. Also, the city’s brand new light rail tram system had opened in March 2004. Other rail projects were covered including high output track tamping, whether pocket or palm top computing had a future, signalling innovation opportunities as seen by a signalling engineer, and a look at Northern Ireland railways written by Andy Milne. The first edition still reads well and runs to 30 pages which includes 10 pages of advertisements; it has been free issue ever since it began and continues as a testimony to the foresight and skills of Tom O’Connor for which the industry should be grateful. Long may it continue.

Rail Safety Summit 2024

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The Rail Safety Summit has brought rail safety professionals together for the last 12 years, providing a unique opportunity for them to network and discuss the latest concerns and developments while hearing from those involved with developing new systems to drive safety up and risk down.

The summit sees expert industry professionals present the latest information and developments within their field of expertise alongside companies exhibiting the most exciting products and services within the rail industry.
This year’s Rail Safety Summit takes place on Tuesday 12 March, at Holywell Park, Loughborough.

Host

Colin Wheeler, railway civil engineer, trustee Robert Stephenson Trust, past editor of Rail Engineer
Colin Wheeler joined the railway in 1967, working for British Rail in Leeds, York, Sheffield and Newcastle upon Tyne. He became a civil engineer for North West England (Manchester and Liverpool) in the 1980’s and subsequently infrastructure engineer InterCity East Coast (Edinburgh to London Kings Cross), prior to privatisation. Until December 2003, he worked as engineering and safety adviser for Balfour Beatty Rail Infrastructure Services. Colin was the independent chairman of the Association of On Track Labour Services from its foundation in 1999, continuing as independent chair of the Railway Industry Contractors Association until 2012. He was editor of Rail Engineer from 2004 to 2008.

Confirmed speakers

Andrew Hall, chief inspector, Rail Accident Investigation Branch
Andrew Hall is a chartered engineer and has worked in the rail industry for over 35 years. He has held engineering and engineering project management roles in Britain and overseas. In 2004, Andrew joined the newly formed Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB). After 11 years as a principal inspector, he was appointed deputy chief inspector in 2015 and subsequently, in 2022, chief inspector.

Abigail Patterson, principal operations safety specialist, Network Rail
Abigail Patterson manages Network Rail’s health & safety management System, Safety Validation of organisational change, and operational safety. She is an experienced health & safety professional, and a certified member of IOSH, with over a decade’s experience in a variety of health & safety roles, primarily operational safety. She is deputy chair of the industry’s SPAD risk sub-group and works closely with colleagues across the industry to maintain and improve operational safety performance.

Chris Knowles, director of system safety and health, RSSB
Chris Knowles leads the RSSB’s system safety and health directorate, with responsibility for the development and delivery of the rail industry health and safety strategy. Working with colleagues across RSSB, the directorate defines and delivers transformative safety work for the rail industry in asset management, train operations, occupational safety, public behaviour, and health and wellbeing. A graduate of the University of Liverpool, Chris is a chartered engineer, a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and a fellow of the Institute of Asset Management.

James Hammett, managing director, UKTram
James has been involved in the light rail Industry for over 25 years. Having started out as an apprentice engineer he worked his way through the ranks rising to the position of chief engineer, before sampling other areas of the engineering industry. Now, after returning to work full time on the operational side of light rail, he maintains an involvement in its engineering aspects. He currently works as managing director of UKTram, the trade body for the light rail industry in the British Isles, alongside running his own light rail consultancy company, Smarttrams Ltd.

Lord Tony Berkeley OBE
Lord Tony Berkeley is a member of the House of Lords and a civil engineer. He spent 15 years developing and building the Channel Tunnel, followed by chairmanship of the UK Rail Freight Group, the industry representative body. He was a board member and sometime chair of the European Rail Freight Association and was a founder and currently honorary board member of Allrail, the association of independent European rail operators. He is a regular contributor in the House of Lords on rail, competition, and safety of different types of transport.

Richard Hines, HM deputy chief inspector of railways, Office of Rail & Road (ORR)
Currently a deputy chief inspector at the ORR, Richard has been named as the incoming chief inspector of railways and will take up the position in the summer. With a lengthy career in engineering and safety, Richard presently heads up the team of ORR’s non-mainline health and safety inspectors and also oversees the regulator’s responsibilities on the Channel Tunnel. Before initially joining ORR on secondment in 2020 Richard, who began his career in electrical engineering at British Sugar, spent 14 years at the Health and Safety Executive.

Simon Morgan, head of corporate safety, Network Rail
Simon is the head of corporate safety at Network Rail and oversees the national standards and controls team, workforce safety team, the Network Rail safety management system, operational safety, track safety research & development projects, ergonomics, human factors, and safety culture. He Joined Network Rail in 2007 in capital delivery and has managed large portfolios as a capital delivery director on the South East Route. In 2019 he joined the Southern regional team as the QHSE director and moved to the technical authority as head of corporate safety in 2021.

Steve Taylor Cmilt, general manager, Rail Wagon Association (RWA)
Steve Taylor is general manager of the RWA, which has 31 member companies and covers over 95% of the wagons operating in the UK, including the infrastructure fleet. Steve worked in rail operations for British Rail before joining the electricity supply industry in 1990, working in logistics for PowerGen, E.ON, and Drax Power with purchasing rail services being a constant feature. Steve joined the Private Wagon Federation in 2018 as secretary general and was instrumental in its transformation from an unincorporated body into the RWA, a private company limited by guarantee.

Register now

The Rail Safety Summit is a must-attend event for up-to-date rail safety information.

Register now at www.railsummits.com

For further information call us any time on 01530 816 450

More questions than answers

Colin Wheeler delivers the latest news in rail safety from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB).

We are told that at some time during this year there will be a general election. I expect both global warming and the future of our railways, including freight, passenger, and both light and heavy rail including metros and trams, to be on the political agenda. I also understand that the Great British Railways Transition Team (GRBRTT) “has consulted with industry leaders, customers and stakeholders.” The target is now set for rail freight “to grow by at least 75% by 2050”. Maggie Simpson, the director general of the Rail Freight Group has commented that investment will be required!

