My contribution to the GWR Annual Customer and Stakeholder Report 2021

But in the midst of all the gloom and despair caused by the pandemic which has brought suffering and grief to millions, there is one genuine ray of hope for our industry. That is the recognition that our railways will continue to have a central part to play in the life of Britain.

Those of us who lived through the dark days of the postBeeching era of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, might have doubted that. The question asked back then was have the railways any sort of future at all? Notwithstanding the immense drop in passenger numbers caused by people following government advice not to travel, no-one is saying now let’s abandon our railways. The challenge for all of us is to get passengers back on to our trains, whilst intelligently managing changes in travelling habits as patterns of commuting adapt to the new work conditions.

I am confident that thanks to the dedication, commitment and loyalty of all GWR colleagues we shall come through this difficult period successfully, as we have over the last year. We only need to look at some of the year’s highlights for proof of that.

Looking first at GWR’s response to the pandemic, we saw multiple timetable changes, including focus on school and college travel. Newbury Racecourse became an important vaccination centre, and many trains called additionally at Racecourse station to help with that.

The multi-million pound Exeter depot was completed, new cycle hubs were installed at Newbury and Didcot Parkway stations, specially modified Class 387 trains were introduced on Heathrow airport services, and the first Class 769 units were delivered.

Despite the pandemic GWR still found time to undertake some very special and imaginative commemorative events, including power car namings on a number of high speed trains, a “Poppies to Paddington” celebration (200 wreaths from across the network), and the wonderful Captain Tom Centennial train.

There has been a series of great successes for the company this year. These have included recognition in the National Rail Awards 2020, particularly in the Outstanding Teamwork category for the December 2019 timetable change, and the Customer Service Excellence Award for GWR’s celebration of International Women’s Day.

Modern Railways’ Golden Spanners 2020 awards went to GWR for Best Sprinter – Class 150s at Exeter Depot; the second generation new InterCity (Castle Class) train won Silver and Bronze; and a Silver award was given for the new first generation new DMU.

GWR won HR Team of the Year 2020 award from Personnel Today, the Marketing and Communications Excellence prize in the Rail Business Awards 2021 for That’s EnterTrainment, and Repurposing HSTs into Castle Class trains won the Rolling Stock Excellence award.

For much of the year GWR was in the safe hands of Matthew Golton, while Mark Hopwood was seconded to South Western Railway as interim managing director. My advisory board colleagues and I thank Matthew most sincerely for the excellent job he did, particularly in the successful introduction of the new timetable in December 2019. We wish him well in his important new role with First Group.

In January 2021 we welcomed Mark back to his old job, now the proud recipient of a well-deserved CBE, which he dedicated it to “the efforts of thousands of railway colleagues I have worked with throughout my 31-year career.” It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve on the advisory board, and I would like my fellow board members know how much I appreciate their support, patience, dedication and hard work. Each of them brings something special and unique to the table, and I also thank GWR’s “home team” most warmly, particularly Jane Jones and Tom Lydon.

We look forward to another year, fulfilling our roles as candid friends and enthusiastic ambassadors for a great railway company

A link to a PDF of the report here