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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Times of change?

The railway industry never stands still – there is always something happening, which is what makes reporting on it in these pages so fascinating.

Last month, I wrote about the difficulty of including real, up-to-the-minute news in a monthly magazine. That issue went off to print on 7 February. I received my copy on 11 February – the same day that the Prime Minister announced that HS2 would go ahead. So, when readers received their copies of the rail industry’s leading magazine a few days later, it of course made no mention of HS2. That’s the way of things with monthly magazines.

Still, it meant we could include a short piece on the Oakervee report, HS2 and the Prime Minister’s comments in this issue. Interestingly, he hinted that Phase 2b of the line – the connections between Crewe and Leeds/Manchester, may not be built by HS2 Limited and may not even be built at the same time! We shall have to see.

Northern has gone into public ownership, joining LNER. Other companies are reportedly either in trouble or on last warnings for poor performance. Naturally, the unions are pushing for the whole operation of the railway to be taken back into public hands. Others remember the days of British Rail, where the advantages of a unified railway were outweighed by one starved of cash.

The government still seems to be committed to franchising in one form or another, albeit with an overall guiding mind, dubbed by some the ‘Fat Controller’. Should that be a ‘controlperson of indeterminate size’ in these PC days? We shall have to wait for the report of the Williams Review and the white paper that will come from it to find out. It will probably be published while we are at the printer…

Of course, not everything is rosy. Crossrail has gone back to the middle of next year, storms have played havoc with the railway (not mentioned here in RailStaff as, by the time we could report on it, it would be fixed!) and two major derailments tore up the railway. Still, that’s all bread and butter to track engineers – stops them from getting bored!

There are also grumbles from the supply chain. Network Rail’s Control Period 6 is slow to get started, leaving contractors waiting for contracts that either haven’t appeared yet or have been placed but without any significant work. The Railway Industry Association is on the case, calling for an end to ‘Boom or Bust’. Currently, we seem to be in Bust but, hopefully, Boom is just around the corner.

There are still safety problems, and this month’s issue of RailStaff looks not only at safety in general, with Colin Wheeler’s widely read column, but also at competencies, what they are and how to manage them using modern software such as 3Squared’s RailSmart.

There is also ‘news’ of a change at the Network Certification Body. We meet Network Rail’s oldest employee and consider how the railway can make a difference by supporting charities such as Railway Children and Women’s Aid.

It’s a full issue. I hope you get as much from reading it as we did from putting it together. Let us know what you think.

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