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Lest we forget: Hundreds gather to commemorate railway workers who died during World War One

Railway colleagues from all grades gathered at Southwark Cathedral to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting in the Great War.

Estimates put the number of rail staff who enlisted to fight at around 186,000 – a significant proportion of the 700,000-strong workforce – and it is believed at least 20,850 of those died defending their country.

In 1919, with peace brokered and His Majesty King George V in attendance, a ceremony was held at St Paul’s Cathedral with some 7,000 people joining to honour railway workers from Great Britain and Ireland who lost their lives during the war. One hundred years later on November 6, the industry organised the Railway Workers Centenary Memorial Service, held at Southwark Cathedral, to once more pay its respects – and royalty was again present, this time in the form of HRH The Duke of Gloucester.


Senior railway bosses, Railway Chaplains, BTP officers, members of the Orange Army, train and station staff as well as the families of those who fought in the conflict were among the hundreds of guests from the railway family, many of whom wore their work uniform.

During the one-hour ceremony, representatives from some of these companies took to the lectern to recite a poem, share a story or read from the bible.

Ian Parker, a senior engineer at Network Rail, was part of the industry steering group that helped to organise the service. After an introduction from the Reverend Canon Michael Rawson, Ian spoke to the congregation about his great uncle William Charles Lane. William was working as a porter for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway when he answered the call to fight. He trained as a military medic, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was deployed to the Western Front.

Ian said: “Uncle Bill, as I knew him as a young lad, was like many of his generation, an unassuming and quiet man who responded to the call of war with unassuming and quiet distinction.”

The sounding of the Last Post brought the cathedral to two minutes of silence, although this was briefly broken by the roar of a passing train – an apt disturbance under the circumstances.

Bravery, strength and resilience

Former Royal Engineer Simon Higgens MBE, a director at ISS Labour, recited the war poem ‘In Flanders Field’ and BTP officer Wayne Marques, who tried to stop the terrorists during the London Bridge attack in 2017, read from the Bible as part of a moving ceremony.

Rolling stock engineer Lee Paine provided a further reminder that many service leavers now turn to and succeed in the rail industry after time in the military. Lee works for Govia Thameslink Railway and helps with the Young Rail Professionals’ ‘Into Rail’ programme, to encourage youngsters to think about a career on the railway. A little over a year ago, however, he was a serving infantry soldier in the British Army’s Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment.

In his speech to industry colleagues, a first for him, Lee reflected on the efforts of the railway family at home who helped to transport troops, equipment and kit during the war.

He said: “The bravery, strength and resilience of those on the frontline was matched by the determination, strength and selflessness of those railway people who struggled on the home front. Their contribution was every bit as important as those who fought with bayonets on the frontline.

“They provided a firm foundation from which great things have been built. That’s why events like today are so important for keeping these railway workers’ memories and sacrifices alive. It is their legacy and it’s an incredible legacy to have left behind.”

A fitting tribute

The inclusion of London’s Transport Choir and the Guild of Railway Ringers, who rang the cathedral’s bells, as well as a collection for the Railway Benefit Fund, which helped the children of many railway workers killed in the war, were fitting touches to the service.

Another was the strong presence of the Railway Mission, which has offered confidential pastoral support to railway workers for more than 100 years.

Addressing the audience, Reverend Liam Johnston, the Mission’s executive director, said: “Our industry, our railway family, has always been an agent of connection, creating links and friendships beyond these shores. However, today the railway can carry a message of love, and peace and reconciliation to every part of the United Kingdom, into Europe and beyond.

“The railway industry was instrumental in helping the Allies win the Great War but my message to you today is simply this: that through love and reconciliation, today’s railway family can help bring peace to a troubled world.”

Archway: Educating – Empowering – Connecting

Archway, Network Rail’s LGBT+ employee network, recently held the third conference in its six-year history. Nigel Wordsworth went along to find out how the network has been engaging with both Network Rail employees and the wider industry

Discrimination in any form is abhorrent in today’s society. Legislation requires it to be tackled at every level and in any situation. The railway, as both a significant and caring employer, is no exception to this requirement and actively embraces its responsibilities.

Not that discrimination is unknown on the railway, both in the past and today.

The Irish ‘navvies’ that helped build the network in the mid-nineteenth century were probably the first group to be singled out. Often segregated from their English and Scottish colleagues, as much as for their hard-drinking and hard-fighting reputation as for their nationality, the railway we know today couldn’t have been built without them.

After the Second World War, Eastern Europeans and West Indians began to be seen on the railway in increasing numbers. Although they were, in theory, welcomed, and British Railways didn’t operate any sort of colour bar, there were still stories of lack of opportunity, of promotions earned but withheld, and of bullying.

The trade unions played a large part in bringing the workforce together, particularly when they stood united against the National Front and its hard-line policies in the 1970s.

Gender discrimination is now well-recognised for what it is and what it has done. With some areas of railway employment only six per cent female, it deprives the workforce of diversity, skills and the different attitudes and outlook that a more representative mix brings.

Women in Rail and other organisations have worked hard to improve gender diversity, both by removing the outdated thinking that has led to the current poor figures and by improving the appeal of a job on the railway to schoolgirls and female students alike.


Archway is Network Rail’s LGBT+ network – one of six employee networks that it endorses. Founded in 2013 to support the company’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) employees, the network has grown until it now has 500 members and is LGBT+ (a shorter acronym than LGBTQQIP2SAA – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit (2S), androgynous and asexual – and one which includes allies, or those who support the concept of LGBT without being one themselves). 

More than just a Network Rail organisation, people from train operating companies, the supply chain and industry body the Rail Delivery Group can also join Archway. It held its first conference, Building LGBT Inclusive Workplaces, in 2017. Featuring seminars, workshops and presentations hosted by external leaders in LGBT inclusion as well as from Network Rail and the wider rail industry, it was part of an Archway campaign to drive LGBT inclusion in all railway workplaces, from depots to engineering yards and track-side to corporate offices.

Network Rail’s employee networks:
Archway – helps individuals and the company on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues;
CanDo – provides support and guidance to those with disabilities, whether physical or mental, visible or non-visible;
Cultural Fusion – recognises the benefits that a diverse workforce can bring and wants this to be reflected at all levels within the organisation;
Inspire – supports women in all business areas of Network Rail to fulfil their potential by improving opportunities and working conditions;
The Multi-Faith Forum – recognises the variety of faith practices within the organisation and values everyone’s spiritual, religious and philosophical diversity;
Myriad – promotes an understanding culture that helps employees who have caring responsibilities.

Third annual conference

Over 120 delegates gathered at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre for the third Archway annual conference. The numbers were a sign of the organisation’s growth. The first conference, two years earlier, had been attended by around 50 people in “a social club in London”. The second, last year, was held at Jurys Inn in Milton Keynes. This year it was the NEC.

Another indicator was the opening speaker. Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive, not only gave up half an hour of his time but actually attended for the entire morning, pleased to find the time in his busy schedule.

“The reason I’m really a passionate supporter of Archway is because what you do is not just good for individuals in the organisation,” he told the audience, “but it’s good for the industry that we’re a critical part of and it’s good for the users of the railway as well.

“This is my first summer as chief executive of Network Rail and I was genuinely taken aback by the level of energy and enthusiasm there has been in the Pride events. Held across the country from Edinburgh to Newquay, they demonstrate in a very tangible way some of the passion and commitment of Archway members but also of the wider Network Rail community as well.

Andrew Haines.

“Carrying banners emblazoned with ‘Proud to be Working for You’ are a powerful representation of a network that can go beyond just creating a community and a forum but actually tackling issues, influencing policy and demonstrating potentially to around a million people who will have witnessed that this is a place that welcomes diversity in all its various forms and shapes and guises and might actually encourage people to think about a career that otherwise they might have presumed was never open to them.”

Andrew’s keynote set the whole tone for the day. It was followed by a panel session, chaired by Robert Nisbet of the Rail Delivery Group, in which he was again involved. The other panellists were Lee Forster-Kirkham of the Department for Transport, Daniel Wood of the Rail Delivery Group, Nadine Rae from the TSSA union and Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway.

The panel answered questions from the floor on LGBT+ inclusion in rail. One was “What has been your greatest personal challenge when challenging equality and diversity and how did you overcome it?”

Nadine Rea took that one on, replying that, for her, it had been taking a step up to open up her life to people. The union put out posters with her face on, saying “I’m a lesbian, I’m a mother and I’m a senior leader of a trade union” and she found that quite a challenge.

Alex Hynes added that, in his position, he had a responsibility to be very open and to talk about his position as it encourages others to do the same. “This industry has a massive problem with diversity,” he continued. “One of the things that TfL do, which is good practice, is they measure the diversity of London and they measure their workforce against how London is represented, and I think we should do the same in Network Rail.” 

After several more, equally searching, questions, it was time for the first workshop sessions. Three workshops had been arranged and, during the day, delegates had the chance to participate in two of them.

Putting Passengers First examined the challenges faced by LGBT+ users of the network, and what steps could be taken to address them, run in the style of a thinktank.

Trans Inclusion, run by trans charity Mermaids, featured a young trans person and their parents, talking through their experiences as a family.

Inclusive Employers, the provider of Network Rail’s ground-breaking Archway Allies training programme, hosted a workshop focussing on what it means to be LGBT+, the human experience, sustainable networks and allies.

History lesson

The day’s second keynote speech – delayed because his train was late! – was given by Sir Stephen Wall, for 35 years a member of the Diplomatic Service.

He recalled a time when being gay would not only cause him to lose his job but also perhaps be imprisoned. He finally came out ten years ago and now chairs the Kaleidoscope Trust, which supports campaigners for LGBT rights around the Commonwealth.

“All of us in this room have been on a personal journey,” he commenced, before going on to talk about his own and those of people close to him. He also reviewed the history of anti-gay legislation right up until Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which forbade local authorities to “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”, was repealed in 2003.

But it is still difficult for people to come out, and young persons are still being thrown out of their family homes because of their gender identity.

“One of the reasons I now speak on these issues,” Sir Stephen concluded, “is because the more of us who are out and open about it, the harder it is for us to be marginalised as a side issue.”

Learning from others

Stonewall, the LGBT lobbying charity formed in 1989, is now the largest LGBT rights organisation in Europe. It sets out to empower individuals, transform institutions, change hearts and minds and amend and protect laws on LGBT rights.

Ilona Smith and Molly Byrne from Stonewall spoke of past successes – the repeal of Section 28 in 2003 and of the armed forces regulation that engaging in a homosexual act was grounds for dismissal (repealed 2000). 

They also looked forward, urging organisations in the room to invest in LGBT inclusion, engage senior leaders, profile LGBT role models, raise awareness, collaborate with others and to go beyond the workplace.

Two organisations from the wider rail industry updated the audience on their own activities.

Train operator Southeastern has its own LGBT network, and its leader Paul Prentice spoke about how it was formed, with support from management and inspired by Archway. A Class 395 Javelin train had been decked out in ‘Trainbow’ colours for the 2018 Pride season and had since visited the location of every Pride event in Kent for the last two years.

Jess Webb of the RMT spoke of the union’s efforts to raise engagement, adding that leader Mick Cash wore a ‘rainbow’ RMT badge by choice and kept coming to her for a new one as he is constantly giving it away to members around the country.

Jess Webb, equal opportunities officer, RMT.

A second panel session offered delegates the opportunity to question members of the Archway management team – chairman Babak Erfani MBE, deputy chair Shane Andrews, network officer Charlotte Wardrop and executive sponsor Tim Craddock.

Responding to a question, Shane said that one of the highlights for him was Archway’s recognition as the UK’s LGBT Organisation of the Year in 2017. Tim Craddock, Network Rail’s HR director for organisational development and network operations, is Archway’s executive sponsor. He praised the Archway leadership team for driving forward a positive culture in the company. He commented that there will always be a hardcore five per cent that remain negative, hidden away in the “darkest recesses of the company”, but that Archway’s activities were promoting transparency and bringing this negativity “into the light”.

Chairman’s address

The day’s hosts, Matthew Powell and Emily Blackwell, then thanked the audience for attending and turned the stage over to Babak Erfani. Chairman of Archway since its founding in 2013, this was to be his final act before stepping down in favour of deputy Shane Andrews.

It’s been a tremendous day – real energy, real enthusiasm…

Tim Craddock, HR director, Network Rail

He vowed to do better than last year, when one delegate emailed to say that the chairman’s address “had added no value to their day”. Judging by the laughter from delegates, that had been a minority opinion.

His speech this year was certainly well received. Eschewing the use of the lectern to stroll up and down the stage in a casual manner, he ran through his history, from telling his best friend that he was gay at the age of 14, which meant the whole school knew within 24 hours, then telling his mother, who informed the rest of his family equally quickly, to going back in the closet when he started work. 

Being in at the start of Archway, and chairman for the six years of its existence, had been the privilege of his life. Heading up “a network that has the power to change Britain’s railways” was something he was honoured to have done.

Shane Andrews surprised Babak by presenting him with a notebook full of messages of thanks and appreciation, a humorous video of his career as Archway chairman, and the grateful thanks of colleagues.

The 2019 Archway conference was an unmitigated success. Next year can only be bigger and better. 


“It’s been a tremendous day – real energy, real enthusiasm, great range of speakers. It covered the whole point of how we empower, how we educate and how we connect. It brought together not just Network Rail but our colleagues in the train operating companies and also in the Rail Delivery Group, We’re really trying to drive this as a pan-rail-sector network that can make the whole sector more diverse, more inclusive and more attractive for people to come to and have great careers.”
Tim Craddock, HR director for organisational development and network operations, Network Rail.

