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Standing up for rail

National Rail awards

The rail industry flocked to the Park Lane Hilton last week for the second National Rail Awards. Steve Turner joined the crush.

Asecond successful National Rail Awards last week took off from where the first event finished last year, as another full house gathered to see the rail industry gave itself a pat on the back, for coming through what has been one of the hardest years it has ever endured.

Over 800 people packed in to London's Park Lane Hilton hotel, to see who this year's judging panel had deemed worthy of recognition.

All the industry big hitters were in attendance, as well as representatives of the national press, eager to see how this troubled industry would reward itself. All left impressed by the resilience and determination of the sector to get back on track and deliver the railway the country demands.

The BBC's John Humphrys again hosted the event, and proved once more what a friend and supporter of the rail industry he has become.

He spoke passionately about the importance of the awards, about how the industry must continue to strive to improve and how much had been achieved.

He also hit out at the critics and reiterated that rail travel is the safest form of land transport. The idea of a 100% safe rail network was an impractical demand.

Rail can be 100% safe, he said, if we run trains at 5mph with a man walking in front with a red flag. Perhaps that would satisfy some of the critics, but then the consequent delays would become the problem, Humphrys pointed out.

Humphrys took a swipe at the decision to spend £5bn on the new train protection warning systems (TPWS) being fitted, which will in reality save few lives.

That sort of money, he said, spent on safety improvements in other areas, would save substantially more lives, but TPWS is what the critics demand, and common sense is not entering the debate.

After his well-informed and humorous introduction, Humphrys kicked off the awards.

Best rail route Winner: Chiltern Railways and Railtrack A worthy winner, due to the increased standard of the service, with more frequent and newer trains being introduced. Major renewals work has increased capacity on the line, and major station refurbishments have dramatically improved passenger conditions.

Railway personality Winner: Chris Green - Virgin Trains In the aftermath of the Hatfield crash, with the network in chaos, and despite massive problems on his own West Coast Main Line, Chris Green spoke up for the beleaguered industry without hesitation. In numerous television grillings he spoke with integrity and calmness when the industry required it most. His recent speech at the Institute of Logistics lecture has been fundamental in taking the industry forward.

Freight achievement of the year Winner: The Potter Group.

In just three years the Potter group has increased its traffic volumes by an incredible 1,000%, moving from handling just 20 wagons a month to more than 300. It has taken the bold step of introducing no obligation trials to new customers to use rail and see how they can benefit.

Innovation of the year Winner: Omnicom Engineering.

Omnicom has developed a system to examine the rail network from the office. The system has surveyed over 27,000km of the network, by attaching several highresolution digital cameras to a converted rail vehicle, which can operate at full speed, meaning no special access requirements have been necessary.

National information should be available to Railtrack by November so, using a desktop computer, operators can take accurate measurements off the screen.

Most significant contribution to safety Winner: Newt International Newt International has developed a hand held detector that glides along the rails detecting flaws which have not previously been seen. Rolling contact fatigue and gauge corner cracking is not always visible on the surface.

Flaws develop in very complex patterns with a tendency toward rapid development of vertical cracks, leading to rail breaks.

The new Lizard system produces simple television like pictures of any flaws that develop in the rail. The next step in the development is to increase its scope by fitting the equipment to track testing trains.

Achievement of the year Winner: First Engineering, Railtack Scotland and train operators.

Given the symptomatic problems of the fragmented rail industry, the partnership arrangement between the winners in Scotland could prove to be a blueprint for the rest of the UK network.

All have worked hard to develop ways of consulting and working more closely together to communicate as one voice.

Back on track award Winner: Christopher Garnett and GNER The past year has been a very trying one for GNER with the Hatfield and Great Heck disasters.

But tremendous efforts have been made to recover from the setbacks, and return services to standards customers expect.

Chris Garnett has led the fightback and recently described a highly successful ticket offer as 'the greatest thing in rail travel since Stephenson's Rocket'.

Major project of the year Winner: Proof House Alliance Remodelling of Proof House Junction in the centre of Birmingham can be held up as an excellent example of a complex major project, expertly planned and safely executed on time and within the budget.

Central to the success was the team work within the Alliance of Railtrack, WS Atkins and Carillion.

Project of the year Winner: Skanska Construction UK for the Newark Dyke bridge Professional excellence and best practice in planning preparation and resource co-ordination enabled the removal of the old bridge and the 2,500 tonne replacement to be completed to programme and budget, the judges said.

Congratulations also go to Skanska's designer Cass Hayward & Partners.

The £6.5M bridge is first on the network to be purpose built for the future generation of 225km/h trains, and continues a rich tradition of bridge building over the section of the River Trent.

Best operator Winner: Serco Docklands Ltd All round punctuality, frequency and reliability are the reason the judges selected SDL as the winner.

SDL operates and maintains all the necessary elements for a successful operation, including the rolling stock, track, signalling, control systems and stations. It is now seen as a symbol of regeneration, with the area having life breathed back into it following the collapse of its traditional industry.

Best maintenance operator Winner: GT Rail Maintenance GTRM has consistently come top of Railtrack's performance league tables. It is a joint venture between Alstom UK and Carillion, based in Birmingham with a workforce of 4,000.

It was first to sign one of the new IMC2000 contracts at the end of 1999, and since then has secured a number of long term contracts across the country. The judges felt the commitment to sound business processes, and development and involvement of employees, deserved recognition.

Station of the year Winner: Andover The judges felt that the impressive staff performance made the station 'work for the customer'.

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