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Talent and gender diversity in the rail sector

Guest writer Adam Razzell, head of transport and infrastructure at Advance Resource Managers, reflects on the diversity of talent in the rail industry and questions whether more needs to be done.


With an average staff turnover rate of just three percent (compared with the UK median rate of 13.6 percent), the UK’s rail sector has less experience than most of dealing with skills gaps – but its landscape is changing quickly.

An ideal time for reflection

Due to retirement alone, the industry is expected to lose as many as 50,000 workers by 2033 (from a total of around 240,000), most from operative roles. The futures of a further 15 percent – the workforce’s EU nationals – also remain uncertain because of Brexit.

Then there’s rising demand from passengers (in contrast with falling interest in bus and coach travel) and plans for a new era of high-speed rail infrastructure to create the need for even more staff.

As UK rail looks to steady itself for the future using a range of recruitment and training initiatives, we find ourselves at an ideal point to take stock of its current talent, and the diversity of that talent. Does its recruitment approach need to change drastically for a more secure future, or is it on the right track already?

A general snapshot of rail talent

According to Department for Transport data from December 2019, around 240,000 people work in the UK rail sector – 67.8 percent for rail infrastructure firms and 25.4 percent for train operators, the two biggest categories.

With salaries ranging from £16,000 up to £71,000, the average rail worker earns just over £35,500 per year, although this rises to £39,000 in London and falls just short of £32,000 in Scotland. Average salaries in all other areas of the UK sit between these two figures, meaning all are above the wider national median salary of £30,300.

Given rail’s low staff turnover rate, it’s unsurprising that almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of its workers have eight or more years of experience in their roles. Sixteen percent have between four and seven years of experience, and 20 percent have three years or less. And, while this implies that a retirement surge could cause serious issues, the amount of experience currently present in the sector does bode well for the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce (STAT), a body set up in 2016 to address skills gaps and increase diversity across UK transport using apprenticeship programmes.

Gender representation in rail

The rail sector cannot avoid major skills shortage without diversifying its workforce – that’s something that Mike Brown, the recently departed Transport for London Commissioner and STAT chair, implied in STAT’s latest update report.

“A skilled workforce is vital to future economic success,” he said. “Quality training at all levels is fundamental and we need to broaden our talent pipeline if we are to drive productivity and innovation across the transport sector.”

Right now, the data shows a huge imbalance. Of its quarter-million employees (including those working in passenger services, freight operations and the wider supply chain), only 17 per cent are female. That falls to 13 per cent in the commercial rail workforce, and again to 12 per cent in signalling and design – both areas with significantly higher average salaries (£45,800 and £37,900 respectively).

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Both photo credits: Southeastern.

Some companies and regions are more diverse than others. Network Rail – by far the sector’s biggest employer – TFL and Southern Railway hold the most female talent, while London and the South East lead the list of regions. But more needs to be done.

What’s positive is that we are seeing action from some of the sector’s biggest operators. Southeastern and East Midlands Trains, for example, recently introduced anonymous candidate screening and targeted advertising campaigns in attempts to encourage more women to become train drivers. Southeastern is aiming for 40 percent of applicants for driver roles to be women by 2021 (from 4.5 percent in 2019), and East Midlands has already seen the number of female applicants double.

But skills gaps and underrepresentation aren’t challenges that employers can address individually – there needs to be an industry-wide shift. And, as the seemingly inevitable skills gap inches closer, it must happen quickly.

Vannin Solutions: A New Name in Permanent Recruitment

Founded by Ian Thomas and Victoria Hesketh in late 2020, Vannin Solutions are permanent recruitment specialists for the UK Rail Industry. Based in Ormskirk, Lancashire, they aim to establish themselves as the ‘go to’ name for permanent rail staffing solutions across the UK by offering a first-class service that’s simple, clear and straightforward.

Ian brings with him a wealth of in-depth railway knowledge and a network of contacts built up from a successful rail career that spans two decades. Victoria has a track record of entrepreneurship, having established and sold several companies during her 20 years as a Company Director.

Says Victoria, “During the first lockdown, Ian and I decided to change our career paths and combine our skills. Ian’s unrivalled rail knowledge and my experience of establishing and running successful businesses, naturally led to the formation of Vannin Solutions.” Partners of 14 years, Ian and Victoria found that, like many, lockdown forced them to re-evaluate their work/life balance and they realised that a change was needed. “12-hour door to door working days were no longer an option.” says Victoria, “We’re very fortunate to be able to successfully run the company from our home office, therefore reducing our overheads and our carbon footprint too.”

Vannin Solutions offer permanent recruitment solutions at all levels within the rail industry.  Ian says, “We have the expertise and experience of putting the right people into the right jobs. All businesses work in different ways, we listen and deliver recruitment solutions in a way that suits each individual business. We want to work in partnership with companies to improve their internal recruitment requirements.”

Ian and Victoria take a fresh approach to recruitment with their core company values being honesty, transparency and industry knowledge. Says Victoria, “One thing that I’ve learnt when establishing businesses is to build them on foundations of honesty. And to always deliver what you’ve promised efficiently and on time.”

For a knowledgeable discussion on how Vannin Solutions can help with your recruitment requirements, contact them on 01695 333033.

King’s Uncrossed Crucial stage of £1.2billion East Coast Upgrade

Network Rail teams are gearing up to carry out a major stage of the £1.2billion upgrade to the East Coast Main Line, which is the biggest investment into the historic route in a generation.

From March to June, rail workers will simplify the track layout just outside of King’s Cross station, as well as reopen a railway tunnel which closed in the 1970s, creating two extra tracks in and out of the iconic transport hub.

Both pieces of work will make it easier for trains to enter and exit London King’s Cross station, reducing congestion and creating smoother, more reliable and more punctual journeys for passengers.

Trains will be able to run to and from London King’s Cross station for the vast majority of the work, although there will be a slightly reduced service in place, as well as two weekends, one in April and one in June, when no trains will be able to call at the station. Once the work completes in June, more than 6km of new track and over 15km of overhead wires will have been installed.

Ed Akers, Principal Programme Sponsor for Network Rail’s East Coast Upgrade, said: “Our teams are busy making sure that everything is ready for the latest stage of this industry leading project. The work we’re doing at the end of this month is vital to enable a reduced train service to run in and out of King’s Cross station for the vast majority of the main part of this work, which begins in March.

“This East Coast Upgrade is a truly transformative programme, which will bring significant and tangible benefits, such as faster, more frequent and more reliable journeys, which will be felt by all those using the East Coast Main Line and we’d once again like to thank all those impacted by this work for their patience.”

McGinley Support Services appoints Russell Otter

McGinley Support Services has appointed Russell Otter to be Operations Director. Russell has been working in senior leadership positions in rail recruitment for over 10 years and the industry in general for over 25 years. He brings to the role a wealth of experience gained at some of the nation’s largest specialist recruitment companies including Reed, Morson and most recently Matchtech.

Managing Director, Dermot McGinley said of the appointment “Russell joining is key to the continued expansion of our business, the strengthening of our management board and the delivery of our five-year business plan. It will consolidate our ability to deliver a wide range of bespoke recruitment and support
service to the civil engineering infrastructure market.

”Commenting on his appointment Russell said, “I am excited to join McGinley and work with a team who are as passionate as I am about delivering innovative recruitment solutions to the Rail, construction, and infrastructure industries helping build the nation.

We have a high level of commitment to safety, training, skills, and customer service to assist the delivery of project support services to help candidates and companies alike to find and retain the best talent to help deliver some of the most exciting cutting edge projects across the UK. I’m very proud to be part of a company that is a trusted partner and has been recruiting for almost 40 decades”

Tunnel ‘pushed’ under East Coast main line

In a first for UK engineering, an 11,000-tonne curved concrete box has been successfully pushed under the East Coast main line at Werrington near Peterborough. The new tunnel will enable slower moving freight trains to dive underneath the passenger route and use an adjacent line northwards.

The 155-metre curved concrete box tunnel, which is heavier than the Eiffel Tower, was pushed into place at just 150cm per hour, using four hydraulic jacks. This is the first time that a curved concrete box has been installed using this industry-leading engineering technique in the UK.

It took nine days, but using this cutting edge technique avoided hundreds of hours of passenger disruption on this vital part of the East Coast Main Line and meant that services could continue running throughout.

Teams removed three of the tracks, lifted the overhead wires and dug out spoil from the site. Once the tunnel was eventually underneath, they then put everything back in place ready for regular services to resume.

Rail traverser for DIRFT III

A new £29 million Intermodal Rail Freight Terminal, that is being constructed by Winvic Construction for Prologis at its DIRFT intermodal logistics park in Northamptonshire, will feature a bespoke rail traverser, supplied by Mechan.

The DIRFT III project comprises a 344-hectare logistics site, which will include a state-of-the-art rail freight terminal. Mechan’s traverser will be situated outside the terminal building, at the end of 9km of new lines, and will be used to move Class 66 locomotives in a perpendicular direction to the tracks, so they can return to service after loading/unloading. This has allowed the terminal length to be shorter, as a head shunt isn’t required.

Working closely with the Winvic team, Mechan has designed the multi-rail traverser to suit the specific
conditions at DIRFT III. It spans 28 metres, has a capacity of 140 tonnes and comprises an access platform, plus loco buffer to prevent trains overrunning.

Improved protection for rail workers

A new and innovative range of multi-hazard protective workwear, designed to meet the needs of wearers in the rail sector, has been launched by Ballyclare.


The new ProTec category III ‘Life-Saving’ workwear range includes a comprehensive selection of arc protection, flame-retardant garments which offer protection against different hazards such as electrical arc flashes, static discharges, welding sparks, molten metal and many more.

All garments in the range are designed to combine maximum comfort with outstanding protection and durability for people working in dangerous, flammable or other high-risk environments. Already being supplied into the rail sector, ProTec offers trousers, jackets, coveralls, long sleeve polo shirts, sweatshirts
plus bib-and-brace garments.

Among the many impressive features found on these garments are funnel neck collars, chevron reflective strips and YKK® zips for maximum protection, elasticated waists and adjustable hook-and-loop cuffs for a perfect fit, plus utility pockets and triple needle stitching for maximum practicality and durability.

Transpennine Route Upgrade summer 2021

Network Rail has announced its plans for the first tranche of its Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) programme. The work forms part of TRU’s wider goal to deliver sought-after improvements along the full 76-mile Transpennine route – stretching from York to Manchester, via Leeds and Huddersfield.

This summer, work will take place east of Manchester Victoria station, closing the lines towards Stalybridge and Rochdale, with a 16-day railway closure between these destinations from the 31 July to 16 August 2021.

During the 16-day closure, hundreds of railway workers will be working day and night to renew key sections of track, including around Miles Platting, and upgrading railway bridges to improve reliability. This important work is the first step to enable wider improvements that are expected to bring much needed benefits to passengers.

The planned closure means that, from 31 July, there will be no trains between Manchester Victoria and Stalybridge and Manchester Victoria and Rochdale until these lines reopen on 16 August.

New steam loco builds up steam

The charity behind the famous No. 60163 Tornado and Britain’s most powerful steam locomotive No. 2007 Prince of Wales, has announced that Cleardata has started the scanning of 366 of the original Doncaster Works drawings to enable the construction of a yet-to-be named third Gresley class V4 No. 3403.

The LNER class V4 was a 2-6-2 steam locomotive designed by Sir Nigel Gresley for mixed-traffic use over the whole of the LNER network. The class V4s had similarities in their appearance and mechanical layout
to the class V2s of which pioneer No. 4771 Green Arrow is preserved. Two class V4s were built at the LNER’s Doncaster Works in 1941 – No. 3401 Bantam Cock and No. 3402 which was un-named but known unofficially as Bantam Hen.

No. 3401 Bantam Cock was unveiled at York on 11th February 1941 by its designer Sir Nigel Gresley – his last public appearance before his sudden death in office on 5th April 1941. It was anticipated that many more would be produced, but his successor Edward Thompson produced the class B1 4-6-0s instead of which 410 were built.

Steve Davies MBE, chairman, The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, commented: “We want to be ready to start assembling our new Gresley class V4 as soon as our new class P2 is completed. We anticipate the project costing around £3m and taking around five years subject to the pace of fundraising.”

First train in GTR’s £55 million fleet modernisation programme is back in service

The first of 270 trains in Govia Thameslink Railway’s £55 million fleet modernisation programme has returned to service with a host of new features.

The trains form the UK’s biggest fleet of ‘Electrostars’, the most common type of electric-powered train built since rail privatisation in the 1990s. The Derby-built, air-conditioned trains have been very successful
and GTR’s Electrostars have been in service for up to 20 years.

The first updated train emerged from GTR’s Selhurst Depot in south London on 5 February. Its enhancements range from new information screens, USB/power points and energy-saving LED lighting to passenger-counting technology and high-tech on-board operational systems that cut the time trains spend out of service for maintenance or repair.

The screens will display up-to-the minute GTR and London Underground service information. The passenger-counting sensors will allow GTR to better analyse how busy individual services are, helping to
adjust timetables to support essential travel and social distancing.

Bringing every train up to the same modern standards, with common features across the whole fleet, allows GTR’s engineers to streamline routine maintenance and repairs. That keeps each Electrostar out in service for longer, reducing delays and cancellations. To accelerate maintenance and improve reliability still further, a new “smart” On-Train Data Recorder will help predict and diagnose faults – which means that some problems can be fixed without returning to the depot – and CCTV cameras will film the track in front of the train to help analyse incidents that delay the service.

The £55 million programme is funded by Porterbrook, the train owner from whom GTR leases the fleets.

GTR’s Engineering Director Steve Lammin said: “These Electrostars are great trains. Taking on board our passengers’ feedback, this comprehensive upgrade will provide an even better on-board experience and more reliability. Our team at Selhurst Depot has used this first train to develop and learn all the complex processes involved in fitting the new features, guided by the trains’ manufacturer, Bombardier. We’re now testing our new knowledge on the second train, and as we gradually speed up the work, more and more passengers will notice the benefits over the coming years.

From Walt Disney to Harry Potter – What it takes to run King’s Cross

When looking for a career on the railway, one of the top jobs that people can aspire to is that of station master at one of the UK’s busiest stations.

The current station master at King’s Cross started her career at Disney World in Florida. It seems like a big jump from there to one of the railways top jobs. Kirsten Whitehouse was intrigued and arranged to meet her to find out more.

Laura Murphy is station manager at London King’s Cross, one of Britain’s busiest stations – it was tenth on the 2018/19 list with 34,645,924 entries and exits. However, she started her working life at Disney World Florida. So, almost the first question RailStaff put to her was –  how had she come to be working on ‘The Great Movie Ride’ at Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World?

Laura laughed. “Well, I grew up in Essex and went to school in Billericay, before I moved to Portsmouth to study web design. As a teenager it seemed like a really cool thing to do, I was really interested in all things internet.” Though while Laura enjoyed herself over the three years of the course, she realised that perhaps this wasn’t quite what she wanted to do for the rest of her life – “I just wasn’t technical enough”.

The Great Movie Ride

Like so many students, she decided to take a gap year after receiving her degree and applied for a number of short-term positions – amongst them as an attractions host at Disney World in Florida. “I was so excited when they got in touch to offer me a job,” Laura reminisced. “Interestingly, this was also where my love for customer services began.”

Laura arrived in the USA in October 2008 and was put in charge of ‘The Great Movie Ride’ – a little tram journey right ‘into’ a selection of famous movies, which required her to learn a 22-minute spiel and deliver it to 60 people at a time. “I started off a bit timid, but I soon got into it,” laughed Laura. It turned out to be a fabulous learning opportunity for her.

Disney World’s customer service is famously second to none, thanks to the emphasis the corporation puts on it with all its employees.  Staff are encouraged to regard themselves as cast members, whilst customers are referred to as guests and treated accordingly: ‘I suppose it’s a bit like this in the rail industry, too: we don’t so much use the term customers and instead refer to them as passengers – it personalises our relationship somehow.’

After all these years, Laura still travels to Florida regularly to meet up with friends she made during that time. Even though ‘her’ ride no longer exists – The Great Movie Ride got retired in 2017 – her time entertaining her guests made a lasting impression on a young Laura.

She realised that she enjoyed working with people and making sure that they felt well looked after and cared for. On conclusion of her time in Florida, she headed back home to Essex in April 2009 – “My Mum is a saint, she took me back in for quite a while!” – and decided to pursue a career in customer services – she just didn’t quite know where or how to start.

Customer Service

A number of temporary roles followed, including six months in retail at Next, the fashion chain. “I enjoyed the contact with people,” mused Laura, “but sorting through clothes in the storeroom wasn’t all that much fun.” It did, however, confirm further that Laura’s future lay in a customer facing role, and so she applied for a number of suitable roles – including being a customer service assistant at King’s Cross station. “I had also applied for a similar position at Waterloo – they just got there first,” laughed Laura.

She remembers her interview fondly. The station manager at the time was Katie Frost, who later moved on to become managing director at Network Rail (High Speed), which operates, maintains and renews the HS1 route infrastructure and its three stations: St Pancras International, Stratford International and Ebbsfleet International.

“I remember thinking that it was great to see a lady in a leading position in what was still a very male-oriented industry then, she recalled. “According to my grandmother, I came home so excited and told her about this lady and said that I wanted to do a job like that one day.”

In April 2010, Laura was offered the position of customer service assistant at King’s Cross, a role that she thought would be mainly selling tickets to passengers. In fact, she soon learned that ticket offices and the likes are run by the train operating companies themselves; the work Network Rail does at the station is much more on the ground and includes security tasks and providing support where needed.

“I was asked if I would be okay with doing shift work, working weekends and bank holidays – of course I was!” In fact, she said, doing the 24/7 shifts at King’s Cross were some of the most eye-opening moments of her life. “Friday night shifts are second to none,” Laura laughed. “I learned a lot about conflict management for sure, people are on their way home after a busy week and a well-earned drink or two in the pub. But we also had so many really nice experiences, people are lovely, and so interesting.”

Five years in charge

This month sees Laura celebrate her five-year anniversary as station manager at King’s Cross, a promotion she achieved in January 2016. What are her day-to-day responsibilities? “No day is the same – that’s exactly what I love about it.” People don’t just come to King’s Cross to catch a train, people love the shopping opportunities, the hospitality outlets and, of course, the famous Harry Potter Platform 9¾. “Having your picture taken with the trolley is the main attraction here,” she laughed.

There is a small exhibition space on the station concourse, and it is her team that makes the final decision on whether or not suggested uses are appropriate. “We have had giant Christmas trees, dinosaur skeletons and, early last year, even a mass Sweaty Betty workout class take place,” she reminisced.

She laughed as she recalled the team from ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ wanting to do a promotion – they had suggested they could bring live cockroaches – one of the well-known features from the show – with them, but “it didn’t seem terribly well thought-through, what with our food outlets nearby!” One of Laura’s team convinced them to bring giant African land snails instead, and a successful event was enjoyed by all.

There is also a lot of stakeholder management in Laura’s role – the station is funded by the various train operators who are, of course, keen to understand how their money is being invested – and making sure the station is a safe and secure environment.

Asked whether it is harder or easier to ensure that at the moment, Laura paused and thought. “Obviously, passenger numbers are really down at the moment – in fact, I ran a report this morning and midweek last week we had 16,000 people come through the station each day, where it would normally be anywhere between 140,000 and 170,000 passengers a day.” The team had to implement changes to make the station as safe as possible for travellers and staff alike, and Laura is happy with how this is being managed. Sadly, most of the retail units are closed under current restrictions – only six out of 25 are classified as offering essentials for passengers.

It’s obvious that Laura is saddened by this; the unavoidable drop in passenger numbers makes it feel as though the life and soul is missing from her station at the moment. Like the rest of the world, though, Laura pins her hope on the vaccine returning things to normal before too long: “We have to look forward!”

Woman in (charge of) rail

Cigarette card of William Hagland from the collecton of W Reginald Bray.

This seemed an appropriate time to ask about her experience as a woman in rail – would she recommend a career like hers to young women and men who are job hunting right now?

“Absolutely!” She explained that the rail industry is a really pleasant environment to work in nowadays. The laddish banter of the past has been replaced with better education and equal opportunities – in fact, there are many varied opportunities in rail all the time: “Working in the customer services field, which maybe attracts more women, stations have always been fairly well balanced, but why not work in engineering or maintenance?”

Laura urged young women to come in with an open mind as to what they can achieve in this versatile industry. “I have certainly never regretted aiming to be that female station manager I told my grandmother about all those years ago!”

Incidentally, reminding Laura of her excitement about the female interviewer when she first started working for Network Rail wasn’t the only ace Laura’s grandmother had up her sleeve. She was delighted when Laura started working in the rail industry, and, in particular, at King’s Cross station, with its close connection to the history of the Flying Scotsman: her own grandfather, William ‘Bill’ Hagland, had been a driver of the famous train, while his daughter-in-law was working out staff rotas in the office at the station.

“I never knew this,’ said Laura. “But it was lovely to have that connection between my family and ‘my’ station. When the Flying Scotsman was refurbished and put back into service a while back, it was so lovely to be there to see this. It was quite an emotional and very special moment for me. I really do love my job.”

Runaways, overspending and mutual understanding

Without good communication, getting the safety message across becomes impossible.

In his first safety report of the new year, Colin Wheeler stresses the importance of good communication to make sure everyone is clear about what needs to be done, and how it should be done safely.

In 2021, we are living in a multi-cultural country. Safety-critical communication is of the utmost importance. Delightfully, standard English (whatever that now is!) no longer predominates even in offices – maybe it never did? Consequently, mandating the use of standard English protocols for railway operations, including work on the track, all too easily results in confusion and mistakes are made.

I advocate a return to “reaching a clear mutual understanding”. Whether this is achieved in a different mother tongue from standard English or by the mutual use of a local dialect or heavily accented speech need not be a safety issue.

During my many rail working years, I recall learning and subsequently using half a dozen local phrases to describe food brought to work for consumption halfway through the working day (snap, bait etc) and a similar number for those who failed to get out of bed in time to get to work on time. Nonetheless we all understood!

More work for RAIB

How wrong can one be? After the spate of Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) published reports at the end of 2020, I thought there would be little more to say this early in the year. How wrong I was. Over-speeding, emergency speed restrictions and runaways, not to mention possessions, and level crossings continue to be reported on websites.

5mph ESR board at Beattock.

The most disturbing perhaps was the very near miss with a mobile operations manager as a result of vandal-like behaviour by youths.

Over speeding between Laurencekirk and Portlethen, Aberdeenshire

At around 06:35 and again at 07:40 on 4 December, passenger trains passed through an Emergency Speed Restriction (ESR) of 40mph at speeds described as being “up to 100mph”.

The first train travelling north was from Dundee to Inverness, whilst the second was travelling south from Inverness to Edinburgh. The ESR’s had been imposed as a precautionary measure in case the forecast heavy rain resulted in ground movements that affected track stability.

Neither train driver was aware of the ESRs. Network Rail’s signaller noticed how quickly the second train passed through the area. Subsequently, the first over speed was then identified, using electronic train movement records.

RAIB found no evidence of other trains failing to observe the ESRs that day, but, after the second over-speeding, trains were stopped and reminded of the reduced maximum speed before they reached the restricted area. RAIB has indicated that its investigation will consider the processes for advising drivers of ESRs.

I remain of the opinion that all driver cabs should be equipped with the technology that a satnav uses to give warnings when motorway traffic is disrupted by an incident or accident.

Over speeding near Beattock, Dumfries and Galloway

At 12:25 on 20 December, the Glasgow to London Euston passenger train entered a 5mph ESR at 45mph. The ESR had been imposed due to an earlier embankment failure. The RAIB has carried out a preliminary examination and will publish a Safety Digest “in the next few weeks”.

“Clear Possession Communications”

This is the title of a timely Safety Bulletin from the Head of Workforce and Delivery (Shared Learning) Safety Scotland issued on 23 December last year. The date of the incident is not given but it happened on the Down Polmont to Grahamston line. The driver of a freight train travelling from Polmont to Carlisle North Yard was authorised by the engineering supervisor (ES) to proceed to a worksite marker board a mile distant and be ready to leave the possession worksite. The marker board was on the approach to the Protection Limit Board and adjacent to the detonator protection.

The report states that “the possession protection arrangements were adequately communicated”. However, the driver drove at a speed above the limit permitted within a worksite, failed to stop at the marker board and ran through it and the possession limit board before coming to a stand 20 metres beyond the possession exit and protecting signal. The bulletin sums the incident up stating: “The recognised protocols to facilitate understanding and confirmation of safety critical information were not robustly used by either the engineering supervisor or the driver prior to the incident.”

Rowlands Castle station from the overbridge.

Near miss at Rowlands Castle Hampshire

The lines through all the stations on the Wessex route require a line blockage before anyone goes onto the track, according to Network Rail’s Safety Central website.

On 19 December, a mobile operations manager (MOM) was responding to a report of a bag of rubbish having been thrown down onto the line by vandal youths. Rowlands Castle is between Petersfield and Havant. The MOM did not request the stopping of trains or contact the signaller at Havant signalling centre, which controls the area including Rowlands Castle.

Instead, he contacted Petersfield signal box, which controls the adjacent area on the approach to Rowlands Castle, to check whether any trains were approaching. After an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve the bag of rubbish whilst sitting on the platform edge, the MOM jumped down into the four-foot but then saw the lights of an approaching train. He got back onto the platform one second before the train passed.

Both the MOM and the train driver were distressed by the incident, which occurred in the early evening after darkness had fallen at 19:14. RAIB is investigating.

Runaway and derailment at Clitheroe

RAIB’s report 16/2020 was published on 23 December last year. At 08:16 on the morning of 9 March, a loaded wagon ran away from a siding at Hanson’s cement works. It travelled for three quarters of a mile on falling gradients before being derailed at Horrocksford junction, where the freight-only branch line connects to the main line.

As it ran away, it broke through the works gate and went over a level crossing on a public road where two cars were forced to stop for it!

The derailed cements wagon at Horrocksford Junction.

It then crossed over a private road to a chemical works. On reaching Horrocksford junction, it was derailed clear of the main line by the protecting trap points. There were no injuries and little damage to the wagon, but the track was damaged by the derailment.

The wagon handbrake had been applied but was insufficient to hold the loaded wagon on the gradient. The RAIB report says that “staff who stabled the wagon did not know the brakes would not hold the wagon in place”. It adds that “over time, the air in the brake system leaked away until the air brake was released”.

In the report, both those operating trains at the cement works and Network Rail are criticised.

Runaway at Dereham Station

At 15:52 on the afternoon of 10 December, a rail coach was being off-loaded from a heavy haulage trailer onto the railway at Dereham station on the Mid Norfolk Railway. During the unloading, the vehicle became detached from its winch rope (see picture) and ran away.

It collided with and broke through the crossing gates of the nearby level crossing before coming to rest across a public road. RAIB has indicated that it will be publishing a Safety Digest.

Problems with signalling at Sheffield

The potential consequences of signal testing irregularities can be enormous. I still have my copy of Anthony Hidden QC’s Clapham Junction Railway Accident Investigation report dated 27 September 1989.

A Safety Advice available on Network Rail’s Safety Central website from 23 December is worrying. Following the derailment at Sheffield on 11 November last year, work was undertaken on 17 November to plain line two sets of points. The issue’s Safety Advice says: “Signalling alterations were made which introduced a wrong side failure that could have allowed the signaller to set conflicting moves. The alterations were commissioned, introducing the risk of train collision at the junction, but this was discovered and safely mitigated.”

I congratulate those involved on taking the decision to share their experience. Doing so is not only good for ensuring safe signalling it may be seen as a good example of safety awareness.

Drugs and Alcohol – post-incident testing

Also, on Network Rail’s Safety Central website, the Health and Wellness team issued advice on post-incident testing on 2 November last year. It states: “A number of recent investigations have raised concerns that post-incident drug and alcohol incident testing is not always taking place when it is required.”

The advice adds: “Drug and alcohol tests shall always be undertaken where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that someone is under the influence of drugs and alcohol.” It also refers to “testing due to an incident”. It is aimed at “accredited contractors”.

I suggest that the phrase “the recognised protocols to facilitate understanding and confirmation of safety critical information were not robustly used” in effect identifies one of the current problems. Professional train drivers, engineering supervisors and those who work on our railway focus on doing a good job and I would argue that the best way is to leave them with the responsibility of reaching a clear understanding rather than using forms of words composed by safety professionals sitting in offices.

Unannounced testing and safety audits

Equally worrying is the drugs and alcohol testing advice on Network Rail’s Safety Central website. Its implication is that suspicion of being under the influence should be a primary requirement before testing is carried out.

Conversely, I recommend unannounced random checks. I recall my astonishment when an unannounced mass testing was begun without warning on one of my bridge repair worksites. It was early afternoon and a number of contract workers (who I later surmised had spent lunchtime in a nearby hostelry) quite literally made a run for it to avoid being tested.

Unannounced random testing and possession protection audits, carried out at unusual times, have often uncovered poor safety arrangements. Are the Office of Road and Rail and Network Rail doing enough of them?

In some places, regular scheduled mass safety tours are carried out. Equally limited in value are the unannounced safety tours, carried out around midnight. I recall making useful site visits a couple of hours before dawn or a couple of hours after a prearranged safety tour to discover what was actually happening – I recommend it!

Report by Colin Wheeler

Transport around the Commonwealth

Transport needs vary from country to country. The Commonwealth represents this variety and recently met to discuss global needs.

Transport challenges are global, particularly in the contexts of social mobility, accessibility and global climate change. Daisy Chapman-Chamberlain, Rail Knowledge Transfer Manager at KTN, and a UK representative at the Commonwealth Youth Parliament 2020, looks at how international collaboration can meet some of these needs.

Transport systems around the world vary widely and are perceived differently within this global context. Those who use public transport systems on a regular basis are certainly far more likely to have more detailed opinions on their function than a tourist, who may only use a system once. But, whilst some of these views naturally carry more weight, they must all be considered for the establishment of truly world-class transport systems.

Similarly, people of all backgrounds and with different needs and accessibility requirements must be consulted, to ensure that systems are truly reflective of all users. More than 70 per cent of the rural population of African nations are estimated to have been left unconnected, due to missing transport infrastructure and systems. In urban areas, where an additional two billion people are expected to be living in cities by 2045, the growth in population is far outstripping the growth in public transport, thus limiting access to economic and social opportunities.

One key element of the development of these outstanding systems lies in the value of international collaboration and the sharing of best practice (and lessons learned). Whilst not all technologies, projects and principles are internationally uniformly applicable (most people would not directly compare the Transport for London network in the UK with bus transit in and around Neiafu, Tonga), learning from almost every transport network can, and should, be shared. It is important not to make assumptions about which messages may be useful; those at a local and community level are best placed to make judgements and to extract useful information.

This is especially relevant in the context of global economic recovery from COVID-19, through enabling businesses to market and sell their products and innovations internationally, to the future of the UK following Brexit as we look to build stronger relationships outside the EU, including within the Commonwealth.