“The purpose of the day was to celebrate diversity and inclusion in Network Rail, to reflect on the activities of our LGBT+ network Archway and to give visibility to the range of role models that we have in our business. The fact that one of our exec is an out gay man whose married is fabulous – it’s not something we would have countenanced six years ago, there wasn’t anybody that was out and gay and in a senior leadership position. Now, the fact that people feel comfortable and safe in Network Rail is a really important thing as they can then do their best for us as a business.”
– Loraine Martins MBE, director of diversity and inclusion, Network Rail

“Network Rail is a lot more diverse and inclusive than people may think. Once we created Archway, and set that spark off, people just flocked to it. They recognised a bit of themselves in this network, whether they are LGBT or an ally, recognised it was of value to them as a person and to the company as a whole.  Once it started, there’s been no stopping it. Now we need to get out to front-line employees, who really are the mainstay of Britain’s railways, and get them to feel they are just as much a part of this, and it is just as much for them, as for everyone else who is represented here at conference today.”
– Babak Erfani MBE, senior sponsor (signalling & digital railway), Network Rail

A world class service

Earlier this year, Transport Focus revealed Heathrow Express (HEx) was – for the third time in a row – the train operator passengers are most satisfied with.

HEx prides itself on delivering a first-rate service between Heathrow Airport and London Paddington and is preparing to elevate its service to an even higher level in the face of two emerging challenges.

The first is the opening of the Elizabeth line, which will provide another direct link between the airport and central London. This will provide direct competition to HEx for the first time in its 21-year history. 

The second is the loss of a platform at London Paddington. Currently one of HEx’s unique selling points is that passengers who arrive early for the service can board the train and sign into the complimentary wi-fi to work while they wait for the service to depart. The use of only Platform 7 for 12 months from December will mean passengers will have to wait on the platform for longer than they currently do.


Mike Morgan-Batney, the train company’s new commercial customer experience manager, explained that HEx will focus on customers and employees to drive service quality. 

“We’re really about elevating the product further, despite the challenges coming down the road,” said Mike, who stressed the importance of customer concierges and mobile ticket sales staff to delivering “world class service”.

“I’m at the early stages of rewriting our strategy for the year now and it’s very much centred around our people development and customer engagement.

“The aspiration here is to provide world class hospitality, so we need to start with our colleagues and make sure that we are attracting like-minded people, creating an environment for them to deliver their best service whilst giving them the right tools to deliver what our customers want.”

Mike has almost 15 years’ experience in the aviation industry, largely spent at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports in people management roles.

One of his standout achievements was overseeing the rollout of the passenger ambassador programme at Heathrow. Different functions are overseen by different companies at the airport but the passenger ambassadors, who are dotted throughout and wear purple uniforms, are trained and led by one organisation. They are also equipped with the knowledge and technology to help passengers, regardless of the query. Mike hopes this experience, combined with that as a workforce engagement consultant, will put him in good stead for the transformation at HEx.

Recruitment, training and retainment

This changed approach begins before HEx welcomes new personnel onboard. At the recruitment stage, Mike explained that the focus will be widened to target those with backgrounds in hospitality, particularly those with experience working with airlines or at hotels, to pick up the very best interpersonal and customer service skills. 

Once they join the company, the new starter will go through a new training process that moves away from a reliance on PowerPoint presentations and integrates virtual reality, to ensure they’re engaged while allowing them to experience different situations to better prepare them for work. 

Mike said this virtual reality technology will also allow staff to familiarise themselves with locations such as stations and depots, as well as changes to them, without the timely and costly need to visit them. 

The “most important” aspect of this virtual reality training and the scenarios it can simulate is the ability to allow able-bodied staff to put themselves in the shoes of those with reduced mobility or hidden disabilities, Mike added. 

E-learning modules – accessed through soon-to-be-issued work mobile phones – will ensure this initial investment in training is “kept alive”.

Service recovery training will empower colleagues to turn around a customer’s experience by spending allocated daily budgets on things such as upgraded seats. Mike said this is inspired by some of the world’s best hotels and will bring HEx “one step closer to offering world class hospitality”.

Heathrow Express Academy

The final element to Mike’s new people strategy is retainment and development.

Initially he’ll ensure training facilities are fit for purpose, that rest rooms stimulate staff and that uniforms are comfortable and reflect the service’s quality, but further down the line he has far more ambitious plans. 

Chief amongst these is the launch of the ‘Heathrow Express Academy’, an initiative that will acknowledge staff for years of service and experience by promoting them through grades without the need to enter a management post.

Mike said: “By having a Heathrow Express Academy we’ll have a clear disparity between someone who’s just come in on induction who’ll be on level one for example, and someone who has maybe been in the business for two to three years and has been through the accredited training and is actually on level six, earns more money and is involved in coaching and mentoring, for example. Clear levels that people can progress through.”

To further recognise good customer service, Mike is introducing personalised rewards and he is looking to enable customers to hand out ‘golden tickets’ to staff that go above and beyond. 

“This is something I get up every morning for. Having the autonomy and the commitment from the business to be able to get this thing and run with it and get it off the ground is incredibly exciting,” added Mike. 


Recognising its importance, this year’s RailStaff Awards has a newly launched category dedicated to learning and development – one which Heathrow Express was quick to sponsor. 

Mike said: “Ultimately, we are about employee satisfaction and employee engagement so it’s an obvious choice for us. We absolutely believe in investing in our people and making sure that we reward and recognise good behaviours and good service.” 

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

Jacobs: Investing in the future

On multibillion-pound megaprojects across the globe, clients are relying on the technical expertise of professional services firm Jacobs to overcome their biggest challenges. 

Whether it’s this core capability or programme management, strategic consultancy, intelligent infrastructure advisory, organisational design, environment or sustainability services, Jacobs is helping to connect communities and allow cities to thrive by taking these schemes over the finish line. 

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jacobs is a key partner in developing the country’s Etihad Rail project, which – with plans to construct 900km of new railways – will be the UAE’s largest and most significant freight and passenger network. 

In South-East Asia, Jacobs’ design services have been called upon for the construction of a 350km high-speed line between Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Singapore – the first of its kind in that part of the world. 

Jacobs is also assisting with a study into hydrogen-powered trains on Toronto’s GO rail network in Canada, the Victoria Rail Improvement programme in Australia and, at home, HS2 – Europe’s largest infrastructure project.

HS2 Ltd and companies contracted to build the high-speed line – an integral part of the UK’s future transport network and economic prosperity – have enlisted Jacobs’ help for a variety of roles since 2010, including for design work on the 15km twin-bore Chiltern Tunnel. 


The successful acquisition of CH2M in 2017 integrated additional talent into Jacobs’ ranks. The move saw its rail, geotechnical, transport planning and environmental workforce double and its tunnelling expertise and rolling stock advisory and digital consulting know-how expanded.

Nevertheless, such is the size of the professional service leader’s portfolio of domestic and international projects, and the subsequent demand for technical, leadership and scientific minds, that Jacobs provides career enriching development opportunities for all levels to attract and retain the best talent.

Work on HS2 is enabling the company to enhance its apprenticeship offering, notably in its Birmingham office, with apprentices working on all of its HS2 commissions. Apprenticeships as well as graduate and intern programmes form a key part of this recruitment drive.

John Downer, Jacobs’ director of sales for rail, said: “We believe that investing in the skills development of apprentices is an investment in the future of our business and the future of the industry. We are training more than 140 UK apprentices at any one time, and have more than 850 graduates, technicians and apprentices currently training with us in the UK. 

“We are involved in a variety of training innovations and trailblazer programmes across rail, construction, transport planning and other disciplines.

“We guide our apprentices through practical, ‘on-the-job’ development, fully supported by buddies or mentors from day one.  Many of our apprentices progress to technician and onwards to higher education and professional registration.”

He added: “These early years opportunities are crucial to helping us bring future talent into the wide-ranging careers we offer, shape our future leaders and support our strategy to grow diverse skills and capability and foster innovation.”

In a sign of further support for apprenticeships, not just within the business but in the industry, Jacobs has sponsored the Apprentice of the Year category at the 2019 RailStaff Awards. 

“We have sponsored the apprentice category as it is so meaningful for the industry,” said John. “The skills shortage is the single most influential factor that will hold back the UK in bridging our productivity gap, so an industry and indeed an organisation that invests in future skills will be more resilient and more likely to grow sustainably.”

Inclusion & diversity

Concentrating on its workforce, another priority for Jacobs is inclusion and diversity (I&D). 

At a global level, the company is making measurable progress, with 45 per cent of Jacobs’ board of directors and 75 per cent of its executive leadership team represented by diverse directors and executives. Jacobs also has a European Inclusion & Diversity Council and recently appointed a new I&D lead to oversee I&D implementation in its European business. 

This year it hosted an inaugural Inclusion Week to increase employee awareness of the value of having an inclusive and diverse workforce and is currently introducing mandatory conscious inclusion training for all employees.

John added: “We believe that our committed approach to inclusion and diversity supports an environment where employees will thrive. It enhances the richness of our client offerings, and it’s critical to achieving our strategic and financial commitments.” 

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

Pride, happy grins and fun with a capital F

The cogs are turning on the RailStaff Awards as the grand celebration on November 28 creeps ever closer. 

Hundreds of nominations are now live at www.railstaffawards.com and colleagues are busy voting to ensure their fellow workers make it through to the category shortlists.

The good news if you so far haven’t found the time to recognise a teammate, is that nominations have been extended. So, make sure you put forward those fundraising station managers and fast-learning apprentices – or indeed any colleague who encapsulates the spirit of the awards – before 10am on October 21. 

Meet the judges

As we move from nominations to voting and judging, it seems a fitting opportunity to introduce the panel of industry figureheads who will decide on the railway’s crème de la crème.

The full line-up is made of 15 people – nine representatives from category sponsors and six independent members – and includes:

  • Anna Delvecchio, commercial account director, Amey
  • Glynis Appelbe, HR director, Freightliner Group
  • David Shirres, editor, Rail Engineer
  • Lee Woolcott-Ellis, HR mental health coordinator, Southeastern, and ‘Rail Person of the Year 2018’
  • Marc Johnson, bid writer, DB Engineering & Consulting, and former editor of RailStaff
  • Mark Lomas, head of equality, diversity and inclusion, HS2
  • John Downer, rail sales director, Jacobs
  • John Sheehy, chief executive, TBF
  • Paul Bateman, chief executive, Total Rail Solutions
  • Phil Mounter, transportation sales manager, Westermo
  • Ruth Busby, HR director, Great Western Railway
  • Ruth Sutherland, chief executive, Samaritans
  • Stephen Pearce, retired programme director, telent
  • Tyler LeMay, managing director, Land Sheriffs. 

The final member of the panel is esteemed rail engineer Carolyn Griffiths, board member of the Engineering Council, Irish Rail and AES Engineering. 

“I love this kind of event,” said Carolyn, a former president of the IMechE and former chair of its Railway Division who also established and led the RAIB as its first chief inspector. “I find it very heart-rendering to be honest to see people who work tirelessly for the industry getting recognition for it.

“The happiness and pride of the moment is palpable and infectious. I sat through the awards last year with a big happy grin.”

Carolyn Griffiths.

Carolyn started her career as a depot technician, becoming a supervisor and manager before going on to work on such projects as the Mass Rapid Transit system in Singapore, the SuperTram in Sheffield and the Electrostar train in Sweden as part of a glittering CV. 

She added: “Having worked my way up from the shop floor I know how demanding operational jobs are. When you see these women and men on the stage receiving their awards you can see they’re bursting with pride. And in my view rightly so.”

The judging process

Last year’s ‘enchanted’ ceremony was Carolyn’s first. She said she “had a ball” and described the night as “fun with a capital F”.

She also detailed her meticulous judging process to ensure the most worthwhile nominees get the credit they deserve. 

“Because I’m an engineer, I have to do almost everything by Excel and systematically. So my judging uses a table where I list the key attributes expected on the candidates and weight their importance before scoring each nomination on that basis,” said Carolyn, who assesses the shortlisted entries over a couple of days to prevent getting information overload and to ensure every nomination receives “the proper attention it deserves”.

“It’s very difficult going through in a sequential way saying ‘Oh, that one was good… That was probably better’. By the time you’ve done your fourth or fifth, you’re not sure of the relativity. So, I always score them and add up the scores and go back again to do a brief re-read to convince myself the arithmetic score really does reflect the relative positions of the nominations. It helps to have worked in many different roles in different parts of the rail industry; this has given me a good, broad understanding of the demands of various rail jobs.”

Building on her experience from judging the 2018 awards, Carolyn said she’s on the lookout for “fulsome” nominations that detail exactly why the nominee is worthy of winning the category. 

“We can only judge on what we read in the submissions, so the content of the nominations is crucial. I’ll be looking for nominations that clearly evidence how that person has gone beyond what is expected of them and delivered in an exceptional way,” she added.

People recognition

The industry is inundated with awards ceremonies, there’s no escaping that fact, but the RailStaff Awards stands out from the pack because of its dedication to rewarding railway men and women, rather than companies.

Asked why she believes it is important, Carolyn said: “To be recognised for what you do at work is immense. RailStaff Awards means that recognition is beyond your immediate team. Those at the awards dinner celebrate and applaud the stories of these exceptional rail personnel; they and the candidates know there’s been a systematic process whereby beyond those people who’ve made the nomination, the winners have been assessed relative to peers and the judges have concluded and said this person is special – how good can it get? It must be extremely motivating for the participants to know they are recognised and valued.”

She added: “Long may it live. I hope no matter what the demands on the industry that it never gets distracted from celebrating those people who go the extra mile to deliver the amazing; because it’s these people that make the rail industry great.” 

For more information or to nominate a member of staff, please visit: www.railstaffawards.com

Review: The Rail Safety Summit 2019

This year’s event was the tenth annual Safety Summit. Nonetheless a number of themes featured in the first Safety Summit are evidently still with us. This year’s host was Nicola Uijen who is the HSQE director for Network Rail’s North West and Central Region. 

She introduced the first of two keynote speakers, Martin Frobisher, who is Network Rail’s technical and engineering director. His working career has included time with pharmaceutical firm ICI but his team now sets policy and technical standards together with assurance that they are delivered.

A “Safety Task Force” and more technology

He emphasised the importance of reducing near misses, adding that whilst Britain is the safest large railway in Europe, it is still steadily improving. 