At the Rail Safety Summit on 12 March, at Holywell Park, Loughborough University, I hope to hear more, including how we can best reduce accidents and incidents involving freight trains. Is the rolling stock good enough? Is there room for improvement in operation, inspection, and maintenance? A reliable way of identifying every occurrence of a hot axle box and/or excessive wheel loading should be a precursor of further new rail freight wagon designs I suggest. Derailments resulting from wagon wheels stopping turning and then sliding, forming wheel flanges, and derailing, simply should not happen!

New chief inspector of Railways

In December last year it was announced by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) that Richard Hines has been appointed as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Railways. The position was well publicised, and I understand that a number of candidates were considered.

Richard’s previous job was as the leader of the ORR’s non-mainline team of health and safety inspectors and overseeing compliance with regulations for the Channel Tunnel. He will be joining the ORR board. His predecessor, Ian Prosser, has been successful in the role, not least by initiating the issue of both improvement and prohibition notices, and successfully pursuing legal action when necessary. Richard was a delegate at the 2024 Rail Media Safety Summit, and will join us again in 2024.

Freight train derailment, London Gateway

Freight derailment at London Gateway. Credit: RAIB.

The reasons why this investigation took two years to reach publication may be understood by reading the RAIB report recommendations relating to the longitudinal dynamic behaviour of freight wagons. This derailment occurred at London Gateway in Essex on 24 December 2021, but the Rail Accident and Incident (RAIB) report 14/2024 was published just before Christmas 2024. Evidently the investigation was not straight forward!

On Christmas Eve 2021 at 05:45, five wagons in a 33-wagon intermodal train derailed as it was entering the London Gateway Terminal. As a result, access to the terminal was disrupted for 14 days. The first wagon to derail was an unloaded centre wagon of a triple wagon group. The three wagons were permanently coupled together. The side wagons were loaded, and the centre unloaded wagon derailed after a brake application.

Back in 2015 there were derailments involving an earlier type of triple wagon. After simulation studies, it was discovered that susceptibility to derailment was reduced by lengthening the bar coupler. However, the report says that the new version of triple wagon remains susceptible to derailment and the lack of centre wagon payload and “possibly in-service degradation of the bogie” increased the risk of derailment. The report states that: “risks associated with the longitudinal dynamic behaviour of long freight trains are not well understood.”

The report makes three recommendations. VTG Rail owners and developers of triple wagons are to “identify and implement necessary design changes and operating restrictions.” Also, GB Railfreight is to develop instructions and best practice guidance for operations staff. Finally, the Railway Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) is to, “raise the rail industry’s understanding of derailment risks associated with longitudinal compressive forces and the management strategies that need to be introduced.”

Isle of Wight collision, 22 November 2024

The RAIB is investigating this accident at Brading when there was a collision between a road/rail vehicle (RRV) and a track trolley. In the early hours of 22 November, the RRV collided with the hand trolley which was on the track between Smallbrook Junction and Brading on the Island Line. The line was under possession for maintenance work and two trackworkers sustained injuries requiring hospital treatment. No damage was done to either the RRV or the hand trolley.

HS1 accident, 16 November 2024

At around 04:38 on 16 November, a multi-purpose RRV collided with a stationary tamping machine near Strood on High Speed 1. The collision, at around 12mph, occurred as the machine was being prepared for coupling to a second multi-purpose RRV. An operator was positioned between the tamper and the second RRV preparing for them to be coupled.

As a result of the collision, the two stationary vehicles moved along the track. The operator was struck and sustained injuries needing hospital treatment. Three staff members on the vehicles were knocked over by the impact but were uninjured. There was also minor damage to the RRV which initially collided with the tamper. RAIB’s investigation is underway and will consider the actions of those involved, the management of staff including training and competence, method of operation when the collision occurred, and procedures for managing such operations and underlying management factors.

The initial paragraph of the Office of Rail and Road’s (ORR) January newsletter, issued on 3 January, draws attention to “two disruption events on the High Speed One link before and after Christmas”. The ORR is scheduled to undertake a “periodic review” of High Speed 1 this year.

Boxing Day fatality

At around 14:45 on 26 December, a passenger fell from the platform at Stratford Station on London Underground’s Jubilee line. The passenger was possibly struck by a number of trains before being discovered by London Underground station staff. The accident resulted in fatal injuries. RAIB’s investigation will consider: “the actions of those involved, management of staff in the accident (including their training and competence), arrangements to control risks in such accidents and any underlying factors.” 

Accident at Highdike Junction, Lincolnshire

This junction on the East Coast Mainline lies between Doncaster and Kings Cross. A train travelling to Kings Cross struck parts of a temporary road access point structure that had been left on the line near the junction on 19 December at 06:03. On the previous night this temporary access point had been used as part of an inspection of the overhead power lines. The train was not derailed and no one was injured, but damage was caused to the equipment under the train and, as a result, the train was unable to continue in service. RAIB has undertaken a preliminary examination and has decided to publish a Safety Digest in the next few weeks.

Nottingham Station near miss

This near miss involved the driver of a freight train and occurred on New Year’s Day at around 10:17. The freight train had been stopped so that the driver could examine his train. The driver used the adjacent line and walked back along the train. A passenger train approached at approximately 37mph. The driver of the passenger train saw that the driver of the freight train was in an unsafe position, braked and used the warning horn. This gave the freight train driver time to move off the line and avoid being struck. Following a preliminary examination, RAIB has decided to publish a Safety Digest.

Broughton Ferry tree collision. Credit: ASLEF.

Broughton Ferry tree collision

On 27 December last year, a passenger train collided with a tree which had fallen across the track from outside of the railway boundary. The 13:17 passenger train travelling between Balmossie and Broughton Ferry on the Perth to Aberdeen line was travelling at 84mph when the collision occurred. The driver made an emergency brake application before taking shelter behind the driver’s seat immediately before the impact. The driving cab was heavily damaged, but the driver received only minor injuries. On that day, Storm Gerrit had brought heavy rain and strong winds. The train was heavily damaged and was disabled. Its passengers were evacuated. RAIB’s investigation is underway.

All railways to contribute

Our railways need to step up and play their part in restricting global warming. This includes not only heavy rail, but also trams, metros, and the latest developments of very light rail systems. Commuter patterns have changed dramatically, with many employers supporting working from home.

