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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Keeping in touch

After a lifetime of work, it’s good to stay in contact with former colleagues

With people living longer, they have more free time in their retirement. But some don’t want to turn their backs on their careers completely. Clive Kessell reports on one such ‘oldtimer’ organisation.

In decades past, it was not uncommon for railwaymen and women, in whatever department, to spend their whole working lives in the industry. This may still happen, although it is much rarer these days, with a fragmented railway and many different companies participating.

Particularly strong is the bond of friendship within the erstwhile signal and telecommunications departments, especially at the ex-BR regional level, of which the London Midland may lay claim to being the strongest.

A group has existed for some time that meets monthly, usually at Crewe but with an occasional escape to Birmingham, where colleagues, right through from technicians (linemen in the distant past) to senior managers, enjoy an excellent lunch at the Waverley Hotel. Known as the Fellowship of Retired Signal and Telecommunications Engineers, the camaraderie is superb and the wealth of experience that emerges in the conversations is amazing.

There is an element of ‘do you remember when’ talk, but the knowledge of modern-day projects and technology would surprise many. No problem here with ‘continuing professional development (CPD)’, many having an ongoing willingness to learn the latest engineering practices and, maybe, even adapt to the ‘control and communication’ name that is slowly usurping S&T.

The age range covers people in their 90s right through to engineers who have retired in recent years. Everyone must have had part of their career on the LM, but this is interpreted fairly liberally, with considerable banter aimed at those whose working lives led them to other parts of the country.

Strong relationships vs safety cases

There is a general recognition, mixed with a certain element of despondency, as to the level of bureaucracy that has enveloped the modern-day railway. Getting the job done was all important in the 1950/60s and part of this was to have a strong relationship with the contractor industries, now known as the supply chain.

Engineers from that era would nowadays be troubled by such things as safety cases, method statements, risk assessments and suchlike, which were mostly all carried out intuitively. The formality of these would be seen as blockers to productivity.

Who is right is anyone’s guess, but certainly the railway nowadays is a much safer place, even if the work rate is much slower.

A Christmas gathering normally takes place, when wives, husbands and partners join the throng, a chance for the wider community to meet up and to appreciate the support that partners gave to those who worked weekends, nights and long hours, often in difficult conditions.

As one person remarked ‘if only all this latent talent could be put to good use today’.

My guess is that a fair few would rise to the challenge. Signallers have been recalled to stand in for those off as part of the Coronavirus pandemic. Do they need signal engineers too?

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