RAIL 800: 800 issues and 800m miles!

It is one of those lovely coincidences in life that RAIL celebrates its 800th issue at the same moment as the iconic InterCity 125 fleet celebrates its 40th anniversary by notching up more than 800 million miles in service.

The High Speed Train (HST) was introduced in 1976 and you’ll see more about that notable anniversary within these pages. RAIL came along a few years later (in 1981), and so our fortunes have been very much intertwined. The HST was revolutionary, innovative and bold. It set new standards that have continued to evolve and which have therefore stood the test of time, and with which their successors struggle to compete in important ways. Firstly under Peter Kelly and then Murray Brown, RAIL likewise blazed a trail that left competitors floundering in its wake, and in my own time in the editor’s chair I’ve been determined to keep RAIL at the head of the pack. 

Hard work over the past 20 years by some of the most talented writers, designers, publishers and freelance contributors in the business has ensured RAIL’s unbroken market leadership throughout. My normal policy is not to bang on about ABC sales figures... it’s never come across as a seemly thing to do. But I break my rule on this occasion because my respect for and gratitude to my current team demands that I should, for once, blow our own trumpet. 

In terms of monthly copies sold, RAIL out-performs every other railway magazine on the market. We currently sell 20,063 independently audited copies every fortnight, including a steadily increasing number of iPad and other tablet copies (currently about 1,000 an issue). The independent research we had done a few years ago indicated that five people read each copy, giving around 100,000 readers per issue... that’s the thick end of 2.5 million pairs of eyes every year. 

That is a huge endorsement of the dedicated, solid, hard work done day in, day out by the full-time editorial team of Richard Clinnick, Stefanie Browne and Paul Stephen, assisted by regular long-term freelancers Christian Wolmar, Philip Haigh, Howard Johnston, Industry Insider and Barry Doe. Behind the scenes, the solid professionalism of Production Editor Mike Wright, Art Editor Charles Wrigley and Editorial Assistant Natalie Horton is every bit as important in getting our words and pictures onto the page. And with 80 pages to complete every ten working days, this magnificent team’s achievements deserve a fanfare as the magazine passes this important milestone.

But don’t take my word for it - the only verdict that really matters is that passed every fortnight by the 20,000-plus buyers who pay us the enormous compliment of forking out their hard-earned cash for this magazine. We know that its arrival on the doormat is keenly anticipated because any distribution problem prompts a tsunami of phone calls wanting to know what the problem is. Also, there’s an old adage in journalism that any newspaper or magazine is only as good as its letters page - and it’s a reassuring fact that our Open Access mailbag (physical and digital) is always packed full. It’s great to know that readers across the country are so keen to have a voice in the debate - and we’re delighted to ensure your voice is heard.

Richard and Stef asked a group of the railway’s ‘movers and shakers’ past and present to give us an honest assessment on RAIL’s role and work, and you’ll find their entirely independent verdicts on the RAIL team’s work on pages 50-59. Their comments are extremely humbling and I thank each and every one for their very kind words. You’ll find these testimonials alongside a fascinating piece by Howard Johnston, who was instrumental in the magazine’s launch way back in 1981. Howard paints an evocative pen portrait of the British Rail landscape and environment into which this magazine was born, and how it all came about - and a thumping good read it is too. Howard can also claim the unique distinction of having his work in every single one of our 800 issues to date. Well done Howard… also that second-to-none wider RAIL team which it is my great privilege to lead.

RAIL is a strange beast in publishing terms. I spent many, many hours in my early years on the magazine, trying to explain to various executives seeking to conveniently pigeon-hole the magazine that it is neither a trade B2B (business to business) journal nor a High Street ‘consumer magazine’ for hobbyists - but that it is actually both. And that can be tricky with regard to magazine management! 

I was often asked if readers were ‘railwaymen or enthusiasts... professional rail workers or hobbyists!’ Today I could give no better answer than point to Great Western Railway  Managing Director Mark Hopwood, a highly capable, respected senior rail manager of today’s privatised rail industry. His name frequently appears in these pages, in news stories about electrification of the Great Western Main Line and the revolutionary and game-changing Hitachi IEP bi-mode electric-diesel trains that will run from Paddington. But Mark’s name first appeared in RAIL many years before these developments, in 1986. Researching in back issues, Assistant Editor Richard Clinnick spotted a reader’s letter from a young linesider... called Mark Hopwood. 

In another early issue you’ll also find a similar letter from a northern linesider called Richard Bowker, who later went on to be Chairman and Chief Executive of the erstwhile Strategic Rail Authority. The message is clear - if you work on the railway (at whatever level), for thousands of people it’s not what you do, it’s what you are. RAIL magazine shares and lives that commitment, and will always be the railway’s best friend. We shall continue to lead the crowd in celebrating this fantastic industry’s achievements - but we shall also not shirk the best friend’s other responsibility of highlighting uncomfortable home truths.

So, it was no surprise that Mark’s company - Great Western - went out of its way to celebrate the HST’s 40th anniversary with a public open day at its St Philips Marsh depot, including a fantastic seven-power car line-up and the painting of one of its own in original InterCity ‘Flying Banana’ livery. This was named Sir Kenneth Grange, who was responsible for the streamlined styling that still looks contemporary 40 years after it first appeared. 

The HST is nowhere near done yet either - a new frontline life beckons in Scotland, and the RAIL team will be right there on board when that starts, doing what we’ve always done. With your help we’ll continue to do the very best job possible - so please, do stay with us.

Thanks so much for your support thus far, we all really appreciate it. Right, enough reflecting, time to crack on with 801…

Comment: RAIL 800: May 11 2016 - May 24 2016

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