The replacement of heavy goods road vehicles by less polluting freight trains is key, but needs the improvement of hot axle box detection, wheel impact loading, and more. Improving freight wagons with timetabled reliable services made affordable and flexible, not to mention automatic coupling systems are surely the way forward!

‘The Peaks and Dales Line’: Bringing relief on a congested network

Stephen Chaytow of the Manchester and East Midlands Rail Action Partnership, makes an updated and strengthened case for reinstatement of the Peaks and Dales line, first covered in Railstaff in December 2021.

Formed in 2019, the Manchester and East Midlands Rail Action Partnership (MEMRAP) campaigns for the reinstatement of the Peaks and Dales Line. This 36-mile reinstatement and upgrade runs from Ambergate Junction to Buxton / Chinley via Matlock. It is comprised of 13 miles of empty trackbed, partly occupied by the Monsal Trail, plus a further 23 miles of mostly single track, for freight in the north and the Matlock passenger branch line in the south.  

Reinstatement would return the first regular, direct Leicester-Derby-Manchester service since closure in 1968. Without this key link, the East Midlands remains significantly under-connected with Manchester and the North-West, to the economic, social, and environmental detriment of all. However, as time goes by, events are increasing the route’s potential. Following the recent HS2 cancellation north of Birmingham, there is fresh benefit for congested West Midlands lines.

Reinstatement of the Peaks and Dales line would also contribute to ‘levelling up’ for a catchment of around 9 million people. In addition, a substantial proportion of 13.25 million annual visitors (pre-Covid), seeking to enjoy the beauty of the Peak District National Park, could in future arrive by train, no longer congesting its narrow roads, unsuited to such numbers. MEMRAP’s survey work found that visitors would prefer to do so.

DMU from Buxton arriving at Millers Dale 13-8-1960. Credit: Colin Boocock

Despite this strategic route not being listed by Beeching for closure, ‘the Peak Line’ was lost in 1968, having connected the East Midlands and its economy with the North-West for 101 years. Since then, a combination of Derbyshire’s challenging limestone terrain in a wonderful National Park, through which the railway had passed for some 17 years, conspired to ensure that nothing replaced its valuable connectivity. Indeed, surface travel today cannot equal the best non-stop time of 75 minutes by train between Derby and Manchester of 60 years ago. Today’s indirect rail options barely break 105 minutes, with a change, whilst road times are longer, dependent on congestion. Yet just as leading EU cities commit to connect cities with high-speed rail, the UK sees this ‘levelling down’ effect, with two adjoining regions of England drifting apart, seeing a wasting away of previous economic and social cohesion.

Current developments

Following last autumn’s HS2 announcement, much has already been written about the resulting congestion on the West Coast Main Line (WCML). A number of schemes are being proposed as palliatives, so now is the time to promote the case for the Peaks and Dales line. The trackbed and residual infrastructure of one of the most nationally significant and picturesque mainline rail routes remains largely intact but overlooked. Key stakeholders acknowledge that reinstating this secondary mainline, operating between London and Manchester, just as Chiltern does between London and Birmingham, could bring growth for the East Midlands and relief for a congested WCML.

This surely elevates the Peaks and Dales line from regional to national significance as regional UK contemplates a life without high-speed rail. Yet a recent letter from the Rail Minister, to one of this campaign’s sponsors, Robert Largan, MP (High Peak), stated that, after the closure of the 2020/2021 Restoring Your Railway scheme, the DfT intended that future reinstatement proposals would be considered only by the relevant local authority and its LEP. For a scheme of not merely local or regional but national significance, inclusion in a rewritten Integrated Rail Plan seems more appropriate.

In addition, there will be further political hiatus in the East Midlands as transport powers will devolve to a new East Midlands Mayor, to be elected in May 2024. Is this appropriate for a potential Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project such as Peaks and Dales? If WCML capacity towards Manchester is limited to a maximum of 14 trains per hour (tph), then the possibility of incremental capacity of 2tph or maybe more from the Peaks and Dales line could prove enormously helpful.

Also, Derbyshire communities would be reconnected with both Derby and Manchester, and such a scenic route would appeal to other markets. Visitors would be pleased to accept a less frenetic pace of travel in return for competitive fares and a route through the beauty of the Peak District National Park, while Network Rail rates this route important for freight. Some rail commentators suggest that the GB network faces hard choices between passenger and freight, but Peaks and Dales offers both. The line’s incremental new capacity could relieve notorious ‘pinch points’ such as the Dore curve, the Hope Valley line, and Midland Mainline north of Chesterfield, in addition to emerging WCML challenges.

Of course, none of this ignores the further attractions of this reinstatement to an interested heritage operator, able to operate to mainline standards, through a National Park offering exquisite scenery for its passengers.

The multi-user Monsal Trail

Following 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, the last feasibility study (Scott Wilson, 2004) paid scant attention to the possibility of any trail reprovisioning. As a result, Derbyshire County Council policy prioritised the alignment for walking and cycling over rail, leading to reopening of tunnels in 2011 and a growth in trail usage. 

D106 at Ambergate with Manchester Central-Derby stopping train 5-10-1963. Credit: Colin Boocock.

MEMRAP has now identified opportunities for a new, near level trail of an equivalent specification and seeks a study to evaluate this major opportunity. It would be opened ahead of reinstatement work to ensure continuity of this loved, but presently unsustainable, public amenity. And while the expanding domestic leisure sector is likely to have higher visitor numbers than the 330,000 metered movements reported, this represents modest usage for occasional leisure activity compared with an overall catchment of 9 million people.

Most National Park visitors (13.25 million annually) arrive by car, which the Authority recognises as unsustainable. MEMRAP’s own carbon study made the case for a shift to rail measured in millions, borne out by its own conversations with 3,000 visitors to the Monsal Trail in 2022.  Also, if the Peak District National Park is ever to deliver Net Zero for surface travel, only rail can achieve transfer out of cars and onto public transport on the scale required. Thus, this ‘rail plus trail’ scheme offers green, sustainable growth – plus an approach to local Net Zero.

