ACT

ACT acknowledges the essential work of public transport staff

As the ACT starts to ease restrictions put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), Minister for Chris Steel is calling on Canberrans to thank rail staff and other public transport workers.

“This is group of people who have been quietly and proudly delivering the important services that our community has relied on during the pandemic, and they deserve our thanks,” said Steel.

“While there’s been less people using public transport, each journey has been important to keep our society functioning and Canberrans moving.”

During the pandemic and associated lockdowns, Transport Canberra ran a full timetable across light rail services as well as bus services in the ACT. With work from home directives and restrictions on the use of public transport only for essential travel, patronage figures have decreased by 85 per cent. In the first week of term two 2020, April 28 to May 1, Transport Canberra recorded a daily average of 8,873 journeys. In the comparable period in 2019, 66,766 journeys were recorded. The busiest day since the end of March was Monday, April 28, with 9,793 journeys.

In April, Transport Canberra hired extra cleaners to sanitise buses, light rail vehicles, and public transport stops. Steel said the government has been working with unions to ensure workplaces are safe.

“The ACT Government has been working closely with union representatives from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) during this time to ensure the wellbeing of workers is at the forefront of Transport Canberra’s response to COVID-19,” said Steel.

“We’re looking at how social distancing and other measures can be promoted on public transport as more people start travelling, but we are still asking Canberrans to reconsider the need to travel at this time.”

Union delegates at the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union said the government had been listening to workers’ concerns.

“Transport Canberra has been receptive to the union’s concerns, establishing weekly meetings and making changes in accordance with workers’ feedback. This has been integral to ensuring both worker and commuter safety.”

While some authorities have been concerned that following the lifting of restrictions public transport patronage would drop as people commute via car, Steel said that maintaining a full timetable throughout the crisis will help ensure people return to public transport.

“Canberrans have been able to rely on public transport during the crisis, because we’ve been delivering the same services week in week out on buses and light rail,” said Steel.

“We are in a much better position than many other cities having delivered constant reliable services throughout the pandemic to support more people back on to public transport once restrictions are eased at an appropriate time.”

ARA launches groups for career development

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has created two LinkedIn groups to support women and young people in the industry.

The groups will create a space for discussion and career development, as part of the associations efforts to support women and young people working in rail.

As many workplaces have shifted to working from home and interactions online are becoming the norm, ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie said that discussions should continue, even when they are not face-to-face.

“With so many of us spending more time working away from the office, this is the ideal opportunity to build your social networks and be part of the discussion on the future of our industry.”

The groups are also open to those supporting and mentoring women and young peoples’ careers in rail.

“Our Women in Rail Network will bring together the many people in our industry that are championing diversity and supporting rich and rewarding careers for women in rail,” said Wilkie.

“I look forward to seeing past participants of the ARA Women in Rail Mentoring Program joining the network as we provide a space for conversation with those both old and new to the industry.”

For young rail professionals, many of whom will be the ones carrying out the expected infrastructure stimulus spending that will follow the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the space will provide a peer-support network as well as advice from those who have been in the industry already.

“The Young Rail Professionals Network will bring together the next generation of leaders in rail as we prepare for a new wave of investment in the industry over the next decade,” said Wilkie.

“Recruiters and managers will be encouraged to share their insights on building a successful career in rail to support young professionals as they chart their own path in the industry.”

The groups are open to ARA members, and will include case studies, news, and opportunities for collaboration, as well as personal stories and discussion.

“This is the ideal opportunity for our members to lead the conversation on issues that are important to them and help us shape the future of our industry in the process,” said Wilkie.

1,800-strong workforce on site for CRR construction

A workforce of 1,800 people has been continuing to progress the Cross River Rail project, even as social distancing measures have been in place to limit the spread or outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19).

A pedestrian bridge at the Roma Street site has been removed, and demolition is continuing of the former Hotel Jen building.

Demolition of two blocks in the Brisbane CBD has also been finished. The blocks will allow for the construction of a new station at Albert Street. There, piling works and the construction of an acoustic shed are underway as work begins on the underground station box.

Piling works for the dive site at Woolloongabba for the tunnel boring machines are also completed. Excavation of the launch area will now get underway.

Work has also started on the northern tunnel portal, between Roma Street and Exhibition stations.

Piling at Boggo Road is also making strides, with 100 out of the 150 piles installed for the station box.

According to a statement from Cross River Rail the continuation of work during the COVID-19 restrictions has had a wider effect on the Queensland economy, with manufacturers and construction supply companies benefiting from works not being halted. Subcontractors carrying out works on each of the sites have also directly benefited.

Safety precautions and social distancing measures have been in place at all sites, with extra hygiene protocols adhered to.

TrackSAFE appoints new executive director

TrackSAFE Foundation has appointed a new executive director, Heather Neil.