However, the Stoats Nest fatality and the double tragedy at Margam have shocked the industry. The frequency of close calls, the industry’s safety culture and the identification of risks are amongst his priorities. He added that the number of near misses has been increasing since the middle of 2017. A “Safety Task Force” has been set up which has proposed the classifying of access points as red, amber or green and the compilation of a national compendium of line blockage availability on Network Rail’s infrastructure. This is being compiled and SSOW (safe system of work) packs are to be simplified. 

Keynote speaker Martin Frobisher, group safety, technical and engineering director, Network Rail.

He added that “intelligent infrastructure technology” is to be used with track circuit operating devices activated by mobile phones, and new ways of taking possession. A safety improvement programme will be aimed at improving behaviours by bringing about a change in cultures.

A consulting engineer’s perspective

The second keynote speaker was Joan Heery, who became president of the Permanent Way Institution (PWI) in March of this year. 

The PWI has both corporate and individual members, sections meetings (both nationwide and around the world) and is accredited by the Council of Engineering. She has worked in the rail industry for the last 20 years and joined Network Rail in 2002 after a decade of working for contractors. Within Network Rail she worked on track renewals and is now the engineering director for rail within Aecom, which has a worldwide portfolio. Aecom, she said, is committed to safeguarding staff and its “life preserving principles” are underwritten by mandated safety tours and safety awards for individuals. 

Aecom employs around 600 people holding rail safety competences and she was pleased that to date in 2019 only one single RIDDOR reportable incident to a member of staff has been reported. As an example of good practice, she described the provision of survey information for High Speed 2 at Old Oak Common planned to take eight weeks on the ground. A federated BIM model was required, and drone surveying was much quicker, provided the required detail, reduced risks and subsequently site queries. 

Host Nicolas Uijen, HSQE director, NW&C region, Network Rail.

Slips, trips and falls

Next to speak was Network Rail’s chief medical officer Dr Richard Peters, who reminded delegates that medical conditions can impact on safety. Quoting the slogan “a workforce fit for the future”, he said in the Southeast Region 46 per cent of accidents are slips, trips and falls. 

He went on to extoll the merits of ankle support boots with “boa laces” replacing traditional trailing ones. He claimed self-referral by staff with musco-skeletal problems had reduced absences by 28 per cent.


Stuart Webster-Spriggs from Volkerrail spoke about fatigue and referred to the Stoats Nest fatality. He suggested there are fatigue issues in 21 per cent of accident and incident reports; the need for earnings tends to disrupt the work/life balance and it has been estimated that lack of sleep costs industry some £30 billion each year! He commended the RSSB web pages for more information. 

Stuart Webster-Spriggs, HSQES director, VolkerRail.

Staff assaults

Tony Holland is head of security and emergency resilience for GTR. He said staff assaults, both physical and verbal, had been rising and asked, “Is society changing?” He added that the rise is significant for BTP and also paramedics. 

One solution he suggested was the use of body-worn cameras. Their provision to ticket barrier staff has resulted in a reduction of 47 per cent. A particular problem at Worthing Station was resolved by their introduction in November last year following which there have so far been no problems. 

Life and death project

Mike Esbester is a senior lecturer in history at the University of Portsmouth who suggested the history of workforce safety can help today’s situation. His project is “Railway Work, Life & Death”. He spoke of accidents from as long ago as 1913. 

Trespass, vulnerability and suicides at level crossings

After a satisfying hot buffet lunch, Allan Spence, head of corporate and public safety Network Rail, explained the work being done to tackle suicides and trespass at level crossings. Although there are still around 6,000 level crossings on their network some 1,200 have been removed in recent years. He explained that it is now policy to use the names of those killed to make the incidents “more real” to those seeking to improve safety. 

Network Rail has begun a 2019-2029 project called “Enhancing Level Crossing Safety” which focuses on isolated crossings and bridleways. The number of trespassers is increasing, although there has been some improvement to the involvement of youngsters with the “You vs Train” campaigns having a good effect. Allan noted that 70 per cent of trespass occurs near stations. Suicides, he said, leave gaps in families and referred to feedback that suggested the fear of sustaining life-changing injuries was a dissuading factor when it came to youngsters trespassing. He cited the use of centre platform fencing and the intervention of other travellers as well as the work of the Samaritans as praiseworthy. 

Emma Dymond, chief executive, Motion Rail, with her little helper.

“You vs Train” – virtual reality from Motion Rail

Emma Dymond, CEO of Motion Rail, was most ably assisted by a young school student named Adam in her presentation. He operated and was applauded for showing a virtual reality video of the use/misuse of a level crossing. The idea was to take the railway to the classroom and was targeted at five to 11-year olds. The organisation has also produced “training with a difference” with the assistance from the University of South Wales aimed at improving the positioning of lookouts. Other initiatives are aimed at changing both peoples’ perceptions and culture. They organised a stand at the Liverpool Big Bang Fair and caused a nuisance with children throwing their frisbees around. 

The changing face of safety 

BTP Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Furnell reminded delegates that the force has only 3,000 officers nationwide. He commented that crime affecting the rail industry is not only changing but increasing too. Their primary focus is on protecting the vulnerable. He said youngsters involved in “county lines drug distribution” often travel by train as do paedophiles. A “look beyond the obvious” poster campaign is planned as part of the BTP response. He told us that despite 2,500 suicide interventions each year, there is on average one fatality each day. Also last year there were 2,433 detentions under the Mental Health Act.

Law, lessons learnt and risk assessments

Sabyta Kaushal is a partner at PM Law. She deals with personal injury claimants, and defendant insurance claims, as well as being an assistant coroner for Derby and Derbyshire. She stressed the importance of risk assessments in all of her work. If carried out by those too close to the work obvious risks may be missed. Risk assessments are of great importance in litigation. Learning lessons and the beauty of hindsight were also quoted. She ended her presentation by urging the earlier use of lawyers!

Detrainment incidents when delays lead to danger 

This was the title of the presentation made by the chief inspector of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, Simon French. His career as a railway operator began in 1982 when he worked directly with train crew and signallers. He suggested there were lessons to be learnt from investigations. He referred specifically to the detrainment on May 26, 2011, at Kentish Town and a similar event at Peckham Rye on November 7, 2017. At Kentish Town the train began to move whilst still occupied and with its doors open. At Peckham Rye the driver started detraining passengers using his driving cab door 80 passengers left the train passing over the still energised third rail electrified rail as they did so! He also described the incident at Lewisham in 2018 when an iced-up conductor rail stranded a train across a junction trapping it and eight others for between three and four hours. 

Simon French, chief inspector, RAIB

Other examples included the five Eurostar trains which failed in the Channel Tunnel in December 2009.

Improvements, training and passenger tolerance

Simon French pointed out that most train drivers never have to manage a failure remote from a station. Hence, they find such occurrences stressful as they are often solely responsible for the safety of their passengers and in addition need to communicate with signallers and train control. He recommended training in managing incidents, the use of controllers and signallers to support drivers in the early stages of an incident and training in managing incidents. He suggested that passengers should be the focus and that improved train and infrastructure resilience was needed. He recommended such incidents be classified as “safety incidents” rather than “operating failures”. The length of time for which passengers can be kept on trains for safety’s sake, he said, needs to be considered. Tolerability of the conditions on the train are time related and arguably expectations may be excessive. Selection, training and assessment for incident management also needs to be addressed.

Design for assurance: building a safe digital railway 

George Bearfield is the director of health and safety for train leasing company Rock Rail. He commented that failures are rare but specific skills were needed when they occur. He compared modern trains with aircrafts such as the Boeing 737 and acknowledged that problems may result when human judgement is no longer involved. He reminded delegates of the Cambrian Coast situation when in October 2017 the ECTS failed to load the required temporary speed restriction details for the route. He added that cyber security is a growing risk and suggested a more integrated framework, developed with the Department of Transport, should be the next objective. 

Sabyta Kaushal, partner at PM Law, addressing the audience.

Safer possessions using remotely activated track circuit operating devices

Lex van der Poel, co-founder of Dual Inventive, then talked about his company’s ‘ZKL 3000’ self-monitoring track circuit operating device. This protects a section of track by creating and monitoring a short circuit simulating a train in the section. Signalling then shows the section being occupied. The use of this equipment was described in detail by two speakers at the 2017 Safety Summit and early in my article last month under the subheading “track possessions and warning systems” I advocated the use of such systems. A case study from Network Rail’s North Eastern & East Midlands works delivery team showed an increased working time of 26 per cent when the equipment is used.


Ali Chegini, system safety director, reminded delegates of RSSB’s work on prompting conversations around making safe decisions. He called for vigilance when it comes to change, whether that be related to political, structural or systems changes. He talked delegates through making safe decisions and touched on legal responsibility – particularly concerning who should be making decisions, how those decisions should be made and said that not making a decision is often as risky as making one. 

He ended his presentation by highlighting the fact that the reduction of risk in the industry has plateaued and questioned what it will take to improve safety further. 

Thank you to hosts Addleshaw Goddard and sponsors Balfour Beatty, Kelvin Top-Set, Rail Safety Week, RailwayPeople.com RSSB, SmartBrief and VVB Engineering.

Creating a meaningful mental health strategy

Photo: iStock.

Nayia Solea, occupational health & wellbeing specialist at Siemens Mobility, talks about master plans and misunderstandings

There is no doubt that mental health is a hugely important subject to address, but it is also one around which there is a good deal of ignorance and confusion. 

So, to ensure that any programmes that are introduced have a positive effect on a business and its people, it’s an area that must be addressed appropriately and responsibly.  

At the moment, there are many companies operating in the rail industry that have either introduced or are actively pursuing the introduction of mental health first aiders (MHFAs). However, most haven’t first identified what the real underlying issue is that they are attempting to address – or the problems they are trying to solve. Therefore, it might end up as a tick in a box, but it doesn’t necessarily help anyone.

As with many things, an MHFA programme needs to start with data. By taking an evidence-based approach and properly understanding the areas that need to be addressed, it’s possible to develop a strategy that is tailored to each businesses’ individual needs and to develop appropriate and quantifiable performance measures. At its most effective, an MHFA programme will focus on prevention and early intervention as part of a broad strategy. 

Three-year strategy

Within Siemens Mobility in the UK, a full mental health and wellbeing programme was developed in 2016 – with a three-year strategy designed to minimise and prevent the impact of ill health and improve the wellbeing of everyone within the company and its partners. 

The programme was carefully designed using behavioural principles, to enhance understanding of mental illness, as well as to promote and strengthen mental health. It is being delivered in three distinct phases which enable the business to effectively promote a sustainable culture change:

Phase one – Promotion

The first part of the process is designed to raise awareness and increase the understanding of mental health – essentially challenge people’s preconception that it is either related to stress or mental illness. 

A key part of the messaging around the programme is that mental health is definitely not the same as mental illness – and that stress in itself is not mental illness, but it manifests itself in behaviour that could alert the individual or those around them to take action.

Siemens Mobility identified that communicating with and training office workers required a different approach to track-side teams. Even looking at that segmentation it was clear that millennials responded to different training approaches in a different way to older workers. 

As a result, a range of training approaches was introduced, with online and classroom options to suit different people’s style of learning. In certain areas the company even used mental health-trained comedians to help deliver its messages – challenging convention to deliver important messages and raise overall awareness.

Mental Health Awareness Week was also used as an appropriate vehicle for communications within the business, helping again to raise awareness and to show the difference between MHFAs and other forms of aid – as well as to recruit volunteers to join the programme.  

This awareness campaign is also used to promote some of the tools and support mechanisms that are already available. At Siemens Mobility this includes an unrestricted Employee Assistance Programme, as well as various guidance packs, programmes and materials.

Phase two – Prevention

Years two and three of the mental health strategy are then designed to enable people to identify their own and others’ mental health issues, raising self-awareness in general and focusing on specific areas. The programme focuses on preventing mental illness and strengthening mental resilience by raising self-awareness. The programme makes available resilience training as well as other tools and techniques for people to use. In line with all Siemens Mobility’s mental health and wellbeing programmes, many of these tools and techniques are designed to help both work and non-work-related issues.  

Phase three – Intervention

This phase is about having in place the right programmes, processes and trained people to support and deliver the strategy, making mental health and wellbeing as intrinsic a part of the business as safety. 

Unfortunately, the majority of companies jump straight to this phase, rather than investing in the research, analysis and strategy development, which is absolutely vital in defining how to shape, scope and resource the intervention.  

The role of the mental health first aider

At the heart of the delivery of the strategy is a network of MHFAs, who become the first line of support for staff and the key contact point for anyone with a mental health query or issue. This ensures that mental health issues are identified at the earliest possible stage and that appropriate referrals can be made. Contrast this with a business that has not invested in mental health awareness and support, where the mere mention of a mental health issue can leave people who are ill-equipped to talk about it uncomfortable. 

It’s important to note that MHFAs aren’t there to diagnose and counsel people; they aren’t experts in mental health. Their role is rather to be a visible and approachable point of contact, able to direct and refer people to receive the most appropriate treatment or advice from the most appropriate source.

In its guidance, RSSB makes the point that the recruitment of MHFAs is one of the most critical elements of the whole programme. Quite simply, if the people aren’t right, the whole programme will fail.

Many companies simply look for volunteers to take on the MHFA roles, however in line with the RSSB guidance, Siemens Mobility adopted a more rigorous process. Even though the roles are filled by volunteers, selection is akin to the recruitment of any position within the company.

To succeed as an MHFA, individuals need to be good communicators (with the ability to listen) and to be approachable and empathetic – some may even have experienced mental health issues either personally or perhaps with a family member, friend or colleague.

Once an initial screening has taken place, then a behavioural reference is sought from a candidate’s line manager; essentially this is to check that they are trustworthy, discreet, approachable and have demonstrated the key skills required of them. If they pass this stage, then they embark on a tailored training programme, covering their role and their day-to-day responsibilities.