Sustainable development

Through the Commonwealth Youth Parliament, representatives from a variety of nations discussed international transport development needs and opportunities, specifically amplifying the views of young people.

Decarbonisation is a key focus in transport around the world, with transport emissions, including road, rail, air and marine transportation, accounting for more than 24 per cent of global CO2 emissions in 2016. In the context of global climate change, and the varying contributions that different nations make to emissions, we must all work to address this crucial need to help those nations most at risk from the catastrophic impact of climate change (including India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Canada and beyond). This has the impact of improving lives around the world in every nation, regardless of risk, safeguarding those in the global community and across the Commonwealth.

Development of sustainable transport is ongoing internationally, from hydrogen train development in the UK with HydroFLEX, through work to develop sustainable stations, to developments in Canada, where the University of New Brunswick is researching lightweighting trains and boats through use of aluminium, and the University of Carleton is developing a database for precise measurement and assessment of the health impacts of pollution from aviation.

The outputs and learning from this work must be shared internationally, to reduce duplication of effort, and to ensure that the most impactful practice is enacted in nations around the world.

For both improved connectivity and sustainability, development of better integrated networks and transport systems is crucial. Giving passengers in a wide range of communities greater choice and ensuring door-to-door connectivity is essential in effecting the modal shift from private to public transport.

Variety of views

David Salmon, representative for Jamaica at the Commonwealth Youth Parliament 2020, focussed on bus services, commenting that, “… public transport is essential for communities in order to provide integrated and comprehensive development that factors the needs of all citizens” and that priorities for improvement include punctuality, as well as “…making buses more accessible for the disabled community and to decrease waiting times”. He also commented that “public transportation is important as it can serve as the mechanism to link respective communities,” adding: “Due to the zoning plan in Kingston, many people have to commute for long distances, thus a viable public transport system is essential. To build viable communities, public transportation is necessary”.

Adam Tate, representing the UK, particularly highlighted the regional disparity of public transport across the nation, with transportation in London being much more reliable and accessible, whereas outside the capital it can be “irregular, overpriced and old”.

For national improvements, Adam feels that, “Integrated transport planning is essential, to provide a more robust national infrastructure and systems which are conducive to use focussed on sustainability and health benefits”, particularly to reduce isolation of rural communities and to meet carbon reduction targets.

He highlighted Amsterdam as a key example of a well-integrated city, illustrating how the sharing of learning is particularly key for international transport development; for Amsterdam, active travel facilities and connectivity by bicycle provide a superb example for other smaller cities around the world.

A man sits on a boda boda in Uganda. Photo credit Random Institute.

For larger cities and for those in more rural communities and suburbs, however, rail and light rail development is essential for full access to all opportunities. Erasto Richard Magamba, representing Uganda, firmly believes that there is a need to improve railway transport within the nation. He uses boda bodas (motorbike taxis) regularly, in an effort to avoid traffic. Boda bodas are also a common source of income, especially for young men, but have recently been banned from carrying passengers in Uganda to reduce the spread of COVID-19, only being permitted to carry cargo. This has a significant impact on connectivity in the nation, with Mr Magamba commenting, “… public transport is very important when it comes to business transportation because it goes beyond… to cater for an ordinary person deep down in rural areas to connect with urban areas”.

Pubali Bezbaruah, representative for India, echoed this development need in rail and light rail, commenting: “Metro, in almost every state, is needed so that much of the time and money is saved.”

Very Light Rail development in Coventry, UK, may well hold the key to some of these communities’ needs, enabling connectivity without the need for major infrastructure development and reducing costs, timescales and disruption. 

A bus in Jamaica. Photo Credit: Rock Staar

International inclusion

Across this, accessibility and inclusion come to the fore, and must be considered and included for development of public transport of all types. Maria Ovcharenko, representative for Canada, feels that the transport system in her nation is effective and efficient, as well as inclusive, commenting that “…most, if not all, buses and LRT systems are wheelchair accessible”. However, she feels that this inclusion needs further development, particularly in ensuring women feel safe travelling alone at night, commenting that “Edmonton specifically… has begun implementing measures to address this on a superficial level, such as hiring security personnel”.

This consideration of inclusion in the widest possible context is vital for building safe transport networks which inspire public confidence. In the UK, initiatives including Visible Platform are working in this space, highlighting the needs of women and ensuring that the inclusion agenda goes beyond physical access.

Moving forward, it is clear that international collaboration across innovations and transport development can address some of these significant challenges. Collaboration is fundamental to the ethos of the Commonwealth, and KTN works to enable this international communication, including through work such as the UK Rail Innovation COVID-19 brochure, which highlights innovations applicable in a global context for rail recovery.

Adam Tate, representing the UK, commented: “…the UK suffers with competing political agendas and is reliant largely on Victorian era infrastructure. There needs to be shared and equitable spending across the UK, looking at methods of creating green and sustainable funding models for public transport.”

Ensuring transport is developed for the needs of people at every level – from tiny rural communities to the international climate change context – is essential to equal access and inclusion. This can be achieved through consultation with communities, working with experts in transportation and through collaboration with international groups.

Turning ‘Blue Monday’ into ‘Brew Monday’

Short days, long nights and bad weather make January the most depressing month of the year, Blue Monday being the worst day of all.

This year, on Monday 18 January, Network Rail and the wider rail industry, including British Transport Police and train operating companies across the UK, came together virtually in support of Samaritans’ annual Brew Monday campaign that encourages people to connect with friends, family and colleagues over a warming virtual cuppa and a chat.

New online research from Samaritans found that over half (58%) of UK adults felt that speaking regularly to friends and family either on the phone, via video calls or in person over the last year had a positive effect on their mental wellbeing. Among these, helping people keep in contact with loved ones, feeling less isolated and improving their mood were all highlighted as common reasons for keeping in touch.

To ensure that nobody suffers alone, the annual awareness campaign turned virtual for the first time. Ordinarily Samaritans volunteers would be seen at stations across the UK campaigning and talking to passengers about the importance of listening and staying connected with others. In light of the current pandemic, the rail industry was encouraged to host its own virtual Brew events with staff instead and help Samaritans spread the message across station screens and social media.

Colleagues from Network Rail, British Transport Police and train operating companies, including ScotRail, MTR, LNER and CrossCountry, dedicated time for video calls. On Monday 18 January alone, ScotRail managed collectively to clock more than 80 hours of staff virtual Brews. Rail staff also took part in over 13 virtual ‘How To Listen’ events, run by local Samaritans’ branches to share Samaritans’ listening tips and encourage people to reach out to those around them.

Mole and the cake

Railway stations across the UK had a digital Brew Monday presence too, with the help of acclaimed author and illustrator Charlie Mackesy. He shared an uplifting illustration from his international bestselling book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, whose drawings and words of hope have brought comfort to many this year. Charlie penned a new message for Brew Monday within the illustration, as the Mole asks a slice of cake, “can I share you with a friend?”

The artwork was displayed across all 20 of Network Rail stations’ digital screens, including London Waterloo’s big screen on Monday 18 January. The wider rail industry also donated its station screens along routes such as Northern Rail, Govia Thameslink and LNER routes, to highlight the power of human connection to inspire passengers and staff.

Speaking about his support for the campaign, Charlie said: “I’m happy to be able to share the Mole with Samaritans for Brew Monday. I hope people will see the drawing and consider sharing their own virtual piece of cake and a nice cup of tea with someone close to them. It has been a hard year for a lot of us and talking and being with loved ones means so much more to us now.”

Station staff and those travelling also might have heard a special PA announcement of Samaritans’ listening volunteer Steve talking about Brew Monday. The message was played out across Network Rail stations and train company routes such as West Midland Trains, Northern Rail, ScotRail and LNER on Monday 18 January.

Talking and listening

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail said: “This year it was inspiring to see so many people get involved in Brew Monday, taking five minutes to connect over a virtual cuppa. I recognise it is only marked once a year, but it’s more important than ever that we continue to make time for one another, something as simple as this can make a real difference to someone in need.”

Julie Bentley, Samaritans’ CEO, said: “We’re so grateful to Network Rail and the rail industry for their support of Brew Monday this year. The challenges that many people face during this season have been felt even more acutely this year with the pandemic restrictions. At Samaritans, we know how powerful talking and listening, even if it is virtually, can be. It doesn’t have to be a Monday or a cup of tea, it’s about taking the time to really listen and supporting one another, which could potentially save a life.”

The Brew Monday support comes as part of the rail industry’s suicide prevention programme. Samaritans has worked in partnership with Network Rail, on behalf of the rail industry, to reduce suicides on the railway for over 10 years, having trained over 22,000 rail and British Transport Police staff to look out for passengers and make conversation if they feel someone might be vulnerable.

But the campaign and its message of staying connected isn’t just for one day in January, Samaritans is encouraging everyone to continue to check in on their loved ones throughout the winter and beyond. It’s so important now, more than ever.

For more information and to support Samaritans visit Samaritans.org/brewmonday and why not make a donation while you’re there, you could help save a life.

Northern Ireland railways a focus on stations

Having experienced passenger growth of 130% over 12 years, Northern Ireland’s stations needed urgent attention.

The Northern Ireland network carried 15 million passengers in 2018, with growth having hit 130 per cent over a 12-year period. Trains and stations were becoming increasingly crowded and investment was needed. Tim Casterton reports on how operator Translink has tackled the constraints on its stations.

During the five years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world economy, the number of passengers using Translink’s Northern Ireland Railway (NIR) service had been increasing dramatically. This is down to several reasons, including increased traffic congestion in Belfast, new trains and improved rail timetables.

In total, 21 new carriages have been ordered to increase train accommodation, but the stations were not forgotten as several key locations around the network were already at capacity and needed urgent attention. New park and ride locations were also looked at to help reduce congestion.

The Belfast stations – a brief history

By the late 1960s, history had left Belfast with various terminal stations on a much-reduced network. The formation of Northern Ireland Railways became the turning point, with the Bangor-line services being linked, in 1976, to the former Great Northern services via the then virtually disused former ‘Central Railway’. Belfast Central station (now Lanyon Place) was opened and Queens Quay and Great Victoria Street stations simultaneously closed.

New stations were opened on the former ‘Central Railway’ at Botanic (November 1976) and City Hospital (October 1986), serving key locations in central Belfast.

The Larne line and NCC (Northern Counties Committee) route to Londonderry used York Road station until 1992, when the new Yorkgate station was opened, along with the Cross-Harbour link, allowing services access to Central station.

