Some people talk of the railway’s glorious past, harking back to an industrial heyday of steam, dining cars and uniformed guards.
While we know that this idealised vision couldn’t be further from the modern railway that we work in, this pandemic has shown how vital our industry remains. Rail has been right at the centre of our efforts to combat this virus.
In the space of a week, we have worked together to enact sweeping changes that would ordinarily be months or years in the making: a whole new timetable; Emergency Measures Agreements; new ways of working agreed between the unions and the Rail Delivery Group to protect staff.
I am immensely grateful for the skill, dedication and vast amount of hard work that has gone into putting together these new measures - all while keeping our railway running to ensure that key workers and NHS staff can get to work, saving lives.
The past few weeks have brought challenges that many of us never expected we’d have to face. I have never been more impressed with the work that this industry does, and I am proud to represent you as your rail minister.
I know that many of you are facing immensely difficult personal circumstances and have had your working lives changed beyond recognition. For frontline staff, every day you put yourselves at greater risk of exposure, in order to serve the needs of the country.
We have had to reduce services to reflect the decrease in passenger numbers, while keeping key journeys running.
Emergency measures have been put in place to provide stability for customers and staff during the pandemic, as operators work hard to maintain train services despite significant drops in their income.
And the freight sector has stepped up significantly to keep goods and supplies getting where they need to go in these challenging times.
And amidst all this, there are the stories that lift your spirits. An NHS outpatient clinic opening at Birmingham New Street station in a shuttered shop; the special stopping service added by Chiltern Railways to accommodate a COVID-19 key worker who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get to work; and the former signallers who are coming back to work to help in our effort to keep vital services running.
The role of the railway in keeping this country moving has never been more important, so I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to all of you - from the cleaners and signallers to the engineers, drivers and station staff. You are on the frontline of our fight against this killer virus, and you should be proud of all that we have achieved already by working together.
Looking to the future, our ambitions have not changed: to upgrade and expand our network, and to reform and change to ensure our focus is on delivering for passengers.
But for now, quite rightly, our industry is focused on playing a crucial part in the country’s effort to beat the Coronavirus.
Rail is here to serve the needs of the nation. And while many people may feel as if their lives have ground to a halt, the rail industry has not.
- For the FULL story regarding rail's response to the COVID-19 situation, read RAIL 902, out now.