Ongoing management

As with any process, the mental health and wellbeing programme must be managed effectively and measured appropriately – something which many businesses simply don’t have the ability to do.

As the Siemens Mobility team of MHFAs is drawn from every level, function and region of the business, it is difficult to bring everyone together on a regular basis. However, it is an extremely close-knit group and quarterly conference calls provide an opportunity to discuss trends and more complex cases, as well as providing an opportunity to debrief and for best practice to be shared.

They can also be a forum for ‘guest speakers’ most recently a recovering alcoholic joined the meeting to talk about their own personal experiences. 

On an individual basis, the MHFA logs each case (anonymised), with a brief description of what has happened and what advice has been given. The programme manager then reviews the case to ensure the MHFA handled the case within the limits of their roles. Cases can be work related (for example workload, relationships or time issues), personal, or a combination of both. Alternatively, the MHFA can be providing support to a line manager who is dealing with an individual with mental health issues directly. 

Positive results

Although it is widely accepted that programmes such as these do not generally demonstrate significant change until a significant time of operation has lapsed, the results so far are extremely encouraging.

After two years of operation, the team of MHFAs at Siemens Mobility had grown from  38 to over 60 members, with more than 80 individuals having received support. In the same period, the programme delivered a six per cent reduction in absenteeism (with no increase in presenteeism) and there had been a 961 per cent increase in the utilisation of the Employee Assistance Programme. 

Following its successful introduction, in 2018 the Siemens Mobility team embarked on a benchmarking pilot project with RSSB, covering mental health and wellbeing; this in time will feed the organisation’s guidance and best practice advice across a range of areas. 

In focus: Lens technology

Photos: Bollé Safety.

Protective eyewear manufacturer Bollé Safety has developed ‘Platinum’, an exclusive new permanent lens coating that provides wearers in the rail industry with improved levels of protection, comfort and clarity. 

Covering both sides of the lens, this innovative coating gives goggles and glasses a high resistance to scratching and aggressive chemicals and also delays the onset of fogging. 

Platinum is available in the following ranges of safety glasses and goggles: 180, Atom, B808, Backdraft, Baxter, Cobra, Contour, Coverall, IRI-s, Ness+, Pilot, Rush+, Silium+, Slam+, Super Blast, Tracker, Tryon and Ultim8.

It is also available in different lens options, including comfort sensor perception (CSP), which provides maximum protection against harmful UVA and UVB rays, as well as potentially damaging exposure to blue light. CSP is therefore very suitable for workplaces with extreme temperatures and those that alternate between exposure to bright and low lighting conditions. 

Similarly, the company’s Twilight technology, which filters 76 per cent of blue light and is designed to be used in low light conditions by improving contrast – making it ideal for early morning and late evening work – can also be combined with the Platinum coating. 

Ian Walbeoff, general manager at Bollé Safety, said: “We have always had an anti-scratch and anti-fog coating on our lenses but we developed Platinum not to only comply with the EN166 K and N standard but to surpass it. 

“Users needed a product that didn’t fog up during use whatever they were doing and whatever time of year. 

“A lens can fog up on the inside and the outside and the Platinum coating prevents this from happening irrespective of the weather or the work that someone is doing.”


Bollé has also recently added a new product to its range of prescription safety glasses. Tryon offers prescription wearers a stylish wrap-around sports frame with the latest lens technology – including ‘Platinum’ – to optimise vision. 

To purchase employees’ prescription safety glasses, procurers are encouraged to buy one of Bollé’s ‘all-inclusive prescription packs’ from their nearest Bollé Safety distributor, which contains all of the relevant information. The employee will then visit their optician with the pack, from which point Bollé takes care of the process. 

The Bollé Safety webshop allows opticians to see a computer-generated image of the finished product. This will show the various lens measurements plus lens thickness and weight, allowing the optician to provide more tailored advice and ensure the wearer picks up the most suitable product. It also gives employers a complete order history and up to the minute information.

Bollé’s vision

All versions of the above ranges are approved to the highest European safety standards while also incorporating the unique Bollé Safety Platinum lens expertise, guaranteeing class 1 optical performance and quality.

Ian added: “It is our shared commitment to provide the highest quality protection for all of our rail users which is why the Bollé brand is a strong brand. Ultra-innovative materials, lenses and accessories of all the Bollé Safety and Tactical ranges have a simple goal: to prevent eye injuries, provide maximum comfort to users with design and performance, and reduce cost in use.” 

Susan Cooklin on life before Network Rail, introducing smartphone technology and change at Route Services

Photo: Network Rail.

Describing what Route Services does is no easy task. Established in January 2016 to create a central provider of services to Network Rail’s geographical Routes, the specialist division has bases all over the country. It oversees tamping; the supply and associated logistics of materials such as ballast, rail and sleepers; lifts and escalators; recycling; air surveys; and road and rail fleets. This eclectic pick ’n’ mix includes back office functions such as contracts, procurement, IT and payroll and, following the completion of Network Rail’s ‘Putting Passengers First’ reorganisation, services such as asset information.

In total, by the end of this year, Route Services will provide around 80 services to the Routes. That change could see its employee headcount  grow to 4,600 – that’s around about 11 per cent of the organisation’s entire workforce – and strengthen its position as Network Rail’s backbone.

Computer pro

In charge of the unit is Susan Cooklin, an accountancy student turned IT project manager who has led Route Services since its inception.

“If you had told me at the age of 18 that this is the job I would be doing now, I would have said ‘Don’t be ridiculous’,” said Susan, who admits to having limited ambitions at university.

The daughter of an accountant, Susan studied economics and accounting at Aberystwyth University with the intention of joining the family firm in Leicester. There was one issue with the plan, however – she hated accounting. So, two years into her training, Susan returned home to reconsider her career.

Susan Cooklin with Network Rail colleagues Francis Paonessa (L) and Toufic Machnouk (R) during Christmas works of 2016.

“I just thought – ‘Why am I doing this? I’ve been sitting exams since I was seven, I’m doing more exams, and I’m really not enjoying it.’

“Bizarrely, in the accountancy exams, there were five papers, and the one I could do – which everyone else found difficult – was an audit and systems paper. So, I went back to Leicester to think about what I wanted to do and, whilst I was there, someone approached me who worked for British Shoe Corporation.”

As one of five girls who undertook a pilot computing science A-Level at her sixth form, Susan had developed an interest in computers and was taken on by the now-defunct retail group, which included footwear brands such as Dolcis, Olympus Sports and Saxone, as a business systems analyst.

“That’s been the secret of my success, because they trained me very well there,” she added. “In the 1980s, a business systems analyst would look at a business requirement, define that requirement and pass it over to a systems analyst, who would code it and come up with different systems options.”

A couple of years later Susan joined Leeds Permanent Building Society (it later merged with the Halifax), which marked the beginning of an 18-year spell in financial services. 

After moving from Leicester to Leeds and then to London, Susan tackled increasingly larger IT projects until, as a senior executive, she was faced with saving £200 million at Barclays and decided to add herself to the list of cutbacks. A shifting culture from retail to investment banking was the motivating factor.

“I thought I would go into another banking job but someone I’d worked for said: ‘Would you be interested in Network Rail?’”, said Susan, referring to Catherine Doran, former chief information officer at Network Rail. “I said: ‘I don’t even know what they do’. That’s how much I knew about the rail industry 13 years ago. I went and had a look and thought it was really interesting because it had all of the things I like: it was difficult, big and complex.”

Joining Network Rail as head of IT delivery in 2006 proved to be a good move as the financial crisis hit three years later.

Controller of site safety (COSS) training in the virtual world. Training, which sits within the business services department, is also overseen by Route Services. Photo: Network Rail.

IT at Network Rail

The IT infrastructure of the banks she had worked with was broadly similar to Network Rail’s. However, one major difference was the certainty around funding. The highly competitive commercial banking environment meant IT projects were often shelved if cuts had to be made, whereas control periods brought greater stability. 

As the head of IT delivery, Susan oversaw what she described as a big portfolio of between 50-60 projects, worth a total of up to £70 million each year, but there was one area of her responsibilities that stood out from the rest.

“When I was looking after IT, I used to say: ‘The most important thing is the information on the passenger information screens’. If that information was not on the screens at Euston station, that would be down to me.”

Susan confessed this did go wrong once, in 2009, when an error with the mainframe system caused passenger information boards to freeze as the afternoon peak was about to begin. Although it did cause disruption, there wasn’t a big reaction to it in the media. Susan puts this down to the fact social media was in its infancy, although she doesn’t like to talk about the system blip – “Let’s not tempt fate!” she said.

Promoted to group chief information officer in 2009, Susan was then appointed to lead Route Services when it was founded in 2016. 

If overseeing that division wasn’t enough, Susan chairs Network Rail Consulting, is one of 13 members on Network Rail’s executive team, sponsors the company’s internal diversity network Inspire and steers the company’s mental health and wellbeing group – a cause close to her heart“.

“I’m clearly good at multi-tasking,” she added. “I thought I would stay here for three years and then go back to banking, but I guess I fell in love with the industry, which is why I’m still here 12 years later.”

Photo: Network Rail.

Technological change

Susan, who has twice been recognised by Computer Weekly magazine as one of the most influential women in UK IT, said that the best you get with IT is either no noise or a business transformation by introducing an innovative system. 

Although she admits IT systems haven’t changed as much as she would have liked during her time at Network Rail, there have been some standout successes. This includes remote condition monitoring as part of the move to intelligent infrastructure and the rollout of i-devices technology between 2012-14.

Initially only board members were issued with iPads but, thanks to the work of Susan and Patrick Bossert, who used to run asset information, they were distributed further.

Susan said: “Once that infrastructure was out there, we had an uplift in the sharing of information, and it’s helped with cultural change stuff and safety.”

The inclusion of a safety app, one of the first to be installed on all iPads, for immediate close call reporting, is one such example. The application of Apple’s tablet computers in a business setting was so successful, and ahead of others, that it was showcased on Apple’s global website as a case study.

Change in IT over the years has resulted in Network Rail collecting petabytes of data (1,024 terabytes).

Susan said: “Our enterprise systems solutions – all the things that help the company run, like payroll, accounts payable, and accounts receivable, which is called our Oracle e-business suite – is the the largest installation in Europe.”

Complicating matters further is that the data Network Rail manages at one point in the day becomes another company’s responsibility at another. 

She explained: “If you take something like the timetable, at the start of the day the data is Network Rail’s, because we load the timetable. As you go through the day and there is perturbation, we’re updating something called the CIS system, which sits with RDG and the train operating companies – so you don’t own the systems for the end-to-end process. So it’s big and it’s complicated and it’s either millions of transactions across millions of types of assets or its millions of information around customers or customer information – it’s massive.”

Work-life balance 

After exceeding her (as she puts it) limited ambitions, Susan, a mother-of-one, also managed to tackle her belief she wouldn’t be able to become a senior leader as well as a mother. 

“I kept thinking – how will I do the children bit and have a successful career? Because it’s a really hard thing. 

“When I was at NatWest, there was a female senior executive who was a director of strategy. She gave one of these talks I now do, and she looked immaculate and she was wearing this Armani suit, and said ‘I’ve got this nanny and I’ve got this and I’ve got that’. I thought – rubbish! But actually she made me think about it because she had two children and she had managed to be very successful.

“That’s why female role models are so important, because you have to have examples of women that have done it.”

Susan has continued full-time work and credits her husband’s flexible working arrangements for being able to support their family. 

“To say it has been easy would not be right. We’ve had various difficulties when my son was ill, where I ended up having to take a career break to look after him. You can’t keep all of these things in balance, they get out of balance and, sometimes, the career takes over from the home and, sometimes, the home takes over from the career. I don’t think it’s easy.”

The High Output ballast cleaner, aerial survey helicopter, long welded rail depots (Eastleigh pictured) and material handling depots (Whitemoor pictured) all come under Susan Cooklin’s responsibility at Route Services. Photos: Network Rail.

Route change

Returning to Route Services, as well as taking on hundreds of new members of staff, Susan has been tasked with making the unit more passenger-focused as part of Network Rail’s organisational changes. 

This shift builds on the work she’s already undertaken to make Route Services more customer-focused, for the regions, but the two aren’t quite the same. 

“We started off in a good space because I put in a strategy of being customer-focused – doing what our internal customers want, which should make the external customers happy, which should then make passengers happy if everybody’s got that all aligned,” she explained. 

“What we’ve got to do now is really move to being very passenger-focused, which isn’t quite the same thing. What we’ve done is a review of the 60 services, plus the ones  that are coming in, and we asked which ones would really make an impact on passengers. Things like lifts and escalators and information on the boards.”

She added: “I’d like to get everyone settled in from November. The key priority for me for the next 12-18 months is to really get the Route Services function passenger-focused. It is a cultural change for us and that’s where I want us to get to.” 

Get into Railways: A job, a career, a purpose

L-R: Alban Stowe, head of national partnerships, The Prince's Trust; Najla Almutairi, station assistant; Prayer Okpaka, train dispatcher; Ben O'Day, rail enforcement officer; and Michelle Clark, the head of employee experience, GTR.

GTR and The Prince’s Trust have helped 182 youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds gain work experience through their ‘Get into Railway’ programme. As the partnership celebrates its fifth anniversary, Stewart Thorpe discovers its impact on some of those lives and society

University student Najla Almutairi was building the foundations for a career in architecture when she crashed out to become a full-time carer for her mum. Najla came to the UK with her mum – herself also studying to become a university lecturer – a few years earlier to start a new life. Although Najla eventually passed her degree, her mum’s crippling spine condition forced Najla to abandon her ambitions.

On top of looking after her mum and younger siblings, Najla juggled part-time evening and weekend work to support her family. That was until The Prince’s Trust stepped in.