By the start of the current decade, with Belfast Central being re-named Lanyon Place and the more centrally located Great Victoria Street having re-opened in September 1995, circumstances had changed and passenger numbers increased dramatically.

Great Victoria Street – the ‘central station’

These days, you have to wonder why the perfectly located Great Victoria Street station was ever closed, with its very central location in the City, but, back in 1976, the situation was very different and the diversion and integration of services to the then newly opened and secure Central Station was logical. Sensibly, though, the area and track beds were retained, so as to enable a new station on the site to be re-opened just short of 20 years later.

The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought a new and stable peace to Northern Ireland and that, without doubt, brought an increase in demand for travel and tourism and released the latent demand for rail travel.

Twenty years after re-opening the four-platform Great Victoria Street station, just a few minutes’ walk from the Europa Hotel and with the Europa bus station adjacent to it, it had outgrown itself as the new lynchpin of the NIR network and has become quite restrictive, so the Belfast Transport Hub project was born. Planning permission for the development, submitted in June 2017, was finally granted by the Department for Infrastructure on 21 March 2019.

The new £150 million Belfast Transport Hub, one of the NI Executive’s flagship projects, is to be built on the former Great Northern Railway goods yard. The scheme will take around five years to complete and will provide employment for over 400 people during construction.

Designed by John McAslan + Partners, along with Arup, this project will double the capacity of the station, with four additional platforms. Enterprise cross-border services will be diverted to the new hub from Lanyon Place station. The passenger facilities will also be expanded and further integrated with the adjacent bus station, which will be enlarged by fifty percent. Cycle storage and links to the cycle network are included and also ‘Belfast Bikes’ cycle hire facilities.

The Weavers Cross Development, adjacent to the station, will also bring additional commuters through it. Within the station, enhanced passenger waiting areas, improved accessibility, baby change rooms and new ticket vending machines will be provided. 

Belfast Lanyon Place

Lanyon Place station (previously ‘Central’) is on the east side of the city centre, adjacent to the River Lagan. Now used by 2.6 million passengers annually, it needed a post-troubles refresh.

By September 2018, the main entrance had been modernised and the ‘blast wall’ removed and replaced with a far more welcoming frontage. Inside, the ticket hall was modernised and improved, with retail and café outlets provided. Externally, a new ‘Belfast Bike’ dock has been installed.

To be more reflective of its location, following completion of the works, the station was renamed ‘Belfast Lanyon Place’, after the 19th-century architect who had designed the nearby Custom House and several railway buildings in Ulster.

Yorkgate

Yorkgate station was opened in 1992, to replace the former LMS NCC York Road station, as part of the Cross Harbour line project to join the Larne line (and, since 2003, the Londonderry line) to the Portadown and Bangor lines.

The station, located in north Belfast, is to be redeveloped with improved passenger and staff facilities and the layout enhanced and designed to accommodate future passenger growth.

The proposal for the new high-quality transport hub is currently out for voluntary pre-application consultation, which is being undertaken by Translink. The proposal includes a new station building, wider platforms with canopies, a new footbridge, toilets and baby-change facilities, retail outlets and landscaping areas of the exterior.

Once redeveloped, the station will deliver improved accessibility and better links to walking and cycling routes, as well as providing enhanced connections to the new nearby Ulster University Campus.

Derry/Londonderry

In the North West, improvements to the Derry/Londonderry line had caused capacity issues, particularly at Londonderry Waterside station. In 2012, service reductions had been threatened on the route west of Coleraine due to poor track conditions. However, the then NI Regional Development Minister reallocated the A5 road duelling money to pay for the track works.

The line closed for nine months for a complete relay and foundation rebuilding which was completed in March 2013.

The second phase included resignalling and relocation of the passing loop from Castlerock to Bellarena station, allowing services to double from every two hours to an hourly service to and from Belfast from July 2017. This resulted in a staggering 37 per cent increase in the number of passengers using services between Coleraine and Derry/Londonderry. In perspective, the line carried just 500,000 passengers in 2002 – this had increased to over three million by 2018.

As a result of the increased passenger numbers, the 1980s-built Waterside station could no longer cope with the throughput, having experienced a 61 per cent increase in use over two years. Translink looked to see what could be done and, in a popular move, eventually decided to re-purchase the vacant former 1873-built Belfast & Northern Counties Railway Waterside station, a Grade B listed building designed by John Lanyon. This was restored and incorporated into the new enlarged Waterside transport hub.

The opening of the new platforms and diversion of trains from the 1980s station to the new site took place in October 2019, as a first stage of the £27 million project. The new track and platform layout offers greater flexibility and now has the capacity to handle additional trains, such as the Belmond Grand Hibernian hotel train.

The Lanyon train shed building no longer has trains in it. Instead, it is used wholly for passenger and staff accommodation and includes an information point, ticket facilities and a coffee shop. The project also includes secure cycle parking, a 100-space car park and a bus turning circle.

A new Greenway will be constructed to link Waterside station to the City Centre and Foyle Street bus centre via the Peace Bridge. The project has been designed to make the station a gateway to the North-West region, a catalyst for the re-generation of the wider Waterside and Duke Street areas, and will integrate multimodal forms of transport to support business, leisure and tourism.

As for the postponed third phase of upgrade, NI Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has commissioned a feasibility study to consider the introduction of half hourly train services on the Derry to Belfast railway line. The study will also examine the viability of establishing additional halts, along with park and ride facilities, at Strathfoyle, Eglinton/City of Derry Airport and Ballykelly.

Bellarena

In connection with the introduction of the hourly service to Derry/Londonderry, the passing loop on the single line at Castlerock required relocation to Bellarena, around 10 miles east of Derry/Londonderry station. This required relocation of the station from west of the level crossing to the east of it. Two new six-car-length platforms, with shelters and customer information screens, were provided and were opened to the public on 22 March 2016.

The official opening took place on Tuesday 28 June when Her Majesty the Queen, accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, unveiled a commemorative plaque on the new Down platform. The project was primarily funded by the Northern Ireland Executive with EU funding support – a topical point that seemingly didn’t go un-noticed by Her Majesty, being just a week after the EU referendum!

Portrush

Portrush, a popular holiday destination on the Atlantic Coast, with attractions nearby such as the Giants Causeway, is served by a single-track branch line from Coleraine. With over 620,000 passengers using the branch terminus per year, weighted in the summer, the station building from 1973 had become inadequate.

The 148th Open Golf Championship, scheduled to be held at the Royal Portrush Golf Club in July 2019, would put undue strain on the terminal, so a decision was made to have a complete rebuild completed in time for it. The Department for Communities (DfC) provided £4.7 million of the funding and the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) provided a further £0.9 million. The redevelopment of Portrush station was designated as one of the key regeneration initiatives for the town.

A new landmark three-platform station, fully accessible and allowing for future passenger growth, was designed. Platforms 1 and 2 were extended to accommodate six-carriage trains. Features include a new main concourse with an atrium which provides natural light, modern waiting facilities, better passenger information, cycle storage and improved signage to local amenities and attractions. The new station also has the only fully equipped wet room at any Translink station!

Although the station has three platforms, re-signalling in Coleraine in 2016 now means that normally only one platform is in use, unless special provisions are put in place to operate the service with a pilotman on trains and the signal box at Portrush especially opened.

The Eglington Street side of the station has newly constructed, stone-clad walls featuring images of the North Coast including the North-West 200motorcycle race, the air show, golf and costal views. In addition to the regular Northern Ireland Railways services, the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland has operated the popular ‘Portrush Flyer’ steam train excursions to the station on summer weekends for many decades.

Lisburn West – a new ‘park & ride’

The former Knockmore Halt was opened in 1932 on the former Great Northern Railway of Ireland line on the Portadown side of Lisburn. It was served primarily by services on the Lisburn to Antrim Branch line. However, when services to the branch were withdrawn, it could only be served by Belfast-bound services, as there was no Down platform on the main line. Northern Ireland Railways closed the halt completely on 25 March 2005.

Ten years after closure, housing and industrial development proposals west of Lisburn prompted Translink to submit a planning application for a new park and ride station at the site – Lisburn West. Located around 1½ miles west of Lisburn, the station was finally granted planning consent on 30 July 2020 by Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council. This had initially been deferred in February whilst assessments of road traffic generated by the project were updated.

The consent for the station provides for Up and Down platforms and a loop platform face using the Antrim branch line, which can be used to turn-back services.  A footbridge will incorporate the ticket office and staff facility. The 372-space car park includes 22 disabled parking spaces and two electric car-charging points. The design includes a bus turning area.

A Translink spokesperson has advised RailStaff that “the project will now be progressed, subject to funding and other business priorities”. The proposal complements the council’s plans for sustainable development around fast-growing West Lisburn, an area where there is already much employment and the re-opening is expected to attract further investment post COVID-19.

Report by Tim Casterton

Driving Industry change – 10 years of collaborative working through CDF

From a nervous start, with 30-life-long competitors gathered in the same room as their major customer, the commercial directors’ forum became a vibrant working community.

Just before Christmas 2020, Network Rail held its last National Commercial Directors’ Forum (CDF), bringing one of its most successful engagements to a close and passing the baton of future CDFs to the devolved regions. Stephen Blakey, commercial projects director at Network Rail, provides a review of the journey, CDF’s key achievements and points to some important ongoing themes.

Launched in 2011, the Commercial Directors’ Forum, or ‘CDF’ as it quickly became known, set out with a brazen aspiration; to drive industry change across the rail sector and establish collaborative working as the dominant approach within the rail supply chain.

It began with some 40 delegates from Network Rail’s Tier 1 capital works suppliers attending a conference centre in Westwood, and initially met something of a luke-warm reception. There was a blend of caution, curiosity and pockets of cynicism, with some expecting they would be told how things should be done, not asked.

But the emphasis was always about having a conversation, seeking to understand the issues that inhibit collective success and, through dialogue and collaborative effort, to deploy ways of doing things better.

It was also about role modelling the right behaviours in the belief that those behaviours would be a catalyst for collective change and strengthening of relationships. The aspiration was to establish a crucible for change and an environment of transparency and trust that would be the platform from which to commence our collaborative journey. And, indeed, it was the arena from which we committed to a collaborative strategy for our capital works portfolio and to pursue independent accreditation of our collaborative capability through achieving BS11000 by 2012.