Neil has begun with TrackSAFE as of May 4, 2020.

The industry-funded foundation, which works to reduce collisions, injuries, and fatalities on the rail network in Australia, recently facilitated Rail R U OK?Day with attendance figures higher than ever.

Bob Herbert, chairman of TrackSAFE, highlighted Neil’s previous achievements as CEO of RSPCA Australia and as a director of the Community Council for Australia.

“Throughout her career, Neil has been actively involved in advocating for and delivering improved legislation, policies and practices across a wide range of issues,” said Herbert.

TrackSAFE facilitates Rail R U OK?Day alongside the R U OK? suicide prevention organisation in April each year and works year-round with telephone crisis support service Lifeline. Herbert noted that Neil will be strengthening these connections.

“A key role for Neil will be to engage with all sectors of the rail industry and TrackSAFE’s partners, both Lifeline and the R U OK? charities. We work in tandem with both these bodies,” said Herbert.

In addition to the ongoing situations that rail workers are exposed to, restrictions and behaviours surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19) have increased pressures on the mental health of those in the rail industry, said Herbert.

“All too frequently rail employees are exposed to traumatic incidents due to suicides, level crossing accidents and through the untoward behaviour of trespassers on the rail network. Now, added to that COVID-19 is having its impact on employee well-being and mental health. Never before has there been such a strong need for the role TrackSAFE plays.”

Rail R U OK?Day

Participation higher than ever in Rail R U OK?Day 2020

Rail R U OK?Day has been marked by rail organisations around Australia and New Zealand, with engagement reaching all-time highs.

On April 30, for the sixth year running, those within the rail industry reached out to their colleagues, co-workers, and friends to ask, “Are you ok?”

While traditional face-to-face get-togethers have been limited due to physical distancing measures in place to keep people safe due to coronavirus (COVID-19), numerous organisations still encouraged employees to pick up the phone or jump on a video call to check in on each other.

South Australian Public Transport Authority executive director, Anne Alford, said that Rail R U OK?Day in 2020 was the most significant yet.

“It’s now more important than ever that we promote a sense of community, reach out and ask our friends, family and workmates and ask, ‘Are you ok?” said Alford.

In Melbourne, Metro Trains driver Stephen King said that the simple action of asking a colleague how they are going can make a significant impact.

“To be able to just ask and check in on somebody to see how they’re going can make all the difference.”

Train drivers, station staff and the wider rail industry are often the first witnesses or respondents to traumatic incidents that occur on the rail network, leading to a focus on mental health within the industry.

“On any given day, at any given time, we’re prepared for any incident – whether it’s an accident or a trespasser. There are also things that happen away from the job that can affect us as drivers,” said King.

“There is a fair bit of stress and pressure that goes with the job for sure.”

In Queensland, Queensland Rail set a Wellbeing Conversation Challenge to encourage their team to check in on their workmates. Sydney Trains also encouraged employees to get involved in the conversation challenge.

“The virtual conversation challenge saw employees across Sydney Trains engage with each other by sharing videos and posts on our internal communication channels, and nominating others to take up the challenge,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

Roughly 3,500 Sydney Trains employees participated both at in-person, socially distanced events and virtual panel discussions and live streams.

KiwiRail similarly looked to virtual methods to get colleagues to check in on each other.

“As we continue to be in lockdown due to COVID-19, we used our staff closed FaceBook group to share the message. More than 1,600 staff belong to this group and use the page as a discussion and information sharing forum,” said KiwiRail group general manager human resources Andrew Norton.

Rail R U OK?Day is facilitated in collaboration between TrackSAFE and harm prevention charity R U OK?. Participation numbers are still being confirmed, but across Australia and New Zealand, over 75,000 people participated, surpassing previous years’ figures. Bob Herbert, chairman of TrackSAFE, said that each year leads to more ongoing conversations that last throughout the year.

“We keep hearing numerous anecdotal accounts whereby a rail employee has trusted their instinct and noticed the signs that someone near them has been struggling, and we’re thrilled to learn that they have started a conversation that has put that person on a whole new path.”

Katherine Newton, CEO of R U OK? Said that the event showed how the rail industry can work together to address challenges such as mental health and wellbeing.

“Our partnership with TrackSAFE is one R U OK? is extremely proud of and is a brilliant example of an entire industry being committed to the R U OK? Movement,” said Newton.

“Participation in Rail R U OK?Day has grown more than 800% since the inaugural event in 2015, as we see, rail employees from across Australia and New Zealand are transforming their workplaces into strong and resilient environments every day of the year.”

Pacific National

Pacific National ramps up mental health peer support

Pacific National has today announced it will be increasing the size and scope of its mental health support for employees.

With more than 3,500 employees and terminals, depots and sites across Australia, Pacific National has been running a peer support program for a number of years. The organisation has been working on re-invigorating the initiative since late last year.