Economic and social consequences of closure

Closure of the Manchester Mainline aligned with post-war national policy to rationalise apparent excess capacity of duplicated rail infrastructure. By doing this, demand could be funnelled onto the newly electrified WCML, to demonstrate success. Former travellers from Buxton, Chinley, or Chapel-en-le-Frith could now only access rail for London by travelling north to change at Stockport, or by driving to Macclesfield for a direct service. This merely accelerated today’s WCML congestion. The limitations of this policy could now be reversed by the Peaks and Dales Line. Examples of Transport for the North’s analysis of the effects of Transport Related Social Exclusion, as applied to Derby – Manchester, include:

The South East of Manchester is disadvantaged by a connectivity gap (which the Peaks and Dales line would bridge) and this has been recognised in a recent letter from Mayor Andy Burnham to the second campaign sponsor, Nigel Mills MP (Amber Valley). Stockport MBC was also in favour and backed MEMRAP’s bid to Restoring Your Railways in 2020 with a letter of support to the DfT. Infrastructure investment shortfall in Derbyshire and the East Midlands, together with consequent economic under-performance, is regularly cited in East Midlands councils reports.

Residents in the north of a disconnected county (e.g. Chinley, Chapel, and Buxton) have long complained that Matlock, the county town, is inaccessible by reliable public transport. The last Peak District bank branch (in Bakewell) is now scheduled for closure, one factor of many contributing to rising deprivation. Such entrenched isolation has greatest impact on the 30% of residents (per ONS and TfN) without access to a car. Forced Car Ownership studies tell us that those at the economic margin, who cannot afford a car, must still incur debt to use them for work, or be forced to move, away from their community roots.

OECD reports and others, most recently a study co-written by Ed Balls, show the effect of inaction on economic and social problems. Identified by Manchester Metropolitan University, as far back as 2006, this has helped to open a productivity gap, with the rest of the UK (per ONS), and also with other developed nations. MEMRAP envies the successful regeneration of Scottish Borders, more deeply rural than Derbyshire Dales. Reinstatement of Borders Rail between Tweedbank and Edinburgh has revived Galashiels and other settlements in the catchment. 

The economic and environmental case for reinstatement

Reconnecting Derbyshire brings advantages to a significant proportion of the county. This continues to rise, as MEMRAP encounters more distant residents, content to drive to a railhead and travel from stations such as Derby, Belper, and Matlock, to access semi-fast trains for Manchester or London. The potential for the future of passenger growth is thus likely to be even more significant than originally projected. Matlock and Bakewell would become accessible to Manchester labour markets, while Buxton and Chapel could once again reach Derby and Nottingham.

Turning to the topic of environment and biodiversity, the opportunity could be both considerable and compliant. This is because the temporary statutory powers accorded during a rail reinstatement are greater than those granted by the legislation that created National Parks. For example, the potential for emissions reduction was first investigated in 2019/2020 with Derby and Nottingham universities, with impressive reductions projected for both passenger and freight traffic. When considering biodiversity net gain, the creation or extension of nature recovery networks could significantly improve long term biodiversity prospects for that part of the National Park closest to the alignment.

Buxton and Very Light Rail

In 2021, MEMRAP identified a five-mile public transport connectivity gap between Buxton and the Monsal Trail that might be resolved by the innovative battery-powered Very Light Rail (VLR) Eversholt / TDI consortium. Having discovered that VLR might be suitable, the team introduced the consortium to Derbyshire and Buxton elected representatives. MEMRAP then handed over the project, which might be regarded as a pilot for the main reinstatement, as it would demonstrate both feasibility of interoperability with freight and indicate demand, at least for local visitor traffic.

If the current initiative, led by the Buxton Town Team is successful, not only would a shuttle from Buxton to the Monsal Trail be created, but the new dead-end turnback at Blackwell Mill halt would be a first station of those proposed for evaluation by MEMRAP. For a proposal not even included in three rounds of Restoring Your Railway, this might be regarded as rather rapid progress.

Conclusion

From the above high-level analysis, this proposal could be overdue for some serious consideration. At one recent presentation, a key stakeholder commented that the strategy “shines out”.  However, they also pointed out that the campaign now needs to convert that into a robust business case for the Department for Transport and Treasury. In addition, evaluation of options for the new Monsal Trail should be available to the point where relevant authorities are content that leisure quality is unimpaired, and reinstatement is genuinely sustainable.

An election year is not the best time to be seeking financial support from government, for a scheme outside Network North proposals. MEMRAP is therefore delighted to have its new partnership with the University of Derby. Scoping to turn strategy into a business case, assess the state of infrastructure, and evaluate Monsal Trail options is under discussion. In addition, should an eventual pilot for Buxton VLR show up high demand, the case for the Peaks and Dales line might become unstoppable.

Exciting times might lie ahead!

Image credit: MEMRAP

Unique challenges in a changing climate

Met Office Climate Scientist Alice Lake discusses how climate change will continue to influence the efficiency of the UK’s railways.

A winter of what has seemed like a succession of named storms disrupting the rail industry has served as a reminder of how the weather in the UK has a habit of keeping us all in check. When you throw in periods of snow and ice, it can be hard to think long-term about rail planning for next summer, let alone summer in 50 years.

Alice Lake – Credit: Met Office

Recent years have already demonstrated how the variability of the UK climate can be challenging for rail operators and workers. A record-breaking 40.3°C was recorded at Coningsby in the summer of 2022 in what was a landmark moment for the UK climate. Storms and the dreaded leaves on the line represent other hazards, and that’s before you even get on to the snow and ice risk over the winter months.

Weather hazards affecting the rail industry in the UK isn’t a new challenge. But it is a changing challenge in the context of climate change. We’re already observing long-term trends in the UK’s temperature which could have knock-on impacts on the efficiency of rail operation.

Using 30-year meteorological averaging periods, average daily maximum temperatures for the UK have risen by around 0.9°C when comparing 1961-1990 to the most recent averaging period of 1991-2020. While this may sound like a small difference to those who work outside climate science, these changes can have big impacts in the weather we experience on the ground, or on the railway.

Climate projections for the UK suggest an increase in the frequency of hotter, drier summers, which means rail resilience has to adapt in the long term, while other hazards will still persist. Even in a changing climate, cold weather will continue in the UK, as seen at points in January this year, but climate projections also indicate an increase in the frequency of warmer, wetter winters, with more intense rainfall events throughout the year.

Those familiar with rail infrastructure will be aware of the temperature challenges of the UK’s tracks. Steel tracks, often decades old, are designed to be operable within a certain temperature range. Go beyond that range, at either end, and rail service operators will have to enact speed restrictions to ensure safety, or cancel services when needed.

With the UK’s climate still needing to withstand temperatures at both ends of the scale, even in a changing climate, it’s a unique challenge that many other countries don’t have to consider. This is why a common complaint from onlookers that rail services run without restrictions in hotter conditions in other countries is a bit of a red herring. Warmer countries lay track which can operate within their likely temperatures. The extremes of UK temperatures mean that isn’t always possible here.

Credit: Network Rail

Many companies quite rightly have to consider the transport challenges of today before thinking about the climate in 50 or 100 years. It’s why the Met Office’s services to rail operators remain so popular. Whether it’s low adhesion forecasts, temperature information or data services, Met Office consultants help many operators run their network efficiently day-to-day.

However, there’s also an interest in longer-term and bespoke climate information to help operators understand the challenges of the next century of rail in the UK in the context of weather and climate.

Climate change’s long-term impact on rail infrastructure is one of the studies we’re actively working on. This study should help us to provide further bespoke weather and climate information for customers to help with strategic decision making.

The rail industry has always been able to adapt to changing weather conditions. In the coming decades, we’ll need to adapt over the long term to meet the climate challenges of the future.

www.metoffice.gov.uk/services

Lead image: istockphoto.com

Honoured Members of the Rail Industry

When King Charles’ New Years Honours List was announced at the end of December, individuals across the country in all fields of work were celebrated for their contributions to society, the community, and industry. Among the usual politicians, musicians, actors, and sports stars were a select few individuals whose work in the rail industry earned them much-deserved accolades. RailStaff honours these esteemed employees who have certainly gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)

Ruth Busby of Great Western Railway (GWR) was delighted to receive an OBE. Ruth, who is people and transformation director (regional) for GWR and Network Rail Wales and Western, is a champion of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), and was awarded for ‘services to diversity in the rail industry’. The honour recognises not only her work at GWR and Network Rail, but the numerous other organisations she represents to help revolutionise the railway.

In January this year she began a joint strategic role with responsibility for the HR and Internal Communications teams in both GWR and Network Rail’s Wales and Western Region.

Over the past couple of years, she has also worked with the Department for Transport, the Samaritans, and Mental Health at Work, to lead a research study on mental health and wellbeing across the rail industry.

She is also the executive sponsor for Rail Wellbeing Live, and non-executive director of the Youth Futures Foundation.
“I’m absolutely thrilled and feel so humbled that people took the time to nominate me,” said Ruth. “We know that people are at their best when they feel valued, can be themselves, and believe that their wellbeing matters.

“The work that I and my brilliant teams have been doing has aimed to create greater equity and workforce diversity, so that we’re more representative of the communities we serve and have an environment where everyone can flourish.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with organisations and charities beyond the day job to help bring about some exciting and positive change. I’m particularly proud of the work we’ve done to promote and support positive mental health and wellbeing, which is so important.”

Munir Patel – Credit: RIA

Munir Patel, CEO of XRail Group was awarded an OBE for services to Rail Exports. He has transformed XRail into a globally focused business and drove it to achieve a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2022 for outstanding achievement in international trade.

Munir is credited with single handedly developing an export business in XRail and his determination to succeed resulted in the award of contracts against intense global competition. He is a shining example to rail businesses of what can be achieved taking a long-term perspective, and proactively encouraging and supporting others to develop export capability.

Munir said: “I am deeply honoured and humbled to receive this OBE for international export. Our journey in global trade has been marked by resilience, innovation, and a shared vision for creating positive impact. Together, we’ve transcended borders, turning challenges into opportunities.

“This honour is not just an accolade for me but a celebration of collaboration, determination, and the power of fostering international relationships. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all who have been part of this remarkable journey.”

Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)

Rizwan Javed of MTR Elizabeth line is no stranger to the limelight, having won numerous accolades for his commitment to raising awareness of mental health issues and helping those in distress. He was appointed an MBE for saving the lives of 29 people since 2015.

Rizwan, who won a Samaritans Lifesaver Award at the 2018 RailStaff Awards, said: “I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and to have the confidence to approach people, build on that small talk, and potentially save many lives.

“Some people may look lost on the platforms, other people like to hide themselves away until they are approached, and some people you are fortunate enough to catch before they take that final step in front of a train.

“If I see people missing trains or going backwards and forwards to the edge of the platform, I feel I need to go and challenge that. It’s my duty to make sure everyone at that station is safe.”

Rizwan continues to raise awareness of mental health issues and has a profound impact on commuters. Working alongside Samaritans, he helps to promote its Small Talk Saves Lives campaign.

Speaking to the BBC, Rizwan said he received the letter telling him he was being appointed MBE through the post when he was asleep. His mother insisted he opened it, and in the end did it herself.

“She was more excited for me than I was because I was half asleep,” he said. But when she told me, I had to read it about 10 times to digest it, it was amazing.

“I feel like this MBE award has given me the confidence to take it a step further on a wider scale.”

British Empire Medal (BEM)

Richard Isaac of Northern Rail was awarded the BEM in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the local community.

Working as a regional community and sustainability manager for Northern in Leeds, Richard also spearheads the organisation’s work with schools, community groups and station adoption schemes across Yorkshire.

Richard Isaac – Credit: Northern

He has been a passionate advocate for how trains can connect communities with employment and education opportunities as well as working to tackle social isolation and crime via the National Citizen Service (NCS).

“It is a great honour to be included in King Charles’ New Year Honours list,” said Richard. “Although I have received this award, I feel it is a reflection of everyone at Northern’s commitment to communities across the North.

“I would like to thank the Northern leadership team and our fantastic staff volunteers from across the business. Without such an amazing team behind me my work would not be possible.”

Tricia Williams, chief operating officer at Northern added: “This is amazing news and everyone at Northern is so very proud of Richard. He is a brilliant part of the team here at Northern and throughout his career he has made a huge difference to the communities we serve.”

South Western Railway’s (SWR) Chico Coulibaly & Sam Camfield both received BEM awards for their work during Operation London Bridge, the planning for the Lying-in-State and funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

As regional manager at Waterloo, Chico, was a major part of the organisational structure for the operation. Working with Network Rail and management teams, he helped to ensure that Waterloo would be a safe and welcoming environment for the many thousands who would be making their way into the capital. On the day of the funeral itself, a major power failure led to the closure of the Paddington-Reading line, resulting in thousands of additional customers being diverted to SWR’s services from Reading to Waterloo. This unexpected influx of people had to be safely managed and passed through the station to their final destinations and this huge task was overseen by Chico.

With the members of the marketing team, Designer Manger Sam was responsible for developing the entire visual suite of materials displayed across all SWR channels. What people would see when they visited the SWR website and social media platforms or arrived at SWR stations is very important and, as design manager, Sam was responsible for ensuring that the visual impact of all SWR channels, digital platforms and stations was respectful and honoured the late monarch.

There was a particular focus needed for Windsor & Eton Riverside station, which was ‘dressed’ specifically for the occasion with individual assets such as special banners to go on the railings alongside the platforms, hiding the car park from view, and special hoardings which improved the view for passengers waiting to get into and out of the station.

Claire Mann, SWR’s managing director, said of the pair: “I’m delighted that the hard work of Chico and Sam in helping us to deliver our response has been recognised by His Majesty in the 2024 New Year Honours List. I would like to congratulate them on their British Empire Medals on behalf of everyone here at SWR.”

Zoe Sookun – Credit: Network Rail

Finally, Network Rail’s Zoe Sookun was awarded the BEM for services to the railway through her work in project managing the delivery of the Rail Aid for Ukraine project.

Zoe project managed the £10 million Network Rail aid package to Ukrainian Railways last year, which among other things included the delivery of: eight bridge spans to replace damaged bridge decks; four heavy JCB construction machines to assist with grain export; automated railway inspection equipment to enable accurate inspection of bomb damage; and a rapid tunnel repair system for fixing damaged railway tunnels.

Ukrainian Railways (Ukrzaliznytsia) made a passionate speech at the annual general meeting of the International Union of Railways, praising Network Rail and the DfT as the only organisations providing practical help. The railways are vitally important in Ukraine, with 60% of freight transported by rail.

“I cannot put in to words the emotions I felt when I visited the depot and saw the containers filled with bridging equipment being loaded on to the wagons,” said Zoe. “I could finally breathe a sigh of relief that we had done it! Being able to see the loaded trains leave and then travelling to Poland to sign over the aid to UZ will be a memory that I will hold on to for years to come.”

Commending Zoe’s work, Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, said: “Zoe’s dedication to supporting the delivery of the Rail Aid for Ukraine project has been inspiring. She represents the very best of us and richly deserves this recognition. Thank you for all your hard work and many congratulations!”

Shining examples

RailStaff congratulates all on these pages for their tremendous efforts and achievements. You truly are exceptional personalities, in an industry of extraordinary people.

Lead image: Ruth Busby, Credit: GWR

The RailStaff Awards – A night like no other

It only seems five minutes since we were celebrating at the RailStaff Awards 2024, but we’re already preparing for another spectacular event.

The Awards become more impressive each year, and 30 November saw a party like no other. The evening’s theme was ‘Effervescence’, a celebration of everything that oozes glitz and glamour, and attendees dressed to the nines for a night of indulgence. Star of TV and Radio Gethin Jones compèred the evening’s events, guiding guests through the night with his easy charm, making the special occasion all the more memorable.

The winners

From rail managers to customer service assistants, apprentices to training managers, the full breadth and depth of the industry’s staff was represented, and a record 144,000 votes were cast to decide the finalists. Our judges had some tough decisions to make, but eventually the names of our winners were announced:

Apprentice or Newcomer of the Year
Smital Dhake, Alstom

Award for Charity
Mark Fielding-Smith, AtkinsRéalis

Special mention – George the Stourbridge Station Cat.

Digital Railway (S&T) Person or Team Award
Scotland’s Railway Communication Teams, Scotland’s Railway

Depot & Freight Staff Award
GB Railfreight Felixstowe Operations Team, GB Railfreight

Sustainability & Net Zero Person or Team Award
Green Travel Pledge, Rail Delivery Group

Customer Service Award
Jonathan Louis, Southern Rail

Recruitment & Talent Acquisition Person or Team of the Year
Erin Gray, Network Rail

Samaritans Lifesaver Award
Megan Moore, ScotRail

Rail Manager of the Year
Rhiannon Price, BTTC

Safety Person or Team Award
Bridget Nolan and Jeremy Rogers, Southern Railway / GTR

HR, Diversity & Inclusion Person or Team Award
Paul McGunnigle-White, Trenitalia c2c

Station Staff Award
St Pancras International Station Team, Network Rail High Speed

Health & Wellbeing Award
Railway Mission Chaplain Team, Railway Mission

Learning, Development & Investing in People Award
Chris Crawley & The City and Guilds Impact Team, City & Guilds Training (Intertrain)

Rail Engineer of the Year
David Millar, Balfour Beatty VINCI

Lifetime Achievement Award
Julie Garn, GB Railfreight

Rail Team of the Year
Johnstone Station Staff, ScotRail

Rail Person of the Year
Joana Amoh, Carlisle Support Services

Services to Public Wellbeing

A special mention must be made of George the Stourbridge Junction Station Cat. George was nominated in three categories for his dedication to the well being of staff and passengers alike. George has been a resident of the station since 2017 and, on top of his mouse-catching duties, he has built up a large online following who appreciate the positive messages he posts on a daily basis.

After receiving over 11,000 votes, George graciously withdrew from the competition to allow his human colleagues the opportunity to celebrate.

As a gesture of our appreciation, George has been awarded a very special award for Service to Public Wellbeing.
You’re a worthy winner, George!

A ceremony beyond compare

Each year, the RailStaff Awards gains more attention, more nominations, and more positive feedback, but what is the key to its success?

One major difference is that the Awards are solely for the industry’s amazing staff – the people that keep the wheels turning. The event recognises those who go the extra mile, whether that’s supporting their co-workers, making the railway safer, helping society at large, or just making peoples’ days a little brighter. It honours the people who work beyond their jobs, set aside their precious time for others, and remind us all to care for everyone on the network.

