Freight Rail, Passenger Rail, Workforce, Certification & Training

AusRAIL: ARA demands action to avert skills crisis

Rail worker manufacturing. Photo: / Courtesy of Bombardier

A new report says the rail industry needs to address its fast-developing labour crisis to avoid a substantial blowout in project costs and delivery delays across Australian and New Zealand over the next 10 years.

A new BIS Oxford Economics paper commissioned by the Australasian Railway Association over $100 billion in rail spending over the next ten years will fall flat without substantial growth in fit-for-purpose training for the sector.

The report recommends the establishment of a high level taskforce of government, industry and education providers, with a three-pronged focus:

  1. To facilitate the development and maintenance of an Australian Rail Industry Pipeline of rail project to map what skilled labour will be required – suggesting the ANZIP pipeline, established by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, be adapted and refined for this purpose.
  2. To develop a National Rail Industry Skills Development Strategy to drive reform in education and training systems and practices.
  3. To boost awareness and attraction to rail careers.

“The next ten years will herald a renaissance of rail in Australia,” ARA boss Danny Broad said on day one of AusRAIL in Canberra.

“Important urban passenger projects such as the Melbourne and Sydney Metros, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, Perth’s Metronet and multiple light rail infrastructure and rolling stock investments, as well as crucial freight projects such as Inland Rail … Unless we address shortages due to market failure, attrition, and unsuitable training arrangements, projects will blow out in terms of delivery and cost.”

BIS modelling shows that at the peak of Australian rail’s construction phase, in 2023, the workforce gap may grow to as many as 70,000 people.

ARA chairman Bob Herbert says the industry needs to react quickly to this growing gap – and needs to treat it as what it is: a larger-scale issue than anything seen in recent times.

“Rail investment stagnation, start-stop funding cycles and short term cost cutting have been a feature of the Australian rail sector since the 1980s,” Herbert writes in the report’s foreword.

“One of the consequences has been the collapse in investment in training and skills development of the people to build our infrastructure and to operate and maintain first class rail services.

“This is a clear case of market failure.

“The term supply and demand is well understood in the marketplace. However, as to rail skills in the current investment environment, it is a case of ‘demand and no supply.’ This is the crisis that the report seeks to address.”

The report is available here: