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Friday, August 12, 2022

Reid’s career offers us lessons for today

With the transition of our industry back to a more centralized array, George Muir’s book on Sir Robert Reid is an essential reading

Sir Robert Reed

‘There are simply no more characters left in the game’ is a phrase often used to describe a less interesting sporting landscape and this is a comment that can be made about the field of trains. You see far fewer great and influential personalities today. The sector is still divided and each role has less responsibility and scope than in previous periods; And a choking grip that the Department of Transportation has on decision-making and spending in these post-Cubid times.

The Deaths of ‘Characters’ really feels felt in reading George Muir’s excellent book, Bob Reed’s Railroad Revolution, Which charts the life, times and influence of the British Rail CEO from 1980 and then chairman from 1983 to 1990.

Reid was born in Sevenoaks, attended Oxford University, was a member of the 8th Royal Tank Regiment and was captured in Libya in 1941, and became a POW, in Italy and Germany before joining the LNER at the age of 26 in 1947. Going up the ladder at a modest pace, from a traffic apprentice to a head of tariff and cargo development in the office of the division’s goods manager in Leeds, and after work in Glasgow, he became deputy general manager in York. Then, the big leap, the CEO of the Southern Region, and at age 59 he was the CEO of British Rail.

George Muir’s remarkably detailed study of Reid is captivating in his method of analysis in the broader social and economic landscape that was, in retrospect, turbulent and certainly worthy of contemplation compared to today. He outlines the first years of nationalization in which parts of the network – branch lines and shuttle services – were not clearly profitable and only really InterCity cargo and trains threatened to accumulate financially, and there inefficient management took control. As Reid’s career progressed, it was against the backdrop of the closures that plagued Beaching, followed by the emergence of modern management concepts, but progress stalled. Then, as Muir describes it, during the tenure of Peter Parker and then Reid in the 1980s, there was a “revolution in thinking.”

Reflection on Reed is prudent as we now move towards a completely different and increasingly nationalized concentration array.

Powerless, incapable of being truly entrepreneurial and innovative, today’s leaders are trustworthy but do not have the encouragement or stage to have the presence and dominant influence that made Reed the man he was.

He was a heavyweight, strong-willed man, inclined to choose arguments to deliberately point to wider audiences (then apologized afterwards), not huge in detail but great in preparation. He also took great care of the train and the public service. Reid also had an amazing presence and gravitas. In conversation with many in the industry today, decision-making has never been slower and authority ranges so tight that many senior leaders are paralyzed and their creative juices are extinguished. Powerless, incapable of being truly entrepreneurial and innovative, today’s leaders are credible but do not have the encouragement or stage to accept the presence and dominant influence that made Reed the man he was.

Reid’s achievements should not be underestimated. A sectorization was created, which brought with it a clarity of responsibility and accountability that has not been seen since, with each fully integrated profit center area. It was created and implemented in a little over two years and the general managers had the autonomy to design and implement the structure within their sector which in their opinion serves the market in the best way. Reid headed a 50% reduction in public subsidies in the seven years leading up to his departure in 1990, a reversal in the interests of a £ 200 million loss to a £ 57 million profit, reduced losses in the South East network before the grant by 50% and achieved poor financial performance Precedent on transportation, alongside doubling package revenues at Red Star. Productivity increased with ‘train mail per staff member’ an increase of 26% and ‘per staff member’ by 33%, while operating expenses per email decreased by 14%.

Under his supervision, Reid initiated the Networker project that led to the wholesale replacement of slamming door stock across most of the train within three years, although these did not become completely extinct until the middle of the night. He also created and delivered the Network South East brand – an offer that had the biggest and most visible impact on customers, certainly in my lifetime. These successes should not be underestimated in terms of their scale, size and pace of implementation, and should not be underestimated in its achievement of introducing a focus on product and customer service, although this may not sound revolutionary in our age where rhetoric around ‘customer’ dominates. . This was a big deal in the 70s and 80s, when the ‘services sector’ was a disgusting concept in life more generally, not to mention the railways.

Reid’s achievements are even more equal, if we take into account the context in which he had to make do.

