This is a chance to change our railway and rebuild Britain

01 January 2021

This is the time of year when, normally, we look forward with hope and renewed optimism and, with the announcement of a coronavirus vaccine, and its roll out, there is a real possibility of a return to relative normality, which should hearten everyone.


This will take many months to distribute and, given the complexity of the task, and the reticence of many who wish to see its efficacy, and possible downsides, may not be as quick as many of us would like. Therefore, we will be under restrictive tiers, distancing, and associated mask requirements for a long time and must be resolute in maintaining workplace arrangements for everyone's protection.


As I write this column, in time for the Journal to be printed, bagged, and put in the post in time to drop on your doormat before Christmas, a decision on the Noel Edmonds' type of Deal or No Deal Brexit continues but, from conversations I am having with many people inside and outside our industry, we are ill-prepared for either scenario, logistically, and many businesses are fearful.


We remain confident that footfall will return, albeit slowly, but the restructuring of fares is key to encouraging an industry that has struggled with capacity and we think this should be seen as an opportunity for change. To kick-start the economy we will need a proper decarbonisation programme, with electrification at its core, the mass building of houses, and major infrastructure projects, to create jobs, stimulate the supply chain, and secure the future, not just for our children and grandchildren but for generations beyond.


The world is not going to be able to step back from the green agenda, and the impact of climate change, so let us embrace the opportunity and put in place a vertically-integrated, publicly-accountable, safe transport system of which we can all be proud.


May I put on record what a privilege it has been to see how you have reacted to, and delivered for, the country at this most difficult of times, as key workers and as part of the wider railway family. The supporting structures and immense behind the scenes work done by the staff, executive committee, and officers needs to be recognised and applauded. Ultimately, ASLEF's local representatives, company councils, health and safety reps, and branch secretaries are those who have been on the frontline of members' needs. They have been immense and deserve all our thanks and approbation.


Trade unions are about people looking after each other and understanding the needs of all those in our collective community. We discuss, debate, and argue but, ultimately, we come together for a greater good. There is no union without you, our members, so may I take this seasonal opportunity to thank you and your families, who have to live around the demands of a shift-based, 24 hours a day, seven day working week industry, a Happy Xmas and a safer, and better, New Year.


Yours fraternally,


Mick Whelan, general secretary

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