Established by Prince Charles to help disadvantaged young people gain confidence and secure work, the charity offered Najla the opportunity to either start her own business, join a Marks & Spencer retail training scheme or a ‘Get into Railways’ programme with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR). Although she was tempted by the retail work – “That would have been nice to get my mum discount” – Najla plucked for the latter, drawn by the opportunity and challenge of working on an operational railway. In February 2018 she enrolled on the programme and by May she was hired as a platform station assistant at London Victoria.

Najla Almutairi.

Recalling her story at an event marking five years of this partnership between The Prince’s Trust and GTR, Najla was visibly emotional. From working flat out to earn money and care for her loved ones, to making those first steps on a career ladder that will enable her to better support them, she knows her journey has been a difficult one but is determined to seize what opportunities lay ahead.

“I often thought about the future and what I wanted to become, and I must admit I had a fear of working for a large organisation,” said Najla, who knew nothing about GTR before joining. “I was also worried about who would look after my mother and I would often postpone my plans, telling myself ‘when things get better, I will start my career’. 

“Then, eventually, I came to terms with the situation and realised nothing will change unless I do.”

Najla recently became an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust and wants to work her way into a managerial or leadership role. She is full of praise for the Get into Railways mentors, who supported her through the transition, and now hopes to inspire and support other young people to overcome their challenges.

How does ‘Get into Railways’ work?

The four-week scheme, which targets passionate youngsters aged 18-25, consists of two weeks of classroom-based customer service training, covering areas such as conflict resolution and first aid, followed by two weeks’ work experience in stations, depots or offices, to put those skills to the test. The Prince’s Trust provides what it calls a “wrap-around” of wellbeing and financial support, advice and guidance. Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia and South Western Railway have all either previously or are currently supporting a similar ‘Get into Railways’ programme. At GTR, 77 per cent of the 164 people who have completed the programme have been hired by either Gatwick Express, Great Northern, Southern or Thameslink. 


At Charlotte St Hotel, central London, Najla was joined by staff from GTR, The Prince’s Trust and other stakeholders to celebrate the youngsters who have progressed through the 14 programmes since 2014.

Najla wasn’t the only one to share her story. Prayer Okpaka and Ben O’Day, who progressed through schemes in 2019 and 2013, respectively, also spoke about their journeys.

Prayer, a father-of-two, was working as a cashier at bookmaker William Hill when his mum sent him a WhatsApp message about the programme. He had always fancied working outside on the mainline railway or the London Overground but never took this interest further. The psychology graduate now dispatches trains at London Bridge and has ambitions of becoming a competency developer, to train and assess fellow dispatchers.

Prayer Okpaka.

“As soon as I came onto this… they were all very serious about helping us and, for me, that was all it took,” he said.

Ben O’Day is just as vocal a supporter of the programme. Six years ago, he admits to being “the typical teenager”, with little motivation or vision of what career he wanted to pursue. After picking up stopgap jobs in pubs, hotels and call centres, Ben attended the final day of one of The Prince’s Trust’s outreach programmes at a community centre and applied. Six years after starting on the gateline at St Pancras, Ben is now an enforcement officer and aims to shortly start training to become a train driver. 

“I have done a lot in a short space of time,” he said. “None of it would have been possible if it hadn’t been for The Prince’s Trust and the people in our company who give so much of their time to support young people.”

The business case

As well as helping youngsters to overcome barriers and find work, Get into Railways helps the rail industry reach out to and recruit from underrepresented groups, who can help alleviate its skills shortage.

Discussing its success, Michelle Clark, head of employee experience at GTR, said the business case for maintaining the programme has been about creating a sustainable workforce and looking beyond the franchise to “new blood” coming into the railway. She also said Get into Railways was about bringing “new skills, new ideas, new thinking” into the business and embedding the train company into society by increasing the diversity of its workforce.

Ben O’Day.

Talking to RailStaff after the celebrations, Neil Robertson, chief executive officer of the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR), said rail has a history of providing jobs to people from disadvantaged communities. However, higher entry-level skills requirements means rail needs to promote further ‘pre-employment’ or ‘pre-apprenticeship’ work experience opportunities, such as the one between The Prince’s Trust and GTR, to bridge the gap between the skillsets of applicants from these communities and those required. 

“Get into Railways looks and feels like some of the better pre-apprenticeships that we’ve seen,” explained Neil, who described GTR as pioneers in this space. “It helps people get ready for work, they can be more confident, they can interview, perhaps develop maths and English skills.”

Social impact valuation

GTR estimates its Get into Railways programme has generated £1.6 million of social benefit since 2014, based on fiscal savings and economic benefits. Neil said companies are getting better at measuring and talking about the social impact and value of employing people from disadvantaged backgrounds – taking into account money that could have been spent on employment services, prisons or healthcare, for example. This is important when measuring the economic value of funding applications to the Treasury, he added. 

NSAR, which uses a slightly different methodology to GTR’s, is currently contributing to Douglas Oakervee’s review of HS2, particularly on the so far unrealised value of employing people from disadvantaged areas.

“In the future we will be able to have stronger economic business cases for investment,” Neil concluded.

GTR is committed to running further Get into Railway programmes before its franchise ends in 2021.

By that time it aims to have completed another five programmes, providing work experience for at least 70 more youngsters, which will have boosted its social value further. Above all else it will have helped to transform the lives of more people such as Ben, Prayer and Najla. 

“The scheme has helped hundreds of young people boost their confidence and inspired them to build a future, for themselves and for their families,” said Patrick Verwer, chief executive of GTR. “It is hard not to feel an immense sense of pride in what we have achieved.” 

RailStaff October: Attention, class

Oliver Betts, head of research at the National Railway Museum, on the footplate of the locomotive 'Coppernob'.

Building Britain’s railways in the 19th century was tough work. Railway companies initially recruited miners as they were accustomed to intense labour and also familiar with steam engines, which were used to pump out water. These men were referred to as ‘navvies’, taking their name from their predecessors who dug navigation canals.

It was often dangerous work too. Navvies building the Woodhead Railway Tunnels in Derbyshire suffered higher casualty rates than the army did at the Battle of Waterloo, but the work was well paid.

The navvies were a fascinating bunch and, together with engine drivers, signallers and clerks, are the focus of a newly launched educational short course exploring the lives of railway workers between 1840 and 1914.

Co-created by the National Railway Museum and the University of Strathclyde and hosted on futurelearn.com, ‘Working Lives on the Railway’ paints a picture of what it was like building, operating and working on a railway in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The social history course is split into four weeks. The first examines the role of the “heroic” engine drivers whose tales (fact and fiction) of sacrifice and danger lifted them high into public esteem. The second, and last to be released prior to this issue going to print, looks at the complex world of signallers. These men – and sometimes women – were mysterious to the public. They worked long and lonely hours which demanded high levels of human attention and human alertness and led to terrible human consequences when it went horribly wrong, as researchers succinctly put it in the course.

Archive material, slick videos, quizzes and discussion opportunities welcome participants each step of the way. Although the course recommends three hours of study each week, you can complete the individual modules in around an hour if you’re short of time. Either way, this bite-sized programme has become a hive of activity with hundreds of amateur historians, railway enthusiasts and learners taking to the comments section to share their thoughts and questions.

This treasure trove of rail worker history reveals that semaphore signalling is based on navy signalling and was first used on the London and Croydon Railway in 1841. It explains that engine drivers had no formal training and would instead draw their knowledge from experience on the footplate, working as firemen and by driving in goods yards. And it describes the orphanages and money-raising railway dogs that would help to support the families of workers who were injured or killed.

There are three reasons why I would encourage readers to take part in the course. The first is self-explanatory – it has, so far, been great fun. Secondly, railway history, as the course organisers elude to themselves, has often focused on “the machines” rather than the people who built, operated and maintained them. As a magazine that puts people rather than trains, track and technology at its heart, you can see why we’d be a big supporter.

Finally, looking back at the past helps us to learn from successes and mistakes. I know many will have reflected on the past and present on October 5, the 20th anniversary of the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, on what lessons must be retained and re-learnt.

The online course threw up a number of similarities between the rail industry now and then, some positive (the idea of a railway family) but some not so (worker fatigue). It has been thoroughly enjoyable, and a great reminder that we should never stop learning, as individuals and as an industry. Best of all – it’s free to access, so what are you waiting for? 


Interim report on Port Talbot track worker fatalities reveals “there was no safe system of work in place”

Network Rail has released an interim report into the fatalities that occurred at Margam, near Port Talbot in South Wales, on 3 July 2019.

It looks into what happened on the day and why and how the accident occurred. The full report, which will be released in a couple of months, will explore the underlying causes and will make relevant recommendations.

On the day in question, thirteen permanent way staff left Port Talbot depot to work at Margam (20 mins away). They arrived just after 08:00, whereupon the team split into two, with one team of seven working in a planned line blockage at Margam Moor while the other group of six deployed to Margam East Junction.

Some time later, three of the six were using a petrol-engine impact driver to tighten bolts in a crossing. They were all wearing ear defenders due to the high noise levels. When a bolt seized, they all became focussed on the task with no-one looking out.

Unnoticed, a GWR train approached the site at approximately 70mph. Two men, Gareth Delbridge, 64, and Michael (Spike) Lewis, 58, were struck and fatally injured while the third escaped impact with just inches to spare.

How did it happen?

Work had been planned to take place at the Margam East Junction site during the afternoon in a line blockage. But the safe work pack contained a second option, to work with unassisted lookouts that afternoon.

One of the six team members was asked to be the Person in Charge (PIC). He appointed another team member as the COSS (Controller of Site Safety).

The COSS was told to use the second system in the safe work pack and appointed distant and site lookouts.

The team of six on site at Margam East Junction decided to do extra work that wasn’t in the plan, some of which involved noisy plant to maintain bolts in a crossing.

A group of three, including the COSS, site lookout and another, moved about 150 yards away, leaving their colleagues to wait for their return.

However, the three left at the points started to work on the crossing bolts. There was no appointed COSS with them, no safe system of work and no distant lookout in place.

The Person in Charge said he would look out then became involved in the work, focussing on the bolts. None of them saw the train coming.

Track layout at Margam East Junction. The technicians were split into two groups and the three working on the Up Main didn’t hear the train approaching.

The train driver initially gave warning to the track workers using the high and low tone of the train horn but thereafter used the low tone for two long, continuous blasts as the train approached the work group. The investigation team note the requirement in the Rule Book for the high tone to be used to give an urgent warning to anyone on or dangerously near to the line. The Rule Book specifies: “Give a series of short, urgent danger warnings to anyone…who does not…appear to move clear out of the way of the train.”

It is uncertain whether a series of short high tone warnings, rather than continuous sounding of the low tone, could have resulted in the track workers becoming aware of the train earlier.

Various other anomalies are included in the report.  These include:

  • The Safe Work Pack did not specify all of the work and how it was to be safely undertaken;
  • The COSS was only appointed that morning;
  • The COSS had his authority undermined – the PIC didn’t believe a distant lookout was needed;
  • The work was started in the morning, not the afternoon as planned;
  • There was no safe system of work in place;
  • The COSS was not with the group involved when the accident occurred;
  • The group all became focussed on the task and were unaware of an approaching train;
  • The wide experience of the closely-knit group and familiarity with each other potentially affected their perception of risk.

There are still facts to be determined, and questions to be answered, which will hopefully be included in the full report when it is published.  In addition, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) is conducting its own report into the accident, though these typically take around 10 months to be issued.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has also stated that it is undertaking an investigation.


On the release of the interim report, Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s safety director, said: “The whole railway family shares the loss of Gareth and Spike. Nothing will lessen the pain but understanding what went wrong and learning from that will, I hope, go some way to reassure all those affected that we will do all we can to stop it ever happening again.

“Today is the first step in that journey as we share an initial investigation into what happened. We will continue for several months to look deeper into the root causes before we make recommendations for our organisation and all of our people for the future.”

Angling victory

BTP colleagues at Makins FIshery. Photo: BTP Federation.

Gavin Millward, an electrical control operator for Network Rail, won the 30th RailSport National Angling contest with a total catch of 172lb 2oz.

In second place was Jim Clewes with 146lb 6oz while Lee Kendal finished in third with 137lb 4oz.

Colleagues from Bombardier, BTP, Great Central Railway, Loram, telent and Vital took part in individual and team competitions. One competitor even travelled from the Netherlands to take part. 

The team event was narrowly won by Wigan Four (Rob and Dave Dawber, Darren Smethurst and Kevin Melville) with 13 points, equal to Vital RAIC  but with an overall heavier catch. Third place went to Sheffield Midland with 15 points. During the four-hour match at Makins Fisheries, Nuneaton, a total of 5,547lbs of fish was landed by the 156 anglers who had to contend with heavy rain for most of the morning.

Powering rail productivity: The case for greater diversity

Virgin Trains' people director Natasha Grice (centre) surrounded by colleagues. Photo: Virgin Trains.

Stewart Thorpe outlines why rail needs to draw on new pools of talent

In a quiet side street office in the heart of Westminster, a team of data analysts gazes into a crystal ball to predict the makeup of rail’s future workforce. 

At its fingertips the team has collected anonymised data on 237,000 people by drawing on databases from the safety passport system Sentinel and industry employers that date back to 2016. Details such as job role, age, gender and location are entered into a specially designed programme that generates a map of Britain, highlighting where rail’s skills gaps and shortages are most acute. 

For example, it knows there are currently 288 male train drivers based in Wales over the age of 50 and that, in 10 years time, 613 will be needed in Wales in total.

This tool, referred to as the ‘Skills Intelligence Model’ (SIM), not only looks at today but, by looking at how much and where investment is going into the rail industry, it is able to forecast how many people the industry will need, what skills will be needed, where they’ll be needed and, crucially, when.

What is the difference between a skills gap and a skills shortage?

A skills shortage relates to the number in a particular job role (signallers, for example), whereas a skills gap describes limitations in their skillsets.

New students at the National College for High Speed Rail, pictured in 2017. Photo: NCHSR.

The bigger picture

The remarkable resurgence in the UK rail industry has seen passenger numbers double in the last 20 years, it’s a fact we’re all familiar with.