“The RailStaff Awards recognise the people in our industry who regularly go the extra mile,” said Rail Media Managing Director Adam O’Connor on the night.

“It’s humbling to be able to stage this event and see the impact it has on the industry’s incredible work force. Every winner and highly commended individual deserves applause, so too all the finalists and nominees.

Looking ahead

Now we get on with the job of making this year’s event bigger, better, and more memorable than ever. It won’t be an easy task, but we’ve managed to outclass ourselves each and every year.

If you’ve never attended, the RailStaff Awards is always a spectacular night, but more than that it’s a celebration of the people that make the industry great. It’s an evening when the whole railway family comes together to honour its brightest stars.

Join us in November for an amazing experience. Take the opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues, enjoy spectacular entertainment and, once the winners are announced, dance the night away.

Make 2024 the year you join us in celebrating the wonderful employees of the rail industry. It’s a night you don’t want to miss.

www.railstaffawards.com

Expert commentary – Jo Kaye, CEO, Railway Benefit Fund

Jo Kaye was appointed CEO of Railway Benefit Fund (RBF) in September last year after a lengthy career in rail leadership. RailStaff caught up with Jo to discuss how she came to lead RBF, and the challenges of the current economic climate.

Hi Jo, thanks for joining us. Would you mind giving us a brief overview of your career to date and your journey to becoming CEO of RBF?

Before joining RBF, I worked for nearly 25 years with Network Rail and its predecessor organisations, where I worked in all kinds of roles but mainly frontline operational management. In the early days I worked predominantly in East Anglia and then came up to the North West where I was involved in the West Coast route modernisation project and looked after the region that is now Northwestern Central.

My most recent role at Network Rail was in strategy – strategic planning for the future and timetable planning. I left Network Rail in 2019 and worked in some non-exec and voluntary roles. When I saw the opportunity at RBF, it seemed like a perfect fit for me – a fantastic charity in the industry that I love.

You’ve worked with charitable organisations before – could you give us some background on that?

I’m currently a trustee with an educational charity – a multi-Academy trust, I’m a volunteer first aider with St. John Ambulance, and, during the pandemic, I was a volunteer vaccinator. All of that has given me different understanding of the relationship between the voluntary sector and bodies like the NHS. These opportunities have broadened my knowledge outside of the railway industry, and given me an understanding of other important public services including education and health.

As CEO of RBF, what challenges are you currently seeing among railway staff?

We’ve seen a huge increase in demand for our services over the last few years. Most of our services are around financial support, whether that’s direct financial support via grants to people in need, or providing advice and guidance to people about how to manage their financial issues and prevent them falling into crisis.

There are many reasons behind this uptick in demand. Fuel and food prices have rocketed over the past couple of years, and this cost-of-living crisis is impacting rail industry employees. Many people in the general public believe that rail industry roles are very well paid and that employees are buffered from rising costs, but that is not the reality of the situation.

Every day, our services deal with people who are in financial distress through no fault of their own. That’s despite having a full-time job in the rail industry. Five or so years ago, much of our support went to retired members of the railway, but we’re now supporting more current rail workers than ever.

I’d like the whole of the industry to think about that, because we’re not just here to support those who worked for us in the past. You can be working full-time but still find yourself in difficulty.

The winter months are always a tough time for those facing financial difficulties. How is RBF helping during this period?

As well as financial hardship, the other thing that comes into focus at this time of year is loneliness. One of the services we’ve recently started is ‘Check in and Chat’, which is a befriending service for people who’ve worked in the rail industry. We talk a lot about the railway being a family and I absolutely believe that’s true. Sometimes, when people leave the industry, they can really lose that sense of family and loneliness can become a big problem.

Check in and Chat matches up volunteers with people who would benefit from regular contact and encourages them to arrange regular phone calls between themselves. In the winter months, when it gets dark outside early and the weather can be bad, retired people sometimes find that lots of their usual activities become more difficult. Check in and Chat gives them a chance to talk to someone from the rail family, and a lot of our volunteers have reflected on what fantastic conversations they’ve had.

This service is so important for us as it shows that we’re more than just a provider of financial support. Loneliness is a huge problem and it’s a real shame that people should feel forgotten about, particularly at this time of year.

Regarding the subject of loneliness, how does RBF become aware of people who are dealing with this problem?

Sometimes it becomes apparent when people contact us for financial support, but we also do a great deal of research on the subject. We run social events for the retired community and a lot of the feedback we get is that people really enjoy themselves because it gets them out of the house and gives the opportunity to meet up with likeminded people. The issue of loneliness comes up time and time again and that prompted us to really think about how we can help. Check in and Chat is having a real positive impact and it’s something that our volunteers can do from anywhere in the country without having to give up a huge amount of time. It’s certainly providing a real benefit to those who are feeling a bit forgotten.

It seems unlikely that the UK’s economic situation will significantly improve any time soon. With that in mind, what sort of problems do you expect to see in the coming months?

We are expecting demand for our services to remain high. There doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the economic situation and, as we all know, while some people are able to manage for a while in difficult circumstances, eventually their resources can run out. We could see demand for financial support increase, and we are planning for that. That’s also one reason why we’re continuing to have as many conversations as we can with industry, driving home the importance of supporting us.

The only money that we receive to help others is raised through fundraising of one sort or another, be that corporate partnerships or individual donations, and we need to continue to encourage as many people as possible in the industry to support us. Ultimately, the money that we receive goes straight back out to support members of the railway family, and that’s so important for people to recognise. We are planning for a busy 2024 of fundraising, with Railway Family Week taking place from 22 April as a key focus for the whole industry and its partners.

Our broader message is really one of encouraging people to think about whether or not they could support us on a regular basis. Having an increased regular income through, for example, individual giving would be hugely beneficial to us and enable us to plan our services for the longer term. There are lots of ways of doing that and it doesn’t have to be anything more than a couple of pounds a month. That money is going to be spent on other people within the rail industry and it will not go anywhere else.

Finally, what advice can you give to somebody who is currently facing financial difficulties at the moment?