Reid’s achievements are even more equal, if we take into account the context in which he had to make do. The activism of the trade unions was at the height of the trains. Disputes between 1981 and 1982, following a loss of £ 77 million in 1980 and £ 174 million two years later. The train could have been the battlefield for wider warfare that would manifest itself in the violent miners’ strike of 1984. The fact that it escaped being caught in the crossfire of this conflict was an achievement of Reed in itself. The guards’ strike in 1985 was relatively contained in the context of a nation that, as Muir reports, was caught on the brink of civil war. From industrial confrontations to hooliganism in football, riots in the inner city on an unprecedented scale, through ethnic violence, which in the case of the IRA’s onshore campaigns usually disrupted the railroad, it was a country in distress of deep weakness and conflict. Although the economic recession gave way in the late 1980s to greater prosperity, the survey tax riots in the year of Reid’s retirement were a bloody record for an era of controversy and hostility.

In conversation with those who worked under Reid’s tenure, there is a sense that it was a good time to work on the train, despite some of the challenges. Undoubtedly, household names, in terms of the train’s history, were created – John Nelson, Chris Green, Chris Stokes, Peter Field, Cyril Balsdale, Richard Golson, to name just a few. These people enjoyed working for one organization, integrated and responsible for all aspects of the train, with strong and clear leadership, clarity around the structure, with the freedom to make market-driven decisions that affect their area of ​​responsibility. In this way, the establishment of Great British Railways is supposed to offer some convenience that some of these benefits enjoyed by those under Reed may return.

These people who enjoyed Reid’s guidance and leadership may not be household names, but they are well known to many in the industry and they have left their mark on generations.

Who might we look back on in the future? Part of the problem is that who we may consider to be big in the sector – the regional executives of TOC and Network Rail are important, but their range of control is a small part of what those working under Reed had in a combined array. . At least those in charge of the areas in the Network Rail feel that the new structure will make them ‘front and center’. But TOC’s poor executives have almost shrunk to department or warehouse executives, and other people in the industry talk about them as if they are peripheral. They are the innovators, the customer-focused entrepreneurs and yet they can only dream of giving the recognition and respect that Reid and his team enjoyed.

Muir’s book is far from a subject of nostalgic nostalgia and is very objective, despite its obvious charm from the finer details of Reid’s roots and career.

Muir’s book is far from a subject of nostalgic nostalgia and is very objective, despite its obvious charm from the finer details of Reid’s roots and career. After all, Muir was a bit of a ‘Johnny came recently’ in the train industry. An apprentice engineer on whaling boats he also spent 30 years in Morgan Grenfall. He did not join the sector only in his 50s as the recently privatized CEO of Connex South Eastern, before becoming CEO of the Railway Companies Association a few years later. George admits he had no real qualifications for the role at Connex.

Unlike others from that era, Muir did not, as I feared he might, find out or debate the poor safety record during Reid’s tenure – a reason why I find it difficult to look back on that period as one worth addressing. “Bob’s management saw no improvement in safety … The accident rate was five times higher than it is today,” says Muir. I am reminded of one mishap after another, minor collisions or drop-offs, until the tragic death of railroad workers (16 in 1987/88) and then, of course, the great deaths at Clapham and Perley during four months in 1988/9. One such crash not many months after Sarid left was on Canon Street. I would travel and this was, in my view, the 15-year separation of non-standard and sloppy approaches to health and safety, including a drinking culture that was well known to industry people and even revered by many. The fact that this is a period of transition between old and new technology, not only on the train but elsewhere, was not an excuse for negligence in terms of culture and safety practices, which the catastrophe of their cards exposed to everyone.

It really was a different world then and I wonder what Reid would think of the fragmented railroad that has prevailed since his death, which unfortunately came only two years after his retirement. How he would have been deterred by the dilution of personal responsibility or the controversy surrounding the delay attribution, or by the train’s approach to the speed limits that brought the industry to its knees, or by a leading railroad crew with little train, if any experience. I bet Bob Reid will shrink frequently on the eve of the awards for today’s self-congratulations and how curious he will be to hear all this talk of ‘collaboration’ – I imagine he would say ‘just keep doing it’ and take it for granted that everyone will work together for the great welfare.

Muir’s book is truly a vital read, not just from a railway point of view but as a description of a turbulent period in the wider UK society and in the context of our transition back to a more centralized industrial setting – an era where real figures may be simple. Encourage to emerge and bloom. We shall see.

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger transport.

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