Delivering key outputs

To ensure it wasn’t a ‘talking shop’ it was important to identify key issues and deliver tangible change. This was achieved, in the first instance, through a focus on improving the speed of payments from Network Rail to Tier 1s and in turn from Tier 1s to Tier 2s. The output was a Fair Payment Charter (FPC) that committed signatories to pay suppliers within 28 days and to cease the use of retentions. Whilst the FPC was voluntary for the Tier 1 suppliers, Network Rail formally changed the payment terms for its capital works contracts from 56 to 21 days and abolished the use of retentions.

As a result, by 2012 the CDF was seen as a serious undertaking and, in addition to burgeoning attendance from key suppliers, professional institutions and industry stakeholders began to enrol as regular delegates.

Convening every six months, each National CDF established several working groups to address a range of thorny issues – from safety and sustainability through to change control, claims management, benchmarking and efficiencies. These working groups comprised volunteers from within the CDF, who defined the problem and proposed outputs via a ‘quad of aims’ – a simple chart that helps to ensure every team member understands the project and what they expect it to deliver. They would then develop a solution which, once validated by all CDF delegates, would be deployed and adopted across all CDF organisations.

It took a lot of collective effort amongst the members to maintain momentum and two facets are acknowledged as being fundamental to CDF’s success – the building of trust through open and honest exchange and the concept that the ‘price of participation, is participation’. The latter not only set the expectation of delegates whilst attending each two-day CDF, but also applied to their active participation in a number of working groups tackling a set of priorities agreed for each year. With the working groups meeting two to three times between each CDF, membership represented a serious personal commitment.

But the delegates kept coming and the appetite to participate grew to the point where numbers had to be capped at 80.

Extended engagement

Over the years, the forum faced several challenges from finding the optimum ’drum beat’ and format to maintaining a manageable number of working groups. Importantly, the forum had become mature enough to regularly take stock, reflect and challenge itself as to how to do better. It also now included delegates who were ‘Agent Provocateurs’, included specifically to act as critical friends and constantly provoke and test our approach.

One such challenge was how to extend the engagement to Tier 2s and Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) without becoming unwieldy and deconstructing the relationships that had been built over the years. The answer, which unwittingly was the precursor to future CDFs in a devolved structure, was the ‘Franchise Model’.

This model established regional and asset-based CDFs across the country, with the majority of delegates drawn from the regional supply chain and an emphasis on Tier 2 and SME representation, supplemented by relevant Tier 1s. These regionally led CDFs focused on local priorities, with Network Rail’s regional commercial directors ensuring working group continuity and alignment. It proved to be a highly effective model and a blueprint for the future.

By 2016 the strength of empowerment and advocacy across the regular delegates reached its height and CDF was widely recognised as market leading, with a number of industry awards to prove it.

More importantly, the forum had delivered a range of industry-changing improvements including:

  • A rail sector Fair Payment Charter – an industry first;
  • A rail sector Sustainability Charter – an industry first;
  • A minimum 5% tender weighting for Sustainability – an industry first;
  • BS11000 certification of Network Rail, with key suppliers following suit;
  • Significantly shortened payment terms (from 56 to 21 days) and the removal of retentions;
  • An improved approach to assessing safety competencies during the tendering process;
  • Joint development of a consistent framework for collaborative behaviours;
  • The use of NEC3 (a family of contracts offering a complete end-to-end project management solution for the entire project life-cycle) with some of our long term frameworks;
  • Review and collective adoption of Rail Method of Measurement (RMM);
  • The publication of a range of best practice guidance notes on issues such as disallowable costs and fees, change control and claims management.

Many of the above aspects, first tackled at CDF, went on to mature and become ‘business as usual’ for the rail sector. For example, key elements of the Fair Payment Charter are now enshrined in Network Rail’s standard terms and conditions, along with many of the best practice guidance notes and, of course, the use of a standard commercial taxonomy for capital works, the Rail Method of Measurement.

  • National CDF continued to inform the collaborative agenda, outputs and publications right up to 2020, including:
  • Network Rail’s accreditation as one of the first six organisations from around the globe to the International Standard for Collaborative Working, ISO44001;
  • Published guidance on the 12 key enablers to successful Alliances and the use of NEC4;
  • An industry-wide survey of commercial practitioners’ perceptions and challenges;
  • Further best-practice guidance and improvements to our standard terms and conditions;
  • The creation and roll out of Dispute Avoidance Panels (DAP);
  • The publication of the first standard form of subcontract for rail (NR22).

TTT

Perhaps one of the most valuable outcomes from the National CDF wasn’t so much ‘a thing’ but the creation of four successive cohorts of a working group called Tomorrows Talent Today.

Known colloquially at the ‘Triple Ts’, these successive groups comprised high-potential commercial practitioners (seen as potential commercial directors of the future) with a remit to bring a practitioners’ perspective to the forum. In addition to informing areas of focus, validating proposed solutions and being CDF/rail industry ambassadors, they were charged with holding the CDF to account and testing sentiment and awareness of outputs via an industry wide commercial survey.

The credibility of the Triple Ts has gone from strength to strength and the value of being part of a network of high potential practitioners and commercial directors is obvious. In addition to positive feedback from the 40 plus participants, Tier 1 commercial directors confirm that participation is valuable enough to warrant inclusion on CVs.

Advocacy from suppliers as to the value of the Triple Ts is strong and is perhaps best summarised by Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of CECA, in his executive summary to the latest Triple T commercial survey, published in December 2020:

“One of the things that the Commercial Directors’ Forum can be most proud of in its history is its decision to set up the Tomorrow’s Talent Today (Triple Ts) working group. Over the last 10 years, more than 40 future leaders from CDF member businesses have played an active role in both the working group and forum. But Triple T members have not only been participants. Through their industry surveys, they have also provided a vital resource, developing real data on how the CDF has changed the way our sector operates.”

Sentiment and advocacy from longstanding as well as more recent delegates is very strong with regards the Triple Ts, as well as CDF, both being cited as a ‘force for good’ and highly effective models for driving a collaborative agenda directly with the supply chain.

Devolved to the regions

In December 2020, National CDF was brought to a close with the baton being handed to the devolved regions. In its final forum, the following was offered up to delegates and the regions:

  • Working collaboratively has meant that our industry responded very well to COVID;
  • Collaboration, whilst more relevant and prevalent than ever, must flourish after the pandemic;
  • The Triple Ts issued a very credible commercial survey for the regions to take forward;
  • The future’s bright, the future is CEMAR (a cloud-based contract management system);
  • Suppliers should consider how to support the Conflict Avoidance Coalition and The Pledge;
  • RICS (The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) sees Network Rail as a ‘Gold Standard’ client in the pursuit of conflict avoidance through its deployment of Dispute Avoidance Panels (DAP) and associated conflict avoidance and mitigation processes;
  • The launch of the first standard form of subcontract for rail (NR22), developed through a CDF working group and with a follow-up form now planned for April 2021;
  • The collaborative journey continues and it’s time for CDF to be devolved to the regions;
  • There are some recurring themes to be considered, ranging from safety and sustainability through to efficiency and benchmarking.

Each region is well placed to take advantage of its own previous experience and the blueprint of the ‘Franchise Model’ and draw from the items above as it feels appropriate. And, in addition to the inherent agility and focus a regional approach will bring, the regions will also be able to immediately harness the strength of sentiment from those suppliers that are advocates of the CDF model.

First out of the blocks is Northwest and Central Region, which held its first Regional CDF in January and has already picked up the thread on several key themes, including improving safety, collaborative working, improved efficiency and benchmarking and vitally, the establishment of the next cohort of Triple Ts.

Our collaborative journey has taken us from opening a dialogue and asking questions at that first CDF to delivering tangible changes on matters important to our suppliers and industry. In doing so, we’ve established the rail sectors’ collective credentials and have shown the power of collaborative working.

There’s more to do and many a challenge ahead, but the experience and appetite is in place for the regions to continue the collaborative journey, deliver a collective aspiration to drive industry change and leave a lasting legacy.

It’s a journey that I have found personally and professionally to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my career.

Young Rail Professionals – YRP needs you!

Do you work in rail? or, if you don’t, would you like to? or do you simply have a soft spot for trains?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then please read on… Young Rail Professionals might just have the perfect volunteering opportunity for you!

YRP is searching for enthusiastic volunteers to join its dynamic committees at both regional and national level. The current team has navigated amazingly though the unprecedented challenges of the past year, keeping the community engaged through new and inventive initiatives, creating a support network for loyal members and utilising its voice in the industry to connect people from living rooms across the UK.

YRP has grown from strength to strength, adding new technologies, collaborators and activities to its repertoire. And now it needs your help to continue the YRP mission.

What do you need?

Ultimately, YRP is looking for people with passion, awareness, dedication, ideas, drive, approachability … people who want to join YRP committees and make YRP even more of a success than it already is. The search is on for the next team of YRP leaders!

A YRP leader is anyone who holds responsibility for YRP. There are eight regional committees, focussed on delivery of YRP initiatives and YRP networking at a local level. There is also a National Executive Committee that oversees the running of the organisation with finance, marketing and communications, strategy and coordination responsibilities.

Typically, YRP leaders start at a regional committee role and work up to a national executive role, garnering confidence, contacts and experience along the way. The range of roles is broad, so hopefully there’s something for everyone.

YRP needs young rail professionals to lead and support its national initiatives and activities, such as into rail, Rail Week, our networking and development programme, our annual awards, our heritage railways project and Young Rail Tours.

On top of all that, YRP needs young rail professionals to lead and support its regional committees, grow its activities on a regional level, encourage cross-working and build sustainable local networks.

Young rail professionals are needed to guide, support and engage with members, nurture and develop relationships with industry contacts and collaborators, manage the website, marketing and social media channels, raise YRP’s profile in the industry, share skills, share knowledge, share career insights and opportunities and endorse the UK railway industry as a great place to work.

In short, YRP needs young rail professionals to promote, inspire and develop the next generation of railway talent.

A full list of leadership positions can be found on the YRP website.

Why join?

YRP leadership is an opportunity unlike any other you are likely to have in the early years of your rail career. It offers a chance to run elements of a business, lead teams of people or projects, raise your profile across the industry, and get exposure to a broad range of people, professions and experience levels. YRP leaders have used their experience in chartership and professional qualification applications, and many will tell you how their career progression has been accelerated by skills and experience acquired with YRP.

YRP is also fun! Whilst the work to inspire, promote and develop the next generation of railway talent is taken very seriously, YRP leaders form a tight community, together with their members, and make friends for life. There is a strong social scene and members enjoy relaxing together after their work is done.