I’d say two things. First, don’t put your head in the sand. Quite a few of the cases that we see involve problems that have been going on for some time. One thing I know is that these problems will not go away by being ignored. Second, pick up the phone. There are lots of organisations you can contact, including Citizens Advice, but you must make the decision to get in touch. The sooner you do that, the easier it will be to manage the problems that are on the decks. Take action as soon as the problem arises. Please don’t ignore it.

Contact

Email: [email protected]
Tel: 0345 241 2885

To get involved with fundraising or volunteering, visit www.railwaybenefitfund.org.uk

Image credit: RBF

Young Rail Professionals: Showcasing the industry

Bonnie Price, chair of the Young Rail Professionals (YRP) takes a look at Rail Week 2024 and looks forward to the YRP Annual Dinner on 14 March.

Railweek got off to a great start this year! Our Railweek lead James Shanley said: “One of the reasons I began working in the rail industry is that I was captivated by the exciting opportunity to travel by train as a child. A passion that was ignited over 20 years ago, in no small part due to some family members, never waned.

“As a means of transport and as an industry to work in, rail offers so much to society and gives me such satisfaction knowing that I do a job that will ultimately make travel, more secure, accessible, and greener for future generations.

It is this passion that also drives me for the Railweek initiative. It is designed at its core to encourage people to the industry by showcasing some of the most interesting areas of our industry. I want future generations to feel the way I do about the possibilities rail can offer and, as part of that, show people that pursuing a career in rail is not only exciting and interesting, but really rewarding too.”

Martin Fenner.

Encouraging a more diverse and younger workforce is key to ensuring the industry has a healthy future. I’m so proud of this year’s events, which have been ably planned and organised by so many dedicated volunteers within YRP’s regions. It would be impossible for me to name everyone, but to all the regional leads and those who supported them, I am immensely grateful. And if our efforts with those events encourage just one more person to think of a career in rail, whether it’s in Comms, HR, Engineering, or Planning to name just a few, that is how I would mark Railweek as a success. If you would like to see what amazing events are taking place, see the YRP events page for events in your region ranging from depot tours and site visits, to tech talks and panel discussions.

From the end of Railweek (Friday 9 Feb), we are launching the YRP Alumni Initiative. This programme is designed to bring together seasoned professionals who have been in the industry for more than 10 years. The initiative aims to provide a platform for networking, collaboration, and knowledge sharing among esteemed individuals in the rail sector. It will also be an inclusive space for our past and present committee members, corporate members, and YRP individuals.

As part of the Young Rail Professionals Alumni Initiative, four exclusive networking events will be held across the UK each year. These events will serve as a continuation of the remarkable networking experiences witnessed at the annual dinner and awards, fostering meaningful connections and expanding professional networks within the industry.

You can sign up here for this first of its kind event:

Looking to mid-March, the Young Rail Professionals (YRP) Annual Dinner is a highly anticipated event, bringing together young professionals, industry leaders, and key stakeholders for an evening of networking, knowledge sharing, and celebration.

Martin Fenner, founder of Tilt Consulting and co-founder of YRP said: “At the Young Rail Professionals Annual Dinner and Awards, we celebrate the spirit of engineering innovation that propels our industry forward. This event serves as a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of young professionals who are at the forefront of shaping the future of rail. By honouring their groundbreaking contributions, the YRP aims to inspire a culture of continuous innovation and technological advancement within the rail sector. Through their pioneering work, these individuals are not only driving progress but also redefining the possibilities for the future of rail transportation, ensuring that our industry remains at the cutting edge of engineering excellence.”

First and foremost, the YRP Annual Dinner provides an excellent platform for businesses to expand their professional network. The event attracts a diverse range of attendees, including representatives from rail companies, government agencies, educational institutions, and industry associations. This creates a unique opportunity for businesses to connect with potential clients, partners, and collaborators. Building strong relationships within the industry can lead to new business opportunities, collaborations on projects, and access to valuable resources and expertise.

Furthermore, the YRP Annual Dinner offers a conducive environment for knowledge sharing and learning. The event often features keynote speeches and panel discussions by industry experts, providing insights into the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities within the rail sector. Attending these sessions allows businesses to stay up-to-date on industry developments, gain valuable knowledge, and identify potential areas for growth and innovation.

Rob Mullen.

In addition to networking and knowledge sharing, the YRP Annual Dinner also serves as a platform for businesses to showcase their brand and expertise. Sponsorship opportunities are available, allowing companies to gain visibility and recognition among industry professionals. By aligning their brand with YRP, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to supporting young talent and the future of the rail industry, enhancing their reputation and credibility.

From a recruitment perspective, attending the YRP Annual Dinner can be advantageous for businesses looking to attract top talent. The event attracts a large number of young professionals who are passionate about the rail industry. Engaging with these individuals allows businesses to showcase their company culture, career opportunities, and development programs. This can help attract talented individuals who are aligned with the company’s values and goals, contributing to the growth and success of the business.

Rob Mullen, managing director of c2c Rail (Trenitalia) and YRP co-founder and chair (2009-2010) said:

“At the Young Rail Professionals Annual Dinner and Awards, the YRP commends the dedication of young professionals who are driving operational efficiency within the rail industry. Their relentless pursuit of excellence and optimisation is instrumental in shaping a more sustainable and resilient rail network. By recognising their achievements, YRP aims to spotlight the critical role of operational efficiency in ensuring the industry’s long-term success. Through their innovative approaches and best practices, these individuals are setting new standards for efficiency, reliability, and performance, ultimately contributing to a more effective and responsive rail system that meets the evolving needs of society.”

Finally, the YRP Annual Dinner provides a platform for businesses to contribute to the development of the rail industry. By attending and actively participating in the event, companies can contribute to discussions on industry challenges, share best practices, and collaborate on finding innovative solutions. This not only benefits the industry as a whole but also positions businesses as thought leaders and influencers within the rail sector.

Attending the Young Rail Professionals Annual Dinner, from a network perspective, offers numerous benefits for businesses. It provides opportunities to expand professional networks, gain industry insights, showcase expertise, attract top talent, and contribute to the development of the rail industry. By actively participating in this event, businesses can strengthen their position within the industry and open doors to new opportunities for growth and success.

We hope to see you there!

Image credit: Young Rail Professionals