What hasn’t been reported so widely is the number of people employed by train companies alone has increased by almost 50 per cent in that time. With demand for rail services set to increase further, so will the need for more staff. 

Added to the equation are further trends that complicate the picture for rail’s future workforce in the short and long-term. For example, rail has an ageing workforce caused by a lack of investment in training and skills over the last 20 years. Around 22 per cent of the workforce is older than 50 and the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR), which developed SIM, predicts this could result in as many as 50,000 people retiring by 2033. 

Furthermore, as much as 20 per cent of the rail industry workforce consists of non-UK EU nationals. For some organisations, particularly those in London and the South East, that figure is as high as 50 per cent. Brexit, therefore, threatens the industry’s access to this pool of skilled labour from the EU. 

Finally, a shift in the types of skills that are in demand – from manual to digital caused by technological advances and digitisation – will change the make-up of jobs and put pressure on upskilling and recruiting people with higher skillsets.

These are all changes that influence the SIM forecasting tool. 

Neil Franklin, head of skills intelligence at NSAR, leads on this work to predict the future workforce for the rail industry. He said there are three areas in particular in which rail faces the most acute skills shortages: signallers, train drivers and maintenance technicians. Simply put, overall, rail will need around 50,000 extra people by 2033.

If it doesn’t succeed in tackling the skills shortages and gaps,  labour costs will be pushed up, increases in productivity prevented, project timelines delayed and the industry’s ability to deliver a railway to meet future growth requirements compromised. 

“By not investing in skills, what we’re actually doing is worsening our productivity perspective,” said Neil. “Because we have an ageing workforce, if people retire and that well of capability is not being replenished, we’re relying on fewer and fewer people to do the same job, which basically means we’re paying them more because we don’t have a choice. 

“What that means is we become less and less productive. So what we should be doing is replenishing the reservoir of talent, either with apprentices or with people from the armed forces or people from other sectors. At the moment, our reservoir is diminishing rather than increasing, which means we’re being less and less productive.”

It’s a big task, and it requires a change in approach. 

Fishing in new pools

The railway workforce has long been made up of predominately white, middle-aged men, but if it wants to tackle the skills challenges, it needs to widen its reach and attract the very best talent. 

This includes recruiting and retaining people of a black, Asian and minority ethnic background and women – who make up less than 15 per cent of the workforce and have previously been underrepresented. It is exactly why the August/September 2019 issue of RailStaff focuses on women, who are one of a number of key talent pools for the industry to fish from.

Mark Carne (centre), former CEO of Network Rail, alongside colleagues Janice Crawford and Becky Lumlock.

Advantages of gender diversity 

Not only does rail need women and their skills, research has shown that more gender-diverse workplaces perform better than imbalanced teams. 

Former chief executive Mark Carne wanted to find out if this held true for Network Rail and prompted a research project looking at its teams. It found teams with 20 per cent or more women – the “critical minimum threshold” – were more engaged, more collaborative, safer and more motivated. And in teams with up to 40 per cent women these scores were even higher. 

Mark said: “When a workforce is made up of similar people – when they all think the same and have the same background – it encourages conformity and stifles creativity. It doesn’t help us to challenge the way we’ve been doing business for decades. It doesn’t help us to drive up productivity and offer better value for money. It doesn’t help us to keep making our railway safer. It doesn’t help us get better every day.”

He added that “diverse, gender balanced teams” were “better in every way”. “The prize is huge” he concluded.

A special edition

The research above stresses exactly why diversity is important, not just from a cultural standpoint but from an economic one too.

This issue, which has been shaped by three railwaywomen who have helped to edit its content, focuses on women in the rail industry, highlighting issues that will hopefully inform, educate and inspire change when it comes to attracting and retaining the very best talent.

Researching this topic has been an eye-opener. Diversity has improved considerably since the mid-19th century, when women disguised themselves as men to secure lucrative work constructing railways. Nevertheless, it has so much further to go. 

The following pages highlight pioneering women, work organisations such as Network Rail, GTR and WSP are undertaking to recruit and retain more women into their workforces and what lessons could be learnt from other industries. 

I’ve learnt a lot over the past few weeks but, above all else, I’ve come to realise the historic assumption that the market will take care of the provision of skills is no longer safe. We must all act now. 

Gender diversity at Network Rail

A diversity and inclusion conference brought 200 industry colleagues from Network Rail, Southeastern and GTR together earlier this year. Photo: Network Rail.

Loraine Martins, director of diversity and inclusion, tells Stewart Thorpe what Network Rail has done to tackle three things that have traditionally hindered women in its workforce

Stewart: What is Network Rail’s policy on flexible and home-based working?

Loraine: We’ve got a great policy on flexible working. It encourages all line managers to explore with their employees the options for flexible working. So, if somebody wants to change the time they come to work, then we are encouraging our managers to have that conversation. 

Sometimes we think things aren’t possible because we’ve got a roster or because of the demands of the work; it’s a real challenge. What we’re saying to our managers in relation to flexible working is let’s be open and see what we can do. And, if you trial it and it doesn’t work, then that’s fair. But we really want to start from a position of the ‘art of the possible’. 

S: There are a couple of high-profile job shares – Polly Payne and Ruth Hannant, directors general for rail at the Department for Transport, and Porterbrook recently appointed two women to the position of innovation and projects director – what’s Network Rail’s policy on job sharing?

L: That’s an area for us to improve. What we have done around our vacancies is to begin to talk to our hiring managers and ask whether those jobs can be done in different ways. When we advertise, we can increasingly say that flexible arrangements are part of what we do. I think what the DfT does well is that most of those jobs, if not all of their jobs, are offered on a flexible basis. We have some operational considerations to make and so we need to think a bit more creatively about how we get to that stage, but it’s somewhere I’d like us to get to.

S: Do you know when that shift in different working arrangements started to occur at Network Rail?

L: I describe our approach as evolving. When I joined in 2012, the whole environment was less amenable to flexible working and, over time, we’re beginning to see the benefits.

As we’ve begun to promote it, we’ve seen some interesting things which we didn’t anticipate. For example, in our Wales route, some older male workers were looking at retirement and took up the offer of flexible working. They decided to have a job share and reduce their hours. This is a good outcome for everyone, and we want to promote that kind of arrangement more across the business. As we mature in our approach and as more young people are coming into our business want different work arrangements, we need to be able to accommodate that range. 

S: Why is it important?

L: It helps us to attract a wider range of employees. Also, where you give greater flexibility to your employees, you get greater discretionary effort. If you feel that your employer is able to accommodate your life circumstances, you are generally going to do more for that employer and be more loyal and your productivity goes up because you’re able to manage your work in a more autonomous way that gives you greater empowerment and greater freedom to live the life that you want to lead. 

S: Another obstacle that’s come up in conversations with women and from research is the provision of PPE. How have you seen it change?

L: When I started at Network Rail, what was more commonplace was that women would wear men’s PPE and it would be ill-fitting. You’d roll it up at the ankles or at the waist and, really, you weren’t as safe. Now we’ve got suppliers that provide PPE that is designed for women. All of the PPE is now available and so it’s a real shift in being able to make sure everybody can be safe in their working environment and not feel it is something special. 

S: A final obstacle that gets mentioned is the provision of trackside toilet and changing facilities. I know it’s traditionally been an issue, either not having them or having to travel some distance to get to them. What is the current situation at Network Rail?

L: This is something we’ve been working on for the last 18 months. We made a commitment as we started a project to increase the representation of women in our organisation by 20 per cent. The project is called 20by20. One of the key things has been to improve and increase the availability of toilet facilities with a view to making them more appropriate for women.

If you’ve got those essential facilities, you make your environment better and healthier for people. We’ve been working with Selectequip and other suppliers to design some bespoke facilities that we can put up near track. Before this, people had to walk quite a distance to go to the loo or they would go to the nearest McDonalds or they may have had to use where they are. So we want to try and reduce that, as it’s not good for our employees or for our lineside neighbours.

The facilities have been trialled and are now being manufactured and ready to be rolled out. They are designed in a way that means we have the toilet provision that we need, they’ve got the signs on them, they’re hi-vis so you can see them in the dark, or at night, and it will drastically reduce the need to relieve oneself trackside, but also make you feel much better about yourself. 

From the trial we’ve conducted, we’ve seen an increase in women working on track, we’ve seen better engagement and better safety for all of our employees. The outcome and benefits are that everybody is much healthier, feels that we as an employer care for them, and that we’re taking their welfare seriously.

S: How widespread will these be rolled out?

L: Currently we have a minimum standard of loo facilities being 20 minutes away, which is probably about a mile. This new facility enables us to put something 10 minutes away and radically reduces that distance. 

S: Are there any other obstacles in the workplace that need to be overcome in order to encourage more women to join and stick around?

L: Those things that I would class as the facilities and physical environment are vital. If you make your physical environment much more pleasant and more manageable then you increase both staff engagement and the opportunity to attract a wider range of people. Following on from the physical environment is the type of culture, things like inappropriate banter. That’s the next thing for us as an organisation and as an industry, so that it becomes an easier place to be. 

S: There will be people in the supply chain reading this who haven’t placed these issues so high up their agenda. What would your message be to them?

L: This is a good business benefit for our supply chain. Increasingly, as we have an aging workforce, as we have a skills shortage and are looking to improve the skills and the range of people working in our business, it’s really important for our supply chain to think about how they attract different people into their workforce, how they work with their contractor workforce and the conditions in which they deploy them.

I would encourage them to match, if not exceed, the efforts we’re making around employee welfare, and diversity and inclusion.

RailStaff Aug/Sep: Guest editor takeover

Inge-Sarah Andersen, Network Rail engineer and guest editor; Stewart Thorpe, RailStaff editor; Nikki Williams, Virgin Trains driver and guest editor. Photo: Rail Media.

When I was first asked to be one of the guest editors for this special issue focused on gender diversity, I jumped at the chance. Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) has been close to my heart for a very long time and even more so since joining the rail industry. I joined Network Rail in September 2017 as an engineer on its graduate scheme and since then I’ve come across some brilliant people but, equally, I’ve seen a lot that could be improved in order to bring our industry into the future. 

There are lots of things happening that are really positive: from initiatives to increase the number of female train drivers to companies providing shared parental leave (acknowledging that men have as much a right to care for their families as women) and a programme to rollout more toilet facilities for track workers: the industry is changing for the better.

While these are examples of what we are doing right, not every experience of mine has been positive. When I meet someone new at an industry event, they are still just as likely to assume I’m my male colleague’s secretary or that I work in a more ‘traditionally female’ role as they are to assume I’m an engineer, and some people still hold outdated views regarding the ability of the disabled – which, as a dyslexic, I thoroughly enjoy debunking! 

Inge-Sarah Andersen is a reverse mentor for Andrew Haines, Network Rail CEO, on the subject of diversity. Photo: Rail Media.

Even where we are doing well, we often don’t discuss the bigger picture when it comes to diversity and inclusion which can lead to some groups feeling singled out and marginalised. Many people feel ‘diversity issues’ aren’t for them because they aren’t female or from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, when, in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth and an interest in ‘diversity issues’ should be for everyone. We each have things that make us unique and acknowledging the hardship one group might experience isn’t a green signal to diminish the experiences of others. Diversity is for all and by discussing what it means and how we are all unique, we can try to make the industry better for each and every one of us.

My hope for the industry has been rekindled as of late. I was recently appointed as a mentor for Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, on diversity and inclusion issues. To see someone at such a high level take an interest in EDI shows me there is a new wave of change coming and I would like to see every top boss in our industry follow suit and lead from the top, as Andrew has done. 

Although Andrew doesn’t fall into the demographic you might initially associate with EDI, he recognises these are issues that affect us all and that we need to reconsider what diversity and inclusion means on both a personal and industry level as it may be much broader than we realise and because it’s the right thing to do.

After agreeing to help shape this bumper issue, I met with fellow guest editor Nikki Williams and RailStaff editor Stewart Thorpe in Birmingham back in June to thrash out a plan. With the input from Anna Delvecchio, who completed the lineup of guest editors, we decided on the most important topics to tackle and how these might be approached. The bulk of this edition is the product of those discussions.

We are a wonderful industry with fantastic people and a proud history, but although our roots lie in the Victorian era it’s time to bring our values into the modern age and show other industries we can be every bit as progressive as them. I hope you enjoy this special issue

Inge-Sarah Andersen

RailStaff Aug/Sep: Meet the guest editors

Guest editors Anna, Inge-Sarah and Nikki.

One woman from the supply chain, one from Network Rail and another from the driver’s cab; together they have helped to shape the August/September issue

Anna opening Railtex 2019.

Anna Delvecchio: diversity champion, industry leader and role model

You can’t underestimate the influence of good role models. Anna Delvecchio, Amey director and Rail Sector Deal co-lead, had two. 

The first was a commercial account director – the same type of role Anna now holds – when she was a sprightly 16-year-old apprentice. The second is the Princess Royal – who she describes as an “exceptional ambassador for Great Britain”.

Anna, who is becoming a role model herself, recently returned to Amey after a three year secondment to the Rail Supply Group as programme director, taking on the additional voluntary role as Rail Sector Deal co-lead during that time. Only seven sectors successfully negotiated sector deals with the government, an achievement Anna takes great pride in. 

“We had many individuals saying that we wouldn’t achieve it, that we were not capable, as a sector, of coordinating ourselves,” she said. “We created, negotiated and secured it against other sectors. It is a really good news story for the sector, so I would have to say that’s one of my biggest achievements, as well as taking an apprenticeship in the profession I have gone on to enjoy for over 20 years.”

Hailed as a key milestone in the government’s modern industrial strategy, the Rail Sector Deal is intended to deliver more for passengers, create jobs and drive economic growth across the country.

For Anna, the deal was one of the proudest moments from her 20 years of working in commercial and supply chain roles in the transport sector, a journey that began in 1997 when she joined Railtrack as a buyer for Major Projects in the Great Western region. 

“I’m driven by challenges and I knew it was going to be a challenge to co-ordinate the entire sector,” she said.

