A year like no other

By Jacqueline Starr, CEO, Rail Delivery Group and Andy Bagnall, Director General, Rail Delivery Group

On this day last year, the unthinkable happened: the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared on TV and told us we must stay home in order to protect the NHS and save lives. It was a phrase that became familiar to us all as we grappled with the health, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The PM’s first lockdown speech remains a landmark moment in the worst post-war crisis our country has faced, in a year that was like no other in our lives. It was likewise a year without comparison for the railway and its workers.

rail staff cleaning trainsRail needed to keep going. As the nation’s lifeline of connectivity – getting key workers to the frontline and essential goods to our front doors – putting the brakes on was never an option. The amount of freight carried on the railways actually increased in 2020 as the railway delivered the goods that kept our supermarket shelves stacked and our power stations running. Rail services had to adapt quickly, both to changes in demand and to what passengers undertaking essential travel needed on the ground. Our staff stepped up to the mark in offering advice and reassurance, from extra cleaning to working with British Transport Police to successfully drive up the number of people wearing face coverings.

We should take this moment to look back and remember with heartfelt compassion family, friends and colleagues who tragically died. We should give thanks for all essential workers and the sacrifices they made, including the railway family. As a nation we will always be grateful for their resilience and selflessness throughout the year.

rail staff handing out masksWe should also thank our passengers who adapted to new timetables and new safety measures, helping keep our rail workers and the network safe.

As a nation, we have shown we can adapt while preserving the best of what went before – our innovation, our tenacity, our togetherness. As we prepare for the recovery, we know things have changed and more change will come, for the country, for the rail industry, and for many more sectors and businesses that are part of the UK’s social and economic fabric. To meet the challenges ahead, to take every opportunity to build a better, greener economy and society, we need to draw on both the versatility and original thinking that saw us through a year we could not have imagined.

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