Annual talks have an important role in generating support for the Friends’ efforts, and for the rail service generally. We get from 50 to 120 attendees, and make a modest contribution to our funds.
Thursday 26th October 2017: Chris Gibb, talked about his career “36 years on the Best Railway in the World”. About 80 people traveled from across the West Midlands to hear Chris’s story and engage in some serious discussions afterwards.
Chris is one of Britain’s most experienced railway operators. Since leaving school in 1981 and joining British Rail, he has worked across the whole industry, and the whole country. Senior posts included Wales and Borders, MD of Virgin Cross Country and being Chief Operating officer of the Virgin Rail Group from 2008 to 2013. He illustrated this with fascinating extracts for working papers, and photos from all across the UK.
He is currently a non executive director of Network Rail. In 2016 he was commissioned by the Secretary of State to prepare a report into the ongoing crisis in Southern and Thameslink operations. Eventually released in July 2017, the highly critical report makes many recommendations for fundamental change in government policies, management operations, infrastructure policies and actions, and the approach of trade unions.
Our very first talk, which inspired (and was intended to inspire) the creation of the Friends of Leamington Station, was delivered to the Leamington Society by Ian Baxter of Chiltern Railways in October 2004.
Chiltern Railways have provided Adrian Shooter (Chairman) twice, Rob Brighouse, his successor, and Ian Baxter, again, on our 10th anniversary, discussing the development of the West Midlands Rail Network to HS2 in 2026 and beyond, including electrification of the routes through Leamington.
Sir William McAlpine, Founder and Chairman of the Railway Heritage Trust (our most generous sponsor), shared his “Life by Rail”. Sir William has even set up his own railway museum in the Chilterns, which the Friends visited soon after his talk.
Our President, Sir Pete Waterman OBE, talked about the Future of the Railways, whilst author and journalist Christian Wolmar, examined the history of our railway. Lifelong fan Mike Soden talked on “Auctioning Railway Relics” (from buttons, badges and teacups to historic engine nameplates). Dr Stephen Parissien, director of Compton Verney art gallery, discussed his book on railway architecture worldwide.
James Mackay, a railway manager by former profession, challenged our preconceptions with “Reputations rebalanced: Beeching bettered Brunel”.