In most positions, the workload is very manageable, even though it is in addition to the demands of the day job. Whenever circumstances change, and YRP leaders struggle with a commitment, colleagues are extremely flexible and support each other. No-one is left to be overwhelmed by work.

Who can join?

YRP provides maximum development benefit to those in the first 10 years of their career in rail.

But anyone who works in the rail industry (or with an interest in the same) can get involved – there are opportunities to suit all abilities, backgrounds and locations.

As well as committee members, YRP is always on the lookout for speakers, mentors, corporate members (more on that next time!), collaborators and, of course, members generally.

Any other useful background?

YRP is a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers alone, and its constitution restricts it from giving monetary benefits or gifts in return. This is for good reason – every penny of funding YRP receives from corporate members is carefully invested in its initiatives and aligned to its objectives.

That all makes for agility, allowing flexibility in roles and responsibilities, simplifying the process for onboarding new volunteers, and makes every member and leader of YRP equal, from newbie to executive.

That all sounds wonderful! So how do you get involved?

YRP’s election and appointments process is taking place right now, until 1 April 2021 – please contact [email protected] with expressions of interest or any questions if you’d like to get involved. You’ll find that everyone is happy to talk to anyone about the opportunities on offer.

And finally … if you work for a company that’s interested in becoming a YRP corporate member – how does this work?

Keep your eyes peeled for the next article, where you’ll be able to find out more about corporate memberships. In the meantime, you can download the current YRP Corporate Members’ brochure from the YRP website or contact [email protected] (YRP Head of External Relations) for more information.

Making an early start

It is important to make a good impression on the first day in a new job. But arriving early can be just as important.

Colin Wheeler remembers a true story that can be taken as good advice to all new starters, but which can also act as a warning to the complacent.

I recall being told about the newly appointed railway divisional boss who had lodged locally near his new office and was expected to begin his first day by arriving at around nine in the morning.

Instead, he arrived at the office doors a little before 7am. The office messenger arrived, having collected the morning post, a few minutes later. He accepted the assurance that the man was “due to start work in the office but was early” at face value.

The new man offered to help unlocking the building and with sorting and delivering the mail around the offices. With a little prompting as they worked together, the messenger explained to the newcomer what each of the sections did, who was likely to arrive first and who he found best and easiest to do work for.

The office, the new boss had been warned, was not working well and “had its problems”.

An hour or more later, he thanked his confidant and, having admitted who he was (and shown proof thereof), he moved into his personal office, asking his confidant to say nothing as he thanked him profusely for their time together.

This gave the talented new boss a great start in his new job, in which he was most successful.

From this beginning, the individual went on to establish a good rapport with local engineers, supervisors, and indeed all staff, both outside and in the offices, before being promoted further.

He also earned the respect and commitment of trades unions and safety representatives.

Report by Colin Wheeler

Stagecoach’s Rob Jones newly elected Chair at TBF

Following the annual election for serving members of the Board of Trustees, Rob Jones, Managing Director Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire, has been appointed Chair of the Transport Benevolent Fund CIO. Jones has been a serving trustee for the past 10 years and picks up the baton from outgoing chair, Chris Sullivan, currently with FirstBus, Hampshire, Dorset and Berkshire, who retired from the post in early February 2021.

Jones said; ‘I am extremely honoured to be asked to take on the role of Chair for the fund, and I thank my fellow trustees for their confidence in my ability to take up the position.

“My fellow Board members and I thank Chris Sullivan for his contribution during his time at the helm. He has been a great ambassador for the fund’s work and I am looking forward to continuing working together in our role reversals.

“Of course, the past 12 months have been particularly challenging for everyone, but TBF has been operational throughout and continues to offer support to those members who find themselves in need. The fund continues to evolve and we have some exciting times ahead with the increase in the value of benefits available; streamlining of the claims process; and the introduction of a membership portal, making access to personal records so much easier for members.”

Sullivan said: “It has been a pleasure to serve as Chair of the Board of Trustees and I am extremely proud of the fund’s work, but after more than 10 years in the post I feel that it’s time to step aside and allow new blood with fresh ideas to lead the way. I will continue to serve as a Board Trustee and offer my full support to Rob in his new position.”

During the election process, Ian Wilson, Network Rail Asset Engineer (Structures), was re-elected as Vice-chair of the fund.

Photo credit: TBF – Rob Jones, newly elected Chair at TBF

Transport for Wales delivers new Bow Street station

Transport for Wales is delighted to announce the opening of the new Bow Street station.

The first train stopped at the station in Ceredigion, mid Wales, at 9.12am on Sunday 14 February, providing a link to the national rail network for the community of Bow Street for the first time since the former station was closed in 1965.

It is the first station to open in Wales since Pye Corner in December 2014 and Transport for Wales’ first since taking over the Wales and Borders network franchise in 2018.

The development has been funded by the Welsh Government and the Department for Transport, having first been identified in 2010 as an opportunity offering value for money and with strong local support.

It is anticipated the new station will generate more than 30,000 new trips per year (based on pre-COVID levels), reduce congestion and parking issues in Aberystwyth, while also opening-up new employment and education opportunities for local residents.

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, commented: “This is great news for passengers and the local area. The station will bring social and economic benefits to the area, which alongside the nearby active travel routes will make it easier for people to travel in a sustainable way.

“The funding we have provided is a sign of our ongoing commitment to improving the railway in Wales and giving more choice to passengers.”

UK Government Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “It is fantastic that vital rail links have been restored for the Bow Street community for the first time in more than 50 years.

“Our investment in new stations is focused on improving journeys, boosting access to jobs and education and kickstarting economic growth as we build back better from Covid-19.”

The station will be served by trains on the Cambrian Line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury and from 2022 will benefit from the introduction of brand-new trains and an hourly weekday service.

James Price, Transport for Wales CEO, said: “It’s an exciting and important milestone for us to complete the first new station since taking over the Wales and Borders rail service.

“It is testament to the skill and hard work of our teams that they have been able to deliver this new station despite the many challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year.

“Public transport is currently open to those making essential journeys only, but we look forward to welcoming residents and visitors to Bow Street when lockdown restrictions have changed and it is safe to do.”

Bow Street features a 100m long single platform with a passenger waiting shelter, real-time information point and ticket machine.

It also features a 70-space park and ride car park, bus drop-off and pick-up point, access to local cycle routes and a covered cycle shelter. It also benefits from easy access thanks to improvements to the existing A415 junction with the A487(T).

Bill Kelly, Network Rail Wales route director, said: “We are delighted to have been able to support TfW in the development and delivery of the new Bow Street station.

“It will have a hugely positive impact on the local community and the wider region as it will be easier than ever for people to connect with employment, education, health and other vital services.”

Councillor Dafydd Edwards, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member for Highways and Environmental Services, Housing and Customer Contact, said: “On behalf of Ceredigion County Council, I am very pleased Transport for Wales has now completed the new Public Transport Interchange at Bow Street.

“None of this would have happened without the vision, hard work and dedication of many individuals and organisations working together over the last 10 years on this project. Make no mistake this is a big step forward for Ceredigion and Mid Wales – the Interchange will provide a much-needed boost for the local economy and help to improve the availability of sustainable travel opportunities as part of our efforts to de-carbonise the transport sector.”

Photo credit: Transport for Wales

Approved WMCA Budget will fund schemes that can support economic recovery and help protect environment

A budget of more than £900m, including funding for infrastructure, regeneration and job training schemes that can support the region’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery and help protect the environment, has been approved by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) today (Friday February 12).

The 2021/22 WMCA Budget includes a package of major transport projects to help drive economic growth and cleaner air as well as funding to unlock and transform the region’s derelict industrial sites for new, energy efficient homes and jobs, relieving pressure on the Green Belt.

An Adult Education Budget (AEB) of £142m, the biggest of any UK region outside London, will be used to give people, especially those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the skills needed to get back into work quickly and to secure jobs in growing sectors such as construction, digital and the emerging green industries.

But in approving the budget, the WMCA Board warned of the financial uncertainty caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with recent independent research also suggesting the West Midlands could be hit harder than any other UK regional economy.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The investments outlined in this budget will help the West Midlands make significant strides towards a quick and effective recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as tackling the climate emergency facing our region.

“We’re investing hundreds of millions of pounds in our green public transport network, with zero carbon and Sprint buses, new rail stations, cycling infrastructure, and of course Metro extensions – with almost £100m alone being spent over the next year on the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension.

“Meanwhile more than £116m is being spent on the remediation of derelict brownfield land, saving acres of greenbelt from development, and we’re investing £142m to level up our skills, getting us ready for the huge boost in the green jobs of the future as we look to help get people into work.

“What these investments will do is help to create and protect jobs at what is such a critical time for many people’s livelihoods, whilst also helping us on our way to becoming carbon neutral by 2041.

“We are managing to deliver all of this without costing the taxpayer any more money, as this will be the fourth year in a row where we have not introduced a mayoral precept, meaning not an extra penny from us will be added to people’s council tax bills.”

The approved budget includes £363m for the WMCA’s transport arm – Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) – to deliver schemes that will improve connectivity, drive economic growth and help cut carbon emissions by making it easier and more attractive for people to switch to public transport.

Projects include:

  • The expansion of the electric-powered Metro tram system
  • The opening of new railway lines and stations at Darlaston, Willenhall, Moseley, Kings Heath and Hazelwell
  • The development of a ‘Sprint’ rapid bus network using zero emission vehicles
  • Support for the continuing conversion of buses from diesel to hybrid
  • More cycling and walking routes
  • Concessionary travel for older people, the blind, disabled and children

In addition, there will be £11m available for subsidised bus services, £7m for Ring and Ride and nearly £4m to enhance transport for the Commonwealth Games.

More than £116m is committed for housing and land projects and in particular the WMCA’s ‘brownfield first’ policy to unlock and redevelop derelict urban land and help safeguard the Green Belt.

Investments will accelerate the on-going transformation of former industrial sites to deliver energy efficient, affordable new homes and modern commercial premises for businesses to grow and create jobs. There will also be support for the regeneration of town centres and for the research and development of modern methods of construction and zero carbon homes.

Key brownfield housing schemes include:

  • Up to 750 new homes on a former sewage works at Friar Park in Sandwell
  • 252 homes on the former Caparo steel works at Walsall
  • The construction of a further 138 homes using cutting edge construction technology on derelict land at Icknield Port Loop in Edgbaston

Around £120m in capital grants will be allocated to local authorities to help fund major infrastructure projects with significant investment in Coventry (Station Masterplan, City Centre South, Very Light Rail, City of Culture), Solihull (UK Central Programme) and Birmingham including £20m for the Commonwealth Games.

