We are one railway – one team (Railnews, May 2017)

The railway business is booming, but parts of the industry are also riven by industrial disputes over the wider use of driver-controlled operation. Paul Plummer of the Rail Delivery Group argues that the railway must invest in new technology and also develop new ways of working, to keep up with the soaring demand.

Britain runs on rail. From passenger services to freight, it underpins our way of life and our economic prosperity.

Families, businesses and communities all over Britain rely on the railway for work and leisure, making 1.7 billion journeys a year - more than 4.5 million a day. The railway keeps people and companies connected, supporting jobs and the economy.

But the railway doesn’t just help people get around. Freight trains carry £30 billion worth of goods and essential materials to every corner of Britain every year, helping to fill shop and supermarket shelves, helping power stations to keep the lights on, and helping construction companies build homes, schools and hospitals.

Our railway has seen 20 years of extraordinary growth, and to respond to the huge increase in rail journeys and people's rising expectations rail companies are working together to deliver more than £50 billion worth of improvements and to build the bigger, better railway that Britain needs – for now and for the long term.

By 2021, as Railnews reported last month, train companies will be running over 6,400 extra train services every week compared to today, boosted by £11.6 billion investment in over 5,500 new train carriages and major upgrades to the rail network, including electrification of the Great Western Mainline, the vast programme of improvements as part of the Great North Rail Project, putting the Elizabeth Line on the map and completion of the Thameslink Programme, which will unlock capacity for up to 24 trains per hour through London from the north and south.

This builds on existing upgrades: 1,350 more train services a week now compared to 2013, new train stations are opening and new train lines are coming into use from southern England to Oxford and Scotland.

We are investing for today and tomorrow, spreading wealth across Britain, helping to make local communities and economies stronger and fairer.

The railway must also invest in new technology and change the way it works. We are using technology to make it easier to pay to travel by train and simplify fares, improving the quality of information travellers can see on station screens and on their smartphones, and introducing smarter ways of working – all to give our customers, the lifeblood of the railway, better services.

By harnessing technology and introducing smarter working, we can make train travel more reliable, more accessible, more affordable, more comfortable, and create more job opportunities. Investment and growth will mean 100,000 new opportunities working in the railway, making sure that our generation and the generation to follow will benefit from the security of high skilled and well paid jobs across the UK.

Britain needs a modern railway to carry even more passengers and freight, and to run even more trains safely and reliably. For example, new trains that allow drivers to operate doors safely meaning smoother, more punctual arrivals and departures. As Peter Rayner (Railnews April 2017) says, who opens and shuts the doors is not important. What is important is more reliable, more comfortable and easier journeys for customers.

The rail industry will never compromise on safety. Britain has one of the world’s safest railways. Trains where drivers close the doors are nothing new and have been running safely up and down Britain for more than 30 years. Safety experts including Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Railways and the Rail Safety and Standards Board say that Driver Only Operation is a safe way of working with the right systems and procedures in place.

By making safety-trained, on-board staff more visible and available at stations and on trains, and free from the responsibility of operating the doors, they have more time to dedicate to giving customers a better service, including disabled passengers or those in need of assistance.


Last summer, On Board Supervisor (OBS) roles were introduced on some Southern services and all Gatwick Express services, which previously had no on board staff. Since introducing the new role, Govia Thameslink Railway, which operates both services, regularly receives positive customer feedback:

“My mother in law has osteoporosis and could not find a seat. The excellent onboard supervisor called Hasad got her a seat and was a true gent.”

“Tim is an excellent new member of staff. He makes clear and effective announcements with correct network advice. He interacts with passengers in a friendly and professional manner.”

“Her service was brilliant but not just to myself who was boarding with a wheelchair passenger but with others as well. I felt like I was in a hotel. Her mannerism and attitude stood out and it's not often people get recognised for good work these days.”

Southern on board supervisor Gareth

Rail services are more accessible than ever. Record numbers of disabled people are travelling by train and the vast majority simply turn up and go; but we know we can do better. We don’t have a fully accessible rail network yet, but there have been huge improvements as we work to make it as easy as possible for everyone to enjoy travelling with us. We want to ensure that those who most require assistance get the help they need too.

Now is the time for everyone in the railway to come together to deliver a bigger and better railway in the long-term. The RMT’s ongoing dispute has caused unnecessary disruption for thousands of people that rely on the railway across the country, including trying to disrupt the Grand National, and is attempting to do down Britain when we can least afford it. The RMT need to follow ASLEF and get back around the table with train companies to find an agreement.

Every community in Britain has the right to benefit from the new economic opportunities delivered by a better railway, moving more customers and supporting British exports with more freight capacity. The generations to come will rely ever more on Britain’s railway to deliver growth across the UK.

This means investing in better tracks and trains, developing our people and changing the way we work to give our customers what they need: more train services and seats, better journey information and simpler ways to buy tickets, and more people available to help them when they need it.

Together we are one railway, one team and by working together, we can ensure that future generations have skilled and secure jobs on the railway.  Together we can and will build a stronger railway, helping to spread jobs and business to cities, towns and villages across Britain. 

This article appeared in the May 2017 edition of Railnews which was published on 4 May 2017.

Contact Information

Rail Delivery Group Media Team