Chief people officer for Pacific National, Heidi Beck says their Peer Connect program ensures that important conversations about people’s mental health happen every day, not only on Rail R U OK?Day.

“Our program is somewhat unique in that it has been ongoing for some time, but it is very much led and driven by our employees and, increasing the size of the program was something that was requested by employees.

“Our Peer Connect program is aimed at raising mental health awareness and building a peer to peer support network every day. Our Peer Connect Champions are a point of contact for employees needing support,” she said.

To mark Rail R U OK?Day, the company has more than doubled the pool of peer support champions so that employees will have an identified peer to speak to if they need to have a confidential chat, either in person or via email, to one of their colleagues within the business about any difficulties they are facing.

“Every one of our Peer Support Champions will undergo the TrackSAFE Mental Health First Aid training in person and we will be looking to start this as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.

“In the meantime, our new Peer Support Champions will receive in-house training and resources so they can start to prepare themselves for their new roles,” explains Beck.

During the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic, check-in conversations with each other and openly talking about our state of mind have become a crucial way of life for all.

The training program itself is specifically designed for the rail industry and focused on the issues those working within the rail industry may face. It has been developed by Mental Health First Aid Australia and is facilitated by TrackSAFE.

“I have completed the program myself and it reminded me that while people may seem stoic on the outside, underneath they might be very stressed and a trigger can bring on high levels of anxiety in any of us,” says Beck.

A resilient freight network is key in times of uncertainty

In her column, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association Caroline Wilkie highlights that Australia’s rail freight network is facing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic but its importance now is greater than ever.

Australia’s population is forecast to double by 2070, reaching almost 45 million people. This growing population requires an increased allocation of goods, adding pressure on our existing freight networks to deliver. According to the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, Australia’s freight task is expected to grow by over 35 per cent between 2018 and 2040, an increase of 270 billion tonnes, bringing the total volume moved to just over 1,000 billion tonne-kilometres.

The role of rail freight is critical in meeting this future demand and maintaining our international competitiveness. The Value of Rail study commissioned by ARA in 2017 highlights that a one per cent improvement in freight productivity could generate $8-20 billion in savings to the national economy over 20 years. Rail freight provides a cost-effective, safe and environmentally sound solution for reducing congestion from heavy vehicles on urban, regional, and interstate roads. Just one freight train alone can take 110 trucks off our already congested roads and rail is up to nine times safer than road freight. In light of these significant benefits, the ARA is working with governments and industry on behalf of our members to get more freight on to rail, and to improve the efficiency and productivity of Australia’s rail freight supply chains. Achieving modal shift to rail is critical to increasing economic growth, improving the liveability of our cities and supporting regional communities.

Delivery of the Inland Rail project is an important step in achieving this. This nation building project will see a 1,700km freight rail line directly connecting Melbourne and Brisbane, via Toowoomba, Parkes, and Albury. The route will utilise approximately 1,100 km of upgraded existing track and 600 km of new track in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. Most importantly though, it will bypass the heavily congested Sydney network and bring rail freight travel times between Melbourne and Brisbane down from 33 hours to less than 24 hours. This is a game changer and will make rail freight much more competitive over long haulage routes.

In a period of economic uncertainty, the Inland Rail project is bringing a much needed boost to the economy. Construction is already underway on the Parkes to Narromine project and planning is well advanced on a number of other sections. Approximately $747m has already been spent, with much of this spend being injected into rural communities.

Inland Rail has been in the public domain for over fifteen years. It is also one of the most heavily studied projects in recent Australian history, having been through an extensive consultation, planning, route analysis, engineering and costing process.

We are aware of issues that have been raised in relation to flooding of the Condamine crossing in Queensland.

Without a doubt, the project is receiving the best possible expert advice and can manage these issues using tested and proven mitigation measures. These issues need to be worked through carefully and collaboratively, but they should not delay the delivery of the project.

The delivery of Inland Rail is a start, but more must be done. Investment in rail freight delivers enormous benefits in the long term. Improved supply chain connectivity and productivity benefits the economy and the environment and helps provide resilience in the face of emergencies like to COVID-19 pandemic.

The current crisis has just reinforced the importance of a highly productive and efficient supply chain. This unprecedented event has challenged our supply chain like never before, but our rail freight members continue to ensure that essential goods such as canned food, toilet paper, and cleaning products are moving across the country and to customers.

When state border crossing restrictions came into force in later March, the ARA wrote to state and the Commonwealth transport minsters to ensure rail freight was considered an essential service and exempt from border restrictions.

However, the stark difference between road and rail freight regulation is never more apparent than it is during times like these. Regulation by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has a focus on both safety and productivity, whereas the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR’s) remit is purely safety-related.

The ARA have long held the view that we must take a national approach with all modes working together to deliver an integrated freight market. However, this approach can only work if all modes operate