HomeIndustry NewsRemembering Tom O’Connor, Visionary founder of Rail Media - 1948-2024

Remembering Tom O’Connor, Visionary founder of Rail Media – 1948-2024

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Rail Engineer is saddened to hear of the passing of Tom O’Connor, founder and owner of Rail Media, which publishes the RailStaff and Rail Engineer magazines.

Tom was a fervent supporter of both the UK railway and its people.

Hailing from Clones, County Monaghan in Ireland, Tom moved to Derby in the late 1960s. Tom’s professional journey began with a career in a laboratory, working with chemicals, but a chance encounter with a newspaper advertisement offering a sports car for a computer salesman altered the course of his life. His success in sales led him to form lasting friendships, and form international businesses producing publishing software. The first, LaserMaker was followed by NTG2000 a company that became iStudio Publisher which is still producing desktop publishing software for Apple Macs.

A rail industry trailblazer

In the mid-1990s, through his railway contacts in Derby, Tom became increasingly aware that the railway unfairly suffered from a bad press. He felt the need to do something about this and, ever the entrepreneur, saw the creation of a new magazine as a business opportunity. Hence 1997 saw the launch of RailStaff Select magazine to keep managers and staff up to date with developments on the then newly fragmented railway, to report everything that was good and to make sure that best practice, particularly in terms of safety, was reported fairly and promptly.

With the success of RailStaff an opportunity arose to partner in the creation of the recruitment website railwaypeople.com in 2001, just before widespread use of the internet.

In 2004, Tom attended a Permanent Way Institution (PWI) seminar in Austria with Colin Wheeler, who produced RailStaff’s monthly safety feature. He joined the PWI to attend this event. Around this time, Tom decided that another magazine was needed to highlight and explain railway engineering achievements. He felt that this should be written by rail engineers for rail engineers, and so suitably experienced engineers were persuaded to become engineering writers.

Thus, Rail Engineer was launched at Railtex in November 2004 with Colin Wheeler as its first editor. Tom’s vision was that Rail Engineer should be a free magazine with high quality content that would attract advertisers. Rail Media was founded around this time to bring together both its magazines, RailwayPeople.com, and other initiatives and give them a common brand.

A positive force for good

The industry also has Tom to thank for the RailStaff Awards which started in 2007. This event showcases and recognises the great work of the people who deliver the railway – from drivers to cleaners, and engineers to station staff – whose stories are not often heard. It is still the only awards evening in the industry that recognises people, not companies.

In 2017, Tom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When he gave this devasting news to a meeting of Rail Engineer’s writers he did so in a matter-of-fact manner. He fought the disease bravely and continued to support the magazine for as long as he could.
I was invited to become an engineering writer for Rail Engineer in 2010 and can well remember my first visit to the Rail Media office when Tom spent the whole day with me offering much useful advice. After that he frequently contacted me with ideas and suggestions as he did for other writers.

Tom’s warm and caring nature made him many friends. He was always ready to help someone in need, sometimes going to extreme lengths to do so. He inspired all who were fortunate to work with him. His innovative spirit and relentless passion created Rail Media which does much to support the industry for which he was always a positive and passionate advocate. 

One writer remembers an occasion when Tom took a prominent rail figure to task. “I remember Tom as someone who was always positive and passionate about the rail industry. Indeed, soon after I first met him after joining the Rail Engineer ranks, I was at the CPC table at a YRP dinner. A senior rail executive had just delivered a speech which included a section about media types constantly complaining about the rail industry. Tom enquired if I knew the individual and if I could make an introduction. I replied that I did and that I would make the introduction. Upon meeting this person, Tom proceeded to give the senior rail executive a telling-off – in his own awfully nice way – explaining that not all rail commentators are like that! I will always remember that interaction with Tom, someone who was always warm and positive.”

Tom will be sadly missed. Rail Engineer, “written by rail engineers for rail engineers” is Tom’s legacy. I, and my fellow writers, are proud to be a part of this. 

Readers who may wish to do something to remember Tom are invited to make a donation to Alzheimer’s Research UK.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.

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