Tim Shoveller

Tim Shoveller, managing director of North West & Central

By the early hours of tomorrow morning, 18,500 tonnes of supermarket goods (pasta, loo roll, bananas etc) will have passed over the English / Scottish border at Gretna on the West Coast main line since yesterday afternoon.

That produce, transported by freight trains, will be available for people to buy in shops tomorrow.

Ordinarily, food on shop shelves is something we all take for granted. I know I do.

Another given is the NHS: doctors and nurses on hand to care for us if we get sick.

But with Britain on lockdown due to Coronavirus and life so far from normal, I find it’s things like this, the things I might take for granted ordinarily, that I’m really starting to appreciate.  

Together with my North West & Central team, I have an important role to play in Britain’s response to this crisis.

Our job is keeping the railway open so vital supplies (medicines, food, fuel) and key workers (doctors, emergency services) continue to get to where they’re needed.

While many people face tough weeks cooped up indoors, for key transport workers, including many of us at Network Rail, life goes on albeit not as usual.

Our frontline colleagues, including signallers, track maintenance workers and control room staff, are integral to our ability to keep the railway running.

My focus is on supporting them to stay well and healthy, including by adhering to hygiene and social-distancing guidance and, where possible, splitting shift patterns.

On a practical level, keeping two metres apart is easier said than done, especially if you’re in a team digging out a track bed or manoeuvring a heavy piece of kit into position.

Those are team tasks requiring, you guessed it, teamwork. We are having to find new ways to do these must-do jobs as this becomes the new normal.

With so many trains thundering over it, the railway takes a lot of ongoing upkeep. We need to run fast just to stand still. We’re continuing to do this.

Last weekend, for example, our teams repaired overhead wires between Watford and Euston, stabilised a railway embankment near Carlisle and replaced crossings at Wembley.

Overhead wire repairs between Watford Junction and Euston

We are carefully planning for the coming months. It won’t be easy for any of us. Together we are rising to this challenge.

But I hope that, like me, this difficult time gives you a moment or two to appreciate the things we might ordinarily take for granted.

Things like food on shop shelves and our truly heroic NHS medics in hospitals. And you never know, they may well have got there on the railway!

Tim