Rail technology company Wabtec is on a journey to not only facilitate good business but bring about enhanced industry safety.
The iron ore giant, Rio Tinto is one of the great generators of wealth in Australia. From the Pilbara, iron ore is shipped north to China and other Asian economies, thus shaping the growth trends of the 21st century.
Rail provides the crucial link between the Rio Tinto mines and the great bulk terminal at Dampier where the ships are loaded. Facilitating the safe transport of iron ore from mine to port is Wabtec Control Systems which does a large amount of project and maintenance work within the mining industry. For some perspective, Wabtec, or WCS, is a provider of equipment, systems, digital solutions, and value-added services for the freight and transit rail sectors.
The WCS core business is design, engineering and construction and commissioning of railway signalling and train control systems. It is a major global supplier of wayside condition monitoring systems. The company has a head office in Perth with other offices in Adelaide, Melbourne and Queensland. It has about 350 employees nationally with factories across WA, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
A path to expansion
A more recent addition to the WCS business is its rail safe working and traffic management division. In this area it has a team of about 70 employees nationally who operate on networks for BHP, Fortescue Metals Group, Roy Hill, PTA, Arc Infrastructure, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, Metro Trains and Vline. A key role is to ensure safe traffic management and advanced worksite traffic management and the development of traffic management plans and traffic guidance schemes for government departments and local councils. Mark Hopkins, the WCS general manager and regional EHS coordinator for Australia/NZ, explained progress on worksite traffic management to date.
“After the success of our Rail Safe working and traffic management services on the west coast, WCS have invested in expanding this part of our business on the east coast to address the demand for these services,” Hopkins said.
“This demand has been created by the large amount of rail infrastructure projects and the requirement for professional resources in this area.”
Hopkins said they had identified the importance of these services across rail as it directly contributed to the safe, successful and timely delivery of projects. This is something that WCS had experienced first-hand and was a major contributing factor to the development of WCS Safe Working Services.
“WCS understand the impacts of these services and also have the experience of delivering large scale projects internally,” Hopkins said.
“Customers get the benefit of engaging a total service provider with an impeccable safety record, who have the skills and experience in project management and execution.
“Safeworking services would historically have been supplied by labour hire type companies who lack this holistic experience and understanding.”
The way ahead
Hopkins believes opportunities are myriad.
“Expansion and professionalisation of traffic management and rail safe working particularly within Victoria,” he said.
“Our key point of difference is the level of service as a result of our experience in large scale project management being transferred into a services business.
“Our key point of difference is the provision of a dual capability of rail safe working and traffic management.”
Hopkins said the traffic management component was a specialisation of the road/rail interface i.e. at level crossings and traffic management in and around the rail corridor.
“Most other companies either specialise in traffic management or rail safe working requiring customers to engage two separate companies,” he said.
“Often both companies do not have a sound understanding of both capabilities.”
The company was recently awarded a contract with WA Main Roads to ensure a network that interacts with the Roy Hill and BHP mines, a major job starting at the end of May.
“We are getting a significant amount of work up in the Pilbara,” Hopkins said. “That is the safe working and traffic management we will be involved with.”
Hopkins said significant government investment in key infrastructure projects had generated a competitive market, particularly within the rail industry.
“There are known skills shortages in key resource areas such as signalling and rail safe working as a result of this investment,” he said.
“There are many multi-billion-dollar rail infrastructure projects being undertaken within Australia over the next few years.”
Hopkins talks of the role of research for the business in an ever-changing and challenging world.
“As part of Wabtec R&D we are always monitoring other market technologies which may improve or contribute to the overall continuous improvement of rail technology,” he said.
“Where this is identified they often bring business and technology together, resulting in a greater overall capability.”
The way ahead
With current investment in rail from both governments and the private sector, Hopkins says the outlook for business is positive.
“So, we are seeing significant funding expansion across key areas and a significant amount of work,” he said. “We are experienced in delivering those projects and by partnering with us to ensure the safety of your employees and the successful and timely delivery of projects, you are on the right path.”
Hopkins said the company was particularly proud to have achieved an important safety record, having clocked up one million hours of injury free work at the end of 2020.
“So, we are just continuing to build upon that,” he said. “We have one of the largest teams available in Western Australia and we are trying to achieve that in Victoria as well.”
Bookings with Wabtec can be made at