AusRAIL, Market Sectors

2011 industry outlook

<span class="" id="parent-fieldname-description"> Industry uncertainty and rail’s ongoing skills and personnel shortfall will be two of the major issues for Australian rail in 2011, writes Francis Dwornik*. </span> <p>Australia’s rail industry construction and upgrading boom is unquestionable, but many key industry stakeholders are nervous about how sustainable this boom is, and how vulnerable it is to political taste and agendas.</p><p>Industry uncertainty is already impacting directly a number of key areas and will continue to do so into the future.</p><p><strong>People power</strong><br />The availability and ongoing development of skilled workers and engineers’ resources has been declining in inverse relationship to the surge in rail activity here in Australia, and globally.</p><p>It is this global level of rail infrastructure activity which is a significant pressure – here in this country we are seeking to fill the employee gap with overseas recruitments and so are the many nations competing with us who are also experiencing their own rail infrastructure booms.</p><p>The whole industry is going to be very sensitive in regard to this issue and how other companies respond to this problem will be closely monitored.</p><p>The skills shortage issue puts even more emphasis on the government’s timing of new standard accreditation models for development, training and safety.</p><p>What is so critical is that while industry leaders perceive a lack of long term planning and commitment by government to build the rail infrastructure Australia needs, they are not going to make the essential investments within their own companies to recruit and develop the number of employees and skilled professionals that are required to achieve this.</p><p>Yet neither can the industry afford to wait and see – if it does, it will find itself in a position of literally lacking the people power to complete projects.</p><p>Fortunately, the rail industry is becoming much more attractive to graduates and professionals, and in 2011 new entrants from both overseas and Australia will increase employment numbers, as well as bring new and young talent into the industry.</p><p><strong>Favourable trends</strong><br />On the bright side, the future of landmark projects such as planning the first stages of a serious high-speed rail option in Australia is looking extremely promising.</p><p>It also looks inevitable that greater separation of passenger and freight lines and services will continue, and you would expect further consolidation of mine-to-port business networks such as those operated by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto in the Pilbara, and BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance in central Queensland. Supporting the development of this new infrastructure, companies such as O’Donnell Griffin are gearing up to provide full mine-to-port electrical and communications engineering services.</p><p>A key factor surrounding these projects is the question of government funding. Governments must commit themselves, both federal and state, if they wish these opportunities to manifest.</p><p><strong>Rail’s growing popularity</strong><br />Finally, one favourable trend which is especially interesting is the growing popularity of rail and public transport in general in this country. As commentators made note of recently in relation to the Victorian state election result, there was great backlash against the government on this issue, especially in those areas where there had been ongoing passenger rail problems.</p><p>With public transport and rail playing a prominent role on the political agenda in recent years, its profile is going to hike even more in the next phases of government, especially due to its green credentials. People power and public transport have never been so closely aligned.</p><p>This is going to drive changes in public policy and government, as the community’s expectation of high-standards of public transport impacts major rail projects in this country, and how they get that critical funding.<br /><br />*Francis Dwornik is rail engineering director of O’Donnell Griffin – Rail. <br />&nbsp</p>