Greater Anglia managing director reflects on year of pandemic
One year on from the first lockdown, Greater Anglia managing director Jamie Burles has been reflecting on how the company has reacted to Covid-19 – running a reliable and punctual service, bringing in new trains and improving its green credentials.
"When I stood on the concourse at Liverpool Street station in March last year making a video message to customers about coronavirus, I couldn’t have predicted that a year later we’d be in a third lockdown and I would’ve overseen so many changes at Greater Anglia.
"I’m tremendously proud of my colleagues at Greater Anglia and the things they’ve achieved in the last year to keep the railway running, both now and for the future," said Jamie.
"They’ve run a highly reliable and punctual service, implemented enhanced, industry leading cleaning techniques, continued with work to transform our railway and improve our environmental performance and kept customers up to date with information about pandemic-related changes – whilst dealing admirably with the uncertainty and anxiety that everyone has felt during the pandemic.
"As we follow the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, I’m looking forward to welcoming back our customers – many of whom haven’t travelled with us for over a year. I’m sure they’ll notice many changes including new trains and improved stations."
Since March 2020, there have been eight timetable changes at Greater Anglia – compared to the usual introduction of new timetables twice a year.
The company revised timetables in reaction to changes in passenger numbers, as Government guidance about travelling and using public transport altered according to the progress of the virus. The company has worked closely with the Government, which replaced existing rail contracts with emergency ones in order to secure the future of the railway.
A thorough review of all stations had begun even before the first national lockdown which meant that social distancing measures were quickly installed at all stations, ranging from one-way systems to platform markings. The measures were revised and enhanced as the situation evolved to remain in line with the most up to date guidelines. Greater Anglia’s approach to social distancing led the way for other train operators and was adopted by the rest of the rail industry.
"My first pandemic video message called on passengers to follow Government hygiene guidance: to regularly wash their hands and I reassured customers that we were keeping soap and water topped up and frequently cleaning high touch areas such as door buttons and grab rails," said Jamie.
"In fact, in the last year we’ve invested £600,000 in cleaning and sanitising our trains and stations. We’ve recruited new staff and bought new powerful equipment and detergents including fogging guns and vacuum cleaners which clean the air as well as floors and upholstery."
The company redeployed some teams - the on-board catering team took on enhanced cleaning roles and Greater Anglia’s retail systems team assisted with the 55,000 requests for refunds that came in as commuters followed Government advice to stay at home.
However, it was business as usual for other teams. Greater Anglia is replacing every single train on its network with brand new state-of-the-art trains and despite a few challenges thrown up by coronavirus this project has continued.
Last year, the company brought 37 new trains into passenger service – including all services on the Norwich-London Liverpool Street intercity route and the Stansted Express London Liverpool Street-Stansted Airport service.
The roll-out of new trains on the company’s diesel regional routes, started in July 2019, was completed and the first of 133 brand-new electric commuter trains were put in passenger service on routes in Essex.
Transformation of stations also continued, with a project to replace old equipment and install new improved information screens and crystal-clear CCTV cameras at 132 stations was completed.
"I know how important it is to our customers that our trains run on time, which is why I started a concerted punctuality drive jointly with Network Rail in 2018, focusing on all areas to improve the reliability and punctuality of our service.
"This has continued throughout the pandemic and we’ve seen record-breaking punctuality, building on strong performance in 2019. Latest figures show that just under 95 per cent of our trains have run on time in the last 12 months," said Jamie.
Greater Anglia’s commitment to improving its environmental performance also continued – the company is working with the Carbon Trust to build on an 11 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in 2019/20.
The company is working on reducing energy consumption at stations, reducing waste sent to landfill, cutting hazardous waste and improving biodiversity at stations