The £142m of skills funding will be used by the WMCA’s productivity and skills team, working closely with local authorities, to fund training courses that give people the opportunity to upskill and get back into work, with more training matched to those industries suffering skills shortages, including higher level skills.

Cllr Bob Sleigh, Deputy Mayor and WMCA portfolio holder for finance said: “I would like to thank all those who have done such tremendous work in putting together a balanced budget in what are extremely difficult times, not least because of the substantial loss of revenue the combined authority has suffered as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on our public transport.

“But it’s important to recognise the significant funding in this budget for new transport infrastructure, brownfield regeneration and skills and training, all of which can help take forward the green agenda and provide support for a future economy that is more focused on innovation and new green technologies.

“Clearly there are challenging times ahead and we will be refreshing our medium-term priorities early in the new financial year with the aim of recapturing our pre-pandemic economic success while driving innovation and carbon reduction.”

The WMCA Budget report also highlights how, ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget announcement on March 3, the authority is continuing to seek the additional funding set out in its Spending Review Submission while lobbying for additional capacity and ongoing funding to tackle the impact of Covid-19.

The Metro tram extension through Dudley is one of the schemes to be funded by the 2021/22 WMCA Budget

Photo credit: WMCA

Scottish government set to reward ScotRail failure

Scottish Government set to reward failure and give Abellio a free ride to continue operating the ScotRail franchise from 2022.

RAIL UNION RMT today expressed its concern that the Scottish Government’s proposed revised ‘Franchising Policy Statement’ is laying the groundwork to give Dutch state-owned Abellio a direct award when the franchise ends next year, despite its well documented poor performance, rather than using its powers to take its rail services into public ownership.

As the consultation on the Franchising Policy Statement closes, it is clear the Statement reflects the Scottish Government’s intention to extend Abellio’s tenure. The Statement sets out a vast number of circumstances in which ‘the Scottish Ministers may decide to directly award a franchise agreement’ rather than tendering the franchise or taking it into public ownership via the Operator of Last Resort (OLR).

In contrast, earlier this week, Wales’ rail passenger services transferred into public ownership, as the Welsh Government has recognised that this is the most effective way to provide stability to the rail network in the face of ongoing Covid-19 uncertainty.

RMT believes that it would provide far greater value for money for passengers and taxpayers and provide greater resilience for Scotland’s rail network if the Scottish Government stopped making excuses and instead used its existing powers to take control of Scotland’s rail passenger services.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:

“It is frankly unbelievable that the Scottish Government is poised to reward failure and give Abellio a free ride carrying operating rail services in Scotland.

“In the same week that the Government in Wales has taken rail services back into public ownership the Scottish government is once against showing its biased in favour of the privatised railway.

“The Scottish Government already has the powers to take its rail passenger services into public ownership, via the Operator of Last Resort yet it keeps making excuses not to.

“In response to a Freedom of Information case The Scottish Government has also refused to publish its response to the UK Government’s Williams Review of Rail, choosing instead to hide behind a veil of secrecy.

“This lack of transparency just reinforces RMT’s concerns that it opposed to public ownership of Scotland’s railways, despite this being the best way to deliver a resilient, cost-effective and reliable service.

“We need action, not more excuses, from the Scottish Government.”

Photo credit: RMT / Scotrail

Suffolk New College partners with Greater Anglia to offer student outreach projects

Suffolk New College students can look forward to unique extra-curricular learning after the college teamed up with Greater Anglia to officially ‘adopt’ Ipswich rail station.

The new partnership means that college students will be able to get involved in all sorts of different projects – from art installations to work experience – thanks to help from the East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership, who facilitated the link.

Greater Anglia’s Station Adoption scheme sees people getting involved with their local rail station for the benefit of their communities, working with Greater Anglia to bring about improvements or caring for gardens and floral displays to benefit local wildlife and make stations more welcoming.

This is the first time an entire college has adopted a rail station in East Anglia.

Claire Kendall, officer of the East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership, said, “I’m delighted that by working together we are going to help boost the educational experience of so many young people and give them some excellent opportunities to learn about the railway, get involved in art or STEM projects and perhaps even work experience opportunities. Who knows where it will take them in the future?”

Alan Neville, Greater Anglia’s Customer and Community Engagement Manager, said, “This is a great community initiative which has the potential to bring so many benefits. I’m delighted to welcome the Suffolk New College and Suffolk Rural (formerly Otley College) to Station Adoption and can’t wait to help them develop all their exciting ideas to help make a positive difference to young people’s lives.”

Alan Pease,  Deputy Principal of Suffolk New College and Suffolk Rural Credit: Craig Shimmon.

Deputy Principal of Suffolk New College and Suffolk Rural, Alan Pease, said, “We are committed to working in and supporting our local community. This project will give our students – from the arts to horticulture and from STEM subjects – the chance to have their work showcased in front of thousands of passengers who pass through the station every day. Students across other curriculum areas will also gain a valuable insight into the world of business via the work experience opportunities that will evolve from this opportunity.

“Our mantra at Suffolk New College is to give students exceptional experiences so we are delighted to be involved in this project and thankful to Greater Anglia and the East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership for this fantastic partnership.”

Whilst Suffolk New College, Greater Anglia and the East Suffolk Lines Community Rail Partnership are currently working together to develop the plans, projects will not be taken forward until the pandemic restrictions are lifted and is safe to do so.

Current Government advice is to stay at home unless you need to travel for permitted reasons including work and medical appointments.

Greater Anglia continues to ensure that rail travel is safe for staff and passengers with an enhanced cleaning regime, on stations and trains, concentrating on high-touch areas such as push buttons, grab rails and door handles.

The train operator has also introduced a wide range of measures to make it easier for customers to maintain social distancing at stations and on trains – including floor markings, one-way systems, new signs and queuing systems. It is now mandatory for customers to wear a face covering when using public transport, to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. Children under the age of 11 and people with a disability or illness which means they cannot wear a face covering are exempt from wearing them.

Featured image – Ipswich Station, credit: Greater Anglia

Hastings line to be closed from Robertsbridge through to Tonbridge from Monday as Network Rail engineers tackle earthwork repairs

Network Rail engineers are accelerating work to rebuild a cutting at the entrance to a tunnel on the London to Hastings line to reduce the risk of landslips at the site.

A potential landslip at the southern end of Wadhurst Tunnel was picked up by early warning alarms in December, and the railway was protected immediately with temporary measures. A team had been mobilised to repair it, along with several other defects, over the course of this year. 

However, as the Tonbridge section of the Hastings line is already closed until 20 February to repair a landslip at High Brooms, engineers are taking the opportunity to repair this section too.

The London to Hastings line was constructed in the 1850s along difficult and steep terrain. Extremely heavy and prolonged rainfall over the winter, combined with the complex and unstable geology, means that Network Rail now needs to undertake this extra work as soon as possible.

“Fiona Taylor, Network Rail Route Director for Kent, said: “While it’s always regrettable to have to close any section of line, this winter’s weather has taken its toll on the Hastings Line and doing this work at Wadhurst Tunnel now means we can reduce the amount of time we need to close the line during planned works during the rest of this year.

“It is absolutely essential that our railway is safe to travel on and this work will reinforce and protect the line for years to come.

“Thank you to our passengers and lineside neighbours for their patience and understanding whilst we carry out these important works.”

Tonbridge – Tunbridge line Closure – Photo: South Eastern

The line will be closed between Tunbridge Wells and Robertsbridge from Monday 15 February, and a bus replacement service will be put on the rest of the way to Tonbridge for passengers. The line is already closed between Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge.

The line is planned to be reopened completely on Saturday 20 February.

“Southeastern’s Train Services Director, Scott Brightwell, said: “By doing additional work at this time,  Network Rail can reduce impact on our passengers who, above all, want safe and reliable journeys.

“We’ll make sure that changes to journey times and details of replacement bus services are well communicated through our website, National Rail Enquiries, and through our Twitter account @Se_Railway, so please check before you travel.”

Photo credit: Network Rail

How One Welsh-based Tour Operator Plans to Recover With ‘Home Soil Touring’

Porthmadog-based Ffestiniog Travel has said ITV’s Home Sweet Home – Travels in My Own Land could well be the inspiration for Brits to book a holiday on home soil. The three-part series hosted by the adventurous actress and presenter Joanna Lumley is warming the cockles of our hearts by showcasing beautiful places on our doorstep. ” As soon as the UK opens up again, it is the ideal time to discover some of the treasures of our own Kingdom ” says the rail holiday provider’s founder Alan Heywood. 

Ffestiniog Travel’s operation has been derailed by the force and ongoing impact of the global pandemic. For more than 45 years the specialist in escorted group rail holidays has been running tours to more than 60 countries globally and like Lumley has explored some of the world’s most far-flung destinations.  Given the Government’s recent update relating to travel, domestic holidays are certainly set to rebound ahead of international trips and the Welsh tour operator is adapting to the current crisis by focusing on its UK touring portfolio. 

As Lumley lures Brits to fall in love with the UK on her “journey of discovery around our great country”, Ffestiniog Travel is putting its promotional effort in its UK portfolio too. Ffestiniog Travel  has the spotlight on two Welsh itineraries and both escorted group tours are planned for a departure in Autumn 2021. “We’re rebuilding the operation starting at the heart of the business and celebrating our Welsh roots,” said Maria Cook, general manager. 

Cook went on to explain that their new business growth strategy is three-fold and they want to help drive visitor numbers to Wales, support heritage railways survival as well as recover their own operation. “Our jewel in the crown is a ‘behind the scenes‘ tour of the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways. Naturally our relationship with the heritage railways is one that we want to continue supporting, so we are hoping there will be enough interest in this tour to run a second departure too.”

Speaking in depth about the crisis and what the future holds for the business, Heywood who will be turning 81 next month shared “I’ve spent my entire life building Ffestiniog Travel and with the support of my dedicated team we are going to explore the world again, one tour at a time…starting on home soil“. 

Photo credit: Welsh Highland Railway, Copyright Ffestiniog Travel

Vannin Solutions: A New Name in Permanent Recruitment

Founded by Ian Thomas and Victoria Hesketh in late 2020, Vannin Solutions are permanent recruitment specialists for the UK Rail Industry. Based in Ormskirk,...

Rail traverser for DIRFT III