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Oh, what a night!

It was a great night at the first National Rail Awards last week. Here is our review.

Huge excitement accompanied the first National Rail Awards, staged in London last Thursday. Dubbed 'the rail industry Oscars', the NRA was launched to hail outstanding achievement in this booming transport sector. Some 750 of its glitterati gathered to network, shout support for their own NRA nominations, and cheer the winners.

If any proof was needed of rail industry optimism, it was there to be seen at the NRA. Enjoying levels of growth unprecedented for over 50 years, and the mainstay of Government transport policy, rail is booming.

The NRA's atmosphere of friendly rivalry reflected the day to day experience of working to deliver improved infrastructure and service.

Radio presenter John Humphrys, compere for the event, summed up the mood: 'If anyone doubts the importance of rail in helping this country to keep moving, they must be mad.

Keep up the good work - we need you.'

The NRA is a new opportunity for the rail industry to celebrate its successes. The awards are the brainchild of NCE and Rail magazine, and sponsorship from Angel Trains helped get the NRA off to a flying start. Judges were unanimous in commending entrants to the 13 award categories for their excellence.

But even as the awards came to a close and the die-hard partygoers retired to the bar - the last stalwarts did not head home til nearly 5am - talk was turning to NRA 2001.

Having gathered impressive momentum this year, organisers are already anticipating an outstanding line-up in next year's awards.

NRA 2000 winners Major project of the year:

DLR extension Contractor Mowlem used innovative design to meet a demanding brief and tight deadlines on the £200M design and build DLR Lewisham extension.

Best maintenance operator:

First Engineering First has invested heavily in new plant, it is innovative in its working methods and has set an impressive record of improving performance in the last year.

Best light rail/metro operator:

Docklands Railway Management Ltd 'Docklands Light Railway has overcome years of trial and tribulation to emerge as an excellent example of large scale integrated transport, ' said judge Mike Casebourne.

Innovation of the year:

thetrainline. com The promise of internet timetables, ticket buying and booking as a way of getting the public to see rail as a modern mode of travel is huge, said the judges.

Railway personality: Roy Eccles Virgin Trains driver Roy Eccles was praised for his heroism and levelheadedness when his 06.30 London-Glasgow train came head to head with another train at Winsford.

He was cracking along at 160km/h when the other service hove into view. Emergency braking was dramatically improved by Eccles' deployment of track sanding. Though impact speed was still 80km/h Eccles was uninjured, and able to run back down the line to place detonators warning oncoming trains of the danger. His actions probably saved the lives of 130 people, said the judges, and he won a standing ovation at the ceremony.

Best rail route: ScotRail & Railtrack Scotland Every 15 minutes an inter-city service runs between Edinburgh and Glasgow. A year ago passengers would have waited half an hour for a train.

Integrated transport: English Welsh & Scottish Railway In a deal with operator EWS, supermarket chain Safeway has been transporting containers from Glasgow to its more northerly stores by train and now wants to expand its rail distribution network.

Project of the year: Interfleet Technology - sleepers for the disabled Contractor Interfleet Technology took on a tough design and build contract to convert Mark II passenger carriages for use by the disabled.

Rail safety: Project Sentinel, Railtrack With Project Sentinel Railtrack has, at a stroke, improved trackside safety across the network, said the judges. By setting up a national database of staff qualified to work on the line and issuing each with an identity pass Railtrack is stamping out cowboy contractors that jeopardise the safety and lives of workers by putting unqualified personnel onto infrastructure projects.

Best station: Doncaster Doncaster was commended for providing excellent help to elderly and disabled passengers, efficiency at the ticket office and travel centre, its cleanliness, and the way these combined to help passengers using the station feel safe and secure.

Best operator: joint winners Great North Eastern Railway and First Great Eastern A tough category to judge - the two winners have made similar contributions to improving service but on entirely different routes.

GNER is an inter city operator and First Great Eastern suburban.

Over 90% of the 112 GNER inter city services run to time and passenger numbers are up 24% since the operator started its franchise. Investment is over £10M despite a subsidy reduction of £62M. An impressive achievement, said the judges.

FGE, operating into London and the South East, has halved the number of delays in the last year and is investing £9.5M in better information systems, greater security, refurbished trains and bus/rail integration.

Best customer experience:

Great North Eastern Railway GNER's day in, day out predictability was applauded in the shadow Strategic Rail Authority's passenger service survey. Service on the East Coast Main Line was described as reliable, consistent and satisfying.

Achievement of the year:

Bob Breakwell Managing director of First Great Eastern Bob Breakwell was nominated for his services to the industry since 1963. He is described as a hands on man, and admired for his experience and commercial acumen.

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