Anna climbed her way up the ladder, building up her knowledge of the industry and its assets through working in the regions and, centrally, in both a contractor and client environment.


When she’s not working with the Rail Supply Group or for Amey, Anna is a champion for greater diversity and inclusion across the sector. 

She set up Women in Rail’s ‘South’ group, sits on the board of Women in Transport and, through working with the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, launched the Big Logistics and Transport Diversity Challenge. 

In June 2019, the London Transport Museum unveiled a portrait and plaque of Anna, appointing her as a patron of the museum and recognising her as an iconic woman of transport. Anna was also named Woman of the Year at the 2018 Everywoman in Transport & Logistics Awards, in recognition of her work supporting others and helping to inspire the next generation to be part of these sectors. 

“For me, many years ago, I attended a transport meeting and, when I walked in, there were 300 in the room with perhaps less then five or six women there and no BAME,” said Anna, explaining how she came to become a champion of greater diversity overall. “It was a real turning moment for me. It was ‘Do I roll my sleeves up and help the sector make it more diverse or is it just someone else’s problem?’ I decided that I would voluntarily try and champion change to make the sector more diverse.”

Anna said that the perception of rail and transport as a male profession is holding the industry back when it comes to attracting a more diverse workforce. 

Since having her plaque in the museum, Anna has received numerous messages from people wanting to find out more about transport.

Anna said: “To inspire others to want to join a great sector in transport and in rail,  that will be one my biggest achievements but we are just at the beginning.

“Role models play an important part and, as a judge of the 2019 RailStaff Awards, I’m looking forward to identifying a new set of role models that can help deliver and champion change. 

“Looking ahead, I’m involved in a number of exciting projects with the London Transport Museum and CILT [the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport]. In addition I’ll be supporting the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Transport to highlight best practice in recruiting and retaining women in the sector.” 

Inge-Sarah Andersen: engineer, stem ambassador and rising star

If the first 18 months of Inge-Sarah Andersen’s time at Network Rail is anything to go by, she has a promising career ahead of her.

The trainee engineer is entering the final months of her graduate programme and has made an impression on colleagues with what she has achieved in a short space of time.

In 2018, she was a key player in the launch of Fast Trackers, an outreach programme that gave 150 students, from areas with the lowest uptake of further education, an insight into a career in engineering. Inge-Sarah enlisted the support of industry leaders such as David Waboso, former managing director of the Digital Railway programme, co-ordinated internal and external communications and organised volunteers to help inspire and mobilise the engineers of Generation Z.

On its 2019 return, Fast Trackers was even bigger and better, this time reaching more than 300 students. 

Mentoring the CEO

Ambitious and eager to seize opportunities to make a difference, Inge-Sarah threw her name into the hat to reverse mentor Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, when he joined at the end of 2018. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a cause close to her heart and one she is passionate about improving. She was one of 60 people to put themselves forward and, after going through a testing application and interview process, she was chosen for the role.

Inge-Sarah and Andrew now meet once a month, although Andrew’s busy schedule sometimes gets in the way, to share their experiences and thoughts on D&I improvements at Network Rail. 

Both of these roles are in addition to her ongoing work placements as a graduate electrical and electronic engineer – currently as part of the signalling team working on East West Rail.

Unsurprisingly, Inge-Sarah featured in the 15-person shortlist for the Graduate of the Year category at the 2018 RailStaff Awards, thanks to the backing of colleagues. Although she narrowly missed out on the top prize to a fellow Fast Trackers organiser, judges identified her as one of two highly commended entries. 

A happy accident

Since her childhood, Inge-Sarah has wanted to turn her passion for science into a career. Initially she wanted to become a plastic surgeon and, later, when she took a greater interest in physics, she sought to join academia, applying to join the University of Birmingham as her first step.

Unfortunately, a required A* grade from her A-Level maths studies did not materialise and she was unsuccessful in her application. Before the news had even reached Inge-Sarah, the University of Birmingham had assessed her credentials and suggested she explore engineering instead. 

“Before I had even picked up my UCAS results, I had a phone call from the electrical engineering department at Birmingham saying ‘Hi. So, you didn’t make your maths grade, so we’re offering you a place on this course instead.’ I was like – ‘Excuse me? I’ve not heard any of this,’” she said. 

“I realised that if I’d have known what engineering was, I would have chosen it. It’s essentially applied physics. People talk about engineering, but they don’t say what it is.

“If you have a pure physics degree, you either work as an academic or a teacher, or you go into something that’s not really related at all – with engineering that’s not the case.”

Enrolling onto the University of Birmingham’s electrical and electronic engineering course, she developed an interest in rail under the tutelage of professors such as Clive Roberts, who is also a director for the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education.

She added: “Clive would use examples that were railway-based in class – very much subliminal advertising – it just got me thinking that it seemed really interesting. 

“In the first year of university, he took about 10 of us to China for two weeks, which was amazing. It was a little bit of a tour of China, but it was also helping Chinese students to build robots to get credits to pass their summer class. 

“When I was there, it clicked very quickly for me that working in rail means there are lots of exciting opportunities, the demand is worldwide, and you get to travel. So, from a very simplistic young person’s point of view I thought ‘This is cool, I’d like to find out more about this.’”

Inge-Sarah hasn’t looked back since.

Overcoming adversity

The story of how Inge-Sarah fell into and then fell in love with the rail industry is one many will recognise. But the struggles she went through as a youngster to get to where she is today is a story many would not. 

From the age of 11, Inge-Sarah has been a young carer for her mum, who has fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Aged 16, the ongoing battle of juggling studies with her responsibilities at home became too much and she left the education system to look after her mum full-time. 

It was only when she turned 19, with her mum’s words of encouragement ringing in her ears, that she decided to return as a mature student to tackle her A-Levels. 

Those difficult years have shaped her mindset and fuelled her drive and determination to this day. 

Inge-Sarah said: “I was a young carer and my mum was a single parent, she was disabled, there were loads of times when we didn’t have any money, we lived in a crap area, I’m an ethnic minority and I’m a woman. These are all things that, if I hadn’t have had the right support from my mum, would have 100 per cent have held me back. Statistically, people who are just a little bit like me don’t make it in life. 

“I had my own blip; I was not going to make it. I managed to climb out of that and thought there are so many young people who don’t. 

“My background is a little unique, as in my mum already had that self-belief. But, if you come from that background, and maybe it’s generations and generations of those backgrounds and you’re already so downtrodden by humanity, society isn’t structured to help you.”

Inge-Sarah admitted one day she would love to take on one of the top jobs in the industry, to become chief executive of Network Rail, or to sit on the board of a major company in the rail industry, so she can impart real change. In the meanwhile, however, she is determined to instigate change wherever she can.

She added: “Getting into a position where people start to take you seriously, and then getting into contact with people in power and getting to influence people in power, it feels irresponsible not to try and do something with that.”

Nikki Williams: scuba diver, train driver and adventurer

Of the 128 Virgin Trains drivers based out of Euston station, only three are women. Not that it matters to Nikki Williams. Nikki has been undertaking a demanding programme of training since joining the train company in July last year and is almost ready to operate Pendolinos along the West Coast main line solo. 

“For me, it’s been very positive,” said Nikki. “I don’t feel [my gender] has had any relevance. Transitioning into this job has been fantastic. The support that I’ve had has been great, I just generally get the feeling that people look out for each other as a whole.”

A colourful CV

Her job may be bound by rules, restrictions and routes, but her career to date has not been. 

Between university studies and hopping into the train driver’s cab, Nikki spent 18 years living a split life. In the summer months she worked as an ice cream lady, driving around the country to earn and save as much money as she could. 

Come winter, Nikki would pack up her things and, with the savings from the seasonal work, head abroad to take part in unpaid conservation work while also picking up paid-for work as a divemaster and scuba diving instructor. 

She flew to South Africa to help with the rehabilitation of injured penguins and travelled deep into Nicaragua’s tropical rain forest to study the area’s rich biodiversity. 

Nikki admits it was a bit of a strange lifestyle but it’s one that enabled her to chase her dreams and journey all over the globe.

Turning point

In 2017, Nikki married her partner and together they decided to settle in the UK. 

With an undergraduate degree in geography and a master’s in conservation and protective area management, she assumed she could find a well-paid job in this specialist field. But she was wrong. 

It was after being offered a position with a starting salary of £15,000 that she decided to think outside of the box and beyond the reach of her university education.

“I had a chance conversation with my mum’s best friend’s daughter, who basically said she was in a very similar position to me. She had a PhD in her field, so she was even more qualified, but was struggling to find a reasonable job.

“She said ‘I’m going to try to become a train driver, it’s supposed to be a really good job.’ By that point, I was looking into anything that I thought I might enjoy that would pay better – so that I could live!

“I love driving – always have done, always liked being on a journey – so I thought I might enjoy that.

“That night I went onto the internet, looked up train driver jobs and the Virgin train driver apprenticeship came up. 

“It was only offering £15,000 to start off with, but that was for a year’s apprenticeship with the provision that it would go up. I had seen jobs for guards and they started at £26,000 going up to £36,000. I figured the driver must get paid more, so I went for it. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

Nikki didn’t secure a place on the apprenticeship scheme but joined Virgin Trains soon after as a trainee.

In the driver’s seat

Speaking to RailStaff exactly one year to the day since she joined the rail industry, Nikki said: “I love it. I really didn’t know what to expect. I kind of went into it quite blind and hoping I’d enjoy it and I’ve enjoyed it much more than I expected. 

“There’s a lot to learn, it’s quite overwhelming at times with the amount of information you need to know, but it’s been fantastic.”

Nikki said she had never thought about becoming a train driver and believes efforts should be made to change people’s perception, from a young age, of career possibilities.

“It is about opening people’s minds that anything is an option if it suits you and that your gender isn’t something that binds you,” she added. 

Travel has played a big part in Nikki’s life and it continues to do so along one of the busiest stretches of railway in Britain, where she hopes to spend the rest of her working years.

Nevertheless, Nikki hasn’t ruled out eventually changing depots or training to become a driving instructor – building on her past experience teaching English in Japan and leading scuba diving lessons all over the world.

“In this job it is very easy to make a mistake, so you’ve got to make sure you do your job well every day,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, you’re only as good as your drive today. So, it’s making sure you keep on top of your game. 

“Fingers crossed, this is me now. I want to retire in this job.” 

RailStaff Awards: Talent in technology

The UK’s congested railways are becoming increasingly reliant on digital technology, with many rail operators choosing innovative software-based solutions over new infrastructure, which is often costly and disruptive to install. 

With more than 30 years’ experience in the rail sector, telent is at the heart of providing and maintaining mission-critical communications equipment and has acquired key partners along the journey including Network Rail, Transport for London and several train operators to ensure the world’s oldest rail network moves with the times. 


telent’s reputation was enhanced at the end of last year when it was awarded a £7.6 million communications upgrade contract from HS1. This saw critical transformation work take place across several stations including St Pancras International, Stratford International, Ashford International and Ebbsfleet International stations.

The project covers the replacement of life-expired CCTV cameras – including one of the industry’s largest systems at St Pancras – customer information systems, public address systems and other communications networks, all while keeping the stations open to ensure a seamless switchover. telent is working with Fourway Communications on this upgrade, with work now underway. 

At the time of the announcement, Owen Virrill, HS1 senior project manager, said: “HS1 has undertaken a vigorous process to ensure we have appointed a world-class systems delivery integrator to provide design, build and installation services, while ensuring there is a cultural and behavioural harmony across our values.”  

Leading provider

Every rail network relies on efficient communication between systems and people and telent has an extensive range of products to meet the industry’s demands. 

Andrew Smith, programme director at telent, said: “We are on the front line for creating the stations of the future. From driver-only operation systems and station management systems to control rooms, GSM-R and pulling fibre trackside, we have a track record for the successful delivery of challenging, large-scale projects. If you need data to travel from one place to another, telent has the expertise and the experience to deliver.”

Although telent is heavily involved in technological advancements, like many companies it also relies on its talented workforce, which is a credit to where it is today.

Andrew continued: “From an industry perceptive, finding the correct people for a role is challenging, so it’s all down to our proactive team who will always go the extra-mile. On most projects we are almost the silent partner, we connect and protect without disruption, creating honest, collaborative partnerships with our customers.” 

With telent’s connected and streamlined approach not only in rail, but also in other key sectors including public safety, defence, highways and nuclear, this cross-industry work provides the company with great flexibility to seek new ways to improve performance and create stability. 

Retaining its talented workforce is part of the stability telent aims to create, with a focus on a rewarding work environment. 

Steve Dalton, managing director of transport at telent, said: “telent positions itself as an employer of choice and that’s reflected by the positive, friendly culture across the business. Our specialist workforce is a huge part in success due to our open and rewarding working environment.”  


Set to fuel the rail industry for many years to come, telent has returned to sponsor the Lifetime Achievement category at the RailStaff Awards for a second year running, its fifth year supporting the only rail industry-wide people recognition ceremony. 

This award recognises an individual who has made a significant and lasting contribution to the rail industry over the past 20 years, with Graeme Brindle, of Amey, who has lived and breathed the railway over the past 45 years, winning last year.

Steve Dalton said: “It is incredible to see the dedication and commitment of those, not only in telent, who are shaping the future of rail at the RailStaff Awards. When you speak to people about what they do, they genuinely do not realise the extraordinary efforts they put in for the UK rail industry and its passengers. 

“At what could be regarded as a challenging time for the rail industry in terms of criticism of its performance, this year’s RailStaff Awards is really a great opportunity to recognise those individuals and teams who have gone above and beyond to keep our railway running safely, which is why telent is honoured to be one of this year’s sponsors.” 

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

Never standing still

Protective equipment, in some form or another, has been used by rail workers since the 19th century. As industry safety standards and practices have been developed, so has the look, quality and range of these products, even when it comes to work wear. 

One of the industry’s leading protective clothing manufacturers is PULSAR, which continues to innovate and find new ways to drive out risk. 

“Innovation is what drives us as a business. It’s how PULSAR was born,” said Stuart Jukes, managing director of PULSAR. “When we developed the brand in 2006 and positioned ourselves between the budget and high-end parts of the market, the quality of the product in general across the market was going down and down, as was the price, it was a race to the bottom. As a business we have always innovated in whatever sector we’re in.”

PULSAR designs and delivers high performance protective clothing for the highways, utilities, construction and transport and logistics sectors with rail its biggest for high-visibility clothing.


Earlier this year at the Professional Clothing Awards – which recognises the international uniform supply chain – PULSAR cemented its position as one of the leading innovators in protective clothing with two significant wins. 

First of all PULSAR was highly commended in the PPE Innovation of the Year category for its waterproof arc flash clothing. Released at the end of 2018, PULSAR believes this product is the lightest electric arc coat that is both breathable and waterproof on the market.

“A lot of fire retardant and electric arc  clothing is heavy because it has to withstand quite a lot of damage,” said Stuart, who explained that if a product is heavy and uncomfortable to wear, the user is less likely to use it when they’re unsupervised, putting them at risk. 

PULSAR has, therefore, designed its clothing to be comfortable, promoting breathability and reducing the product weight at the same time, he added. 

“You’re generally going to be wearing it over the top of one or two other layers of arc clothing,” said Stuart. “So you don’t really need an outer product that’s got a massive arc protection rating because the garments underneath are going to give you that layered system. 

“From our point of view, it’s all about ensuring people wear it when they need to and that they’re comfortable and not restricted to a point they can’t do their job.”

Clean sweep

Moments after picking up the highly commended prize, PULSAR was also announced as the category winner. ‘PPE Innovation of the Year’ was awarded to PULSAR for its LED harness, a cross-sector product that sits on top of clothing and is ideal for undertaking work in poor visibility conditions.

Stuart said tests on the product, which emits its own light and doesn’t rely on light bouncing off it, have shown the harness is visible from at least 800m away – three times the distance of traditional reflective material. 

He added: “It’s a really good product – especially in rail where most of the down time’s at night – to ultimately see where you’re going from section to section. A lot of the main sections of rail work are illuminated quite heavily but then you’ve also got outside of those sections which aren’t illuminated, therefore people have to walk to and from with torches.”


PULSAR products provide vital support for the track workforce, which is why it has once more chosen to sponsor the Rail Civil & Infrastructure Award at the RailStaff Awards. 

Last year’s winner was BTP’s Emergency Intervention Unit. The unit deploys specialist blue-light vehicles that allow engineers, driven by and accompanied by BTP officers, to get to incidents using blue lights and sirens which helps to reduce response times and decreases the length of delays to passengers. During 2017-18, the teams responded to 1,429 incidents, which included dealing with trespassers, suicidal interventions and supporting police operations with providing safe access for searches.

Reflecting on the 2018 ceremony, Stuart said: “The evening was fantastic. It was extremely well organised. All of the guests on our table had a really good time. I think the design, layout and the theme was spot on. I think the entertainment afterwards with all the fun of the dodgems was great. It was very well done, and it was all kept to schedule – those types of events can easily run away with you.” 

Tickets to this year’s ceremony are still available. To find out more or vote for a colleague in one of 20 categories, head to www.railstaffawards.com

RailStaff Awards: A new kingdom

We’ve announced the date, presented the host, revisited last year’s big winner as well as entertainment of yesteryear, and now we’re ready to reveal the theme of the 2019 RailStaff Awards.

Continuing from 2018, it’s a place of mystery and adventure, but it’s no concept of the imagination. 

It’s an oasis of beauty that fuses African and European culture and leaves visitors mesmerised by its rich landscapes.

Fear not if you’re yet to book your summer escape as come November 28 the sights and sounds of Morocco are coming to the RailStaff Awards. 

In for a treat

Imagine the bustling souk and giant archways of Marrakesh. The minarets towering into the sky. The vibrancy of the marketplace with intriguing characters brushing by. It’s all coming to Birmingham’s NEC. 

Gemma King, of event organiser Rail Media, said: “I’m so excited to announce this year’s theme. Although the awards are the night’s main attraction, the new themes and the world class entertainment are always so much fun to plan. I can’t wait to see the vision for 2019 come to life.

“If you were impressed by the enchanted kingdom with its cavernous woodland, acrobatic pixies, imps and goat men and sky of mystical orbs, you’ll be in for a treat when we transport you to the Kingdom of Morroco.”

Free tickets

The clock is now ticking until nominations close for the RailStaff Awards – so don’t miss your chance to put a colleague forward before the deadline on October 4.

The awards are open to everyone in the industry and recognise the achievements of both the most experienced professionals and those at the very start of their careers, including engineers, recruiters, drivers and project managers.

If you do nominate someone, we’ll enter you into a prize draw to win a pair of tickets on one of our VIP tables as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to you too. 

But whether you’re nominating or being nominated, make sure to grab your ticket to the rail industry’s greatest night for recognising its people. It’s going to be another night of making memories. 

Women in rail freight

Railways have been used to transport vital goods since the early 19th century and, with an increasing focus on reducing the UK’s environmental impact, it looks as though the nation’s dependence on rail will continue for decades to come.

The responsibility of keeping the UK plc running comes with its rewards. At Freightliner, this means employees are offered competitive pay, a final salary pension scheme, a range of working hours to suit their personal circumstances, and an extensive benefit scheme which is reviewed annually to incorporate feedback from employees.

The company has a highly respected and experienced team within the UK rail industry, from drivers to ground staff, and from planning, rostering and control team colleagues to maintenance engineers. Whilst many colleagues joined the rail industry at a young age, surprisingly, a large number boast varied careers outside of rail or logistics. 

Jaye Dry, corporate communications executive, said: “Over the last year I have been supported and encouraged by my managers and colleagues – so much so, I’ve been on training courses for leadership, technical development and women in the workplace. I was even nominated for a Women in Rail award for my promotion of diversity and gender equality. 

“I was new to the transportation industry before joining Freightliner and many thought it was a left-field choice, but, with the career opportunities, good pay and great pension, it was an easy decision to make.”

Despite the industry receiving the highest levels of investment since the Victorian era, recruitment is still a challenge facing many operators. For most companies, a high priority is to increase and promote diversity and inclusion through recruitment, and, in the process, harness the potential of this new talent for the future of rail.

It is no secret the industry has a gender imbalance. A report by Women in Rail revealed 16.4 per cent of the UK rail workforce is made up of women. Of those, an even smaller percentage work in frontline roles such as train driving or shunting. 

Heather Waugh, an intermodal train driver at Freightliner, worked as a passenger train driver for 12 years and then made the switch to rail freight. Before she became a train driver, Heather had never worked in the industry, and was more accustomed to being behind a desk, or managing an office-based team. She explained her perceptions of the rail industry before joining were not all positive, especially the rail freight sector.

“I was certainly guilty of being very ignorant,” she said. “Perhaps this is a result of misinformation being passed on, or the stigma of it being a dirty, unprofessional working place. The thing is, this just isn’t true. My Freightliner colleagues are every bit as professional as their passenger train counterparts.”

So what attracted Heather to working in rail? For many train driver applicants, the starting salary of more than £53,000 in heavy haul, is a strong incentive. For Heather, it was about the freedom and variety that being a train driver offered her, along with the work-life balance.

She added: “I’m so pleased I made the switch from passenger to freight. I have more time off than I’ve had at any other stage in my career which means I have the time and energy to follow up on interests, hobbies, friends and family. This was always such a struggle before. Even better, my time at work is filled with more routes and more traction – this variety keeps things fresh and interesting.” 

Freightliner works on the understanding that it is only as good as its employees, which is why the company supports colleagues to progress, not only professionally, but personally. Its dedicated training and development team works tirelessly to bring opportunities for individual and team growth, including offering apprenticeships, work placements and trainee schemes.

Freightliner’s focus on breaking down the barriers and obstacles which prevent women and minority groups from considering a career in rail means it can harness the skillset of this extensive talent pool and help new and existing employees to flourish. 

Research sheds light on why there is a lack of women in the train driver role

Hull Trains train driver Emma Ramsden. Photo: Hull Trains.

In a television news report from 1980, a reporter named John Doyle joined a train driver for a short ride on the West Somerset Railway. The interview, which took place three years after Karen Harrison became the first woman train driver in the UK, was with a woman called Amy, and gender was the big talking point. 

“Amy, I know you’ve got two young boys, what do they think about mum being a train driver?” he asked from inside the driver’s cab. “They think it’s rather super actually,” she replied.

“You’re able to fit it in around all the housework and so forth?” he added. “Oh yes,” she said.

The three-minute report ends with John disembarking to walk down the station platform at Williton for a piece to camera. 

“And so, it seems the traditional male preserves are falling thick and fast to the invasion of the female sex. What’s going to happen now?”

Based on recent findings, not a lot. 

In 2012, a report produced by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) on behalf of the train driver union ASLEF, found that 4.2 per cent of the union’s membership across train (TOC) and freight operating companies (FOC) were women. 

Updated research published in June, which also identified ASLEF members from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and those under the age of 35, revealed that the figure for women has now reached 6.5 per cent. 

Given that 96 per cent of train drivers in England, Scotland and Wales are ASLEF members, these gender diversity figures clearly indicate that women train drivers continue to be vastly underrepresented.

Click above to view the report in full.

The million-dollar question

When it comes to filling a train driver vacancy, the industry is never short of applicants. In one extreme example, highlighted in ASLEF’s 2019 ‘On Track with Diversity’ report, Arriva Rail London received 6,500 applications in response to a single vacancy.

So why are there so few women train drivers? In its findings, IER breaks it down into two key areas. 

The first is the lack of applicants. Historically, the rail industry, let alone the train driver role, has been dominated by men and this stereotype prevails to this day. 

Although perception is changing thanks to the efforts of TOCs and FOCs to paint a more inclusive picture of the role, the report finds “these initiatives have not yet had a sufficient impact on the career choices being made by women” and, therefore, this image problem remains a barrier to attracting a more diverse range of candidates. 

The second area relates to the availability of part-time and flexible working arrangements as women predominantly take on the primary responsibility for children care if they have a family.

In the report it reads: “Historically ASLEF has not sanctioned part-time working because of a concern that this would be misused by employers and have a negative impact on the terms and conditions of its members. However, research from almost every other sector indicates that a requirement to work full-time acts as a deterrent to female applicants.”

Combine the two with the relatively low staff turnover and you start to understand how we’ve got to where we are today. 

A cultural shift

However, things are changing, as Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, explains in the 2019 report.

“Since our last On Track with Diversity report was published in 2012, we have seen something of a cultural shift,” he said. “Old-fashioned gender stereotypes, reinforced by popular children’s television programmes such as Thomas the Tank Engine… have given way, to some extent, to posters, adverts, magazine features and TV documentaries showing positive images of women driving modern locomotives.”

A key challenge, set seven years ago, was to undertake an awareness-raising campaign to “challenge the stereotype” of the train driver role in order to encourage more applicants.

From press material released at the end of 2018, it was apparent this is something certain operators are proactively working on. 

East Midlands Trains revealed it received double the number of female driver applicants for its 2017 recruitment drive as a result of targeted advertising.

Greater Anglia spoke about sessions it had organised for 60 women to find out about a typical day as a train driver as part of an internal recruitment campaign. 

And Southeastern provided a long list to the media detailing how it was doing things differently, including a partnership with WorkingMums, a leading employment website, as it seeks to raise the number of women applying for train driver roles to 40 per cent by 2021. 

IER researchers behind the 2012 report also urged ASLEF to consider revising its charter to promote part-time and job-share working arrangements. ASLEF has since added that it will “actively seek to negotiate with TOC/FOC’s part time contracts but not to the detriment of establishment numbers” to its charter. This has led to an increase in the availability of alternative shift arrangements and an “apparent consequential increase in the recruitment and retention of women drivers”, according to the report.


To help TOCs and FOCs on their journey to establishing a more gender-diverse workforce, the following actions were recently recommended: 

  • Collect specific data on women: The report said “improvements… are more likely to take place where operators used an evidence based approach” to allow them to track change, analyse and focus their efforts. This covers the recruitment process too, to monitor if there are significant drop-off rates for underrepresented groups.
  • Talent development: Efforts to recruit women train drivers from within the rail industry should be made because they already have industry knowledge.
  • Role models: Having employees from underrepresented groups speak about their journey into the train driver role is said to be effective in making a role appear more accessible and helps dispel myths regarding the role.
  • ‘Equality and diversity proofing’ adverts: Operators are being urged to emphasise positive job role benefits, such as potential for part-time work. Time should also be spent ensuring the language (gendered references for example) does not put off potential applicants from underrepresented groups while imagery used must also include those underrepresented groups. Finally, the adverts should be promoted on websites or in publications that will assist in drawing a wider pool of applicant.
  • Senior champions: To serve as a symbol of the organisation’s commitment to the under-represented group and ensure that where difficulties are encountered in moving the agenda forward, they can bring senior decision making and influence to bear.
  • Reverse mentoring: The report recommends that a company’s HR director, head of service, designated champion and chief executive, to name a few roles, should undertake reverse mentoring to better understand the challenges faced by individuals from underrepresented groups.
  • Unconscious bias training: Of particular importance for those involved in recruitment. Helps participants to understand that we all have biases, to help identify what those are and how to mitigate against them.
  • Staff networks: Effective in articulating the challenges faced by under-represented groups in applying for particular or remaining in particular roles, as well as identifying potential solutions.


Opening the 2019 report, Mick Whelan said: “I have spent 35 years on the railway, and 35 years as an active trade unionist, and I know how many train drivers look just like me. Middle-aged, male, and white.”

He added: “I want to see fewer people who look like me.”

If TOCs and FOCs learn from best practice and implement the recommendations, come ASLEF’s next report there’s every chance we’ll start to see that great influx of women into the train driver role that was spoken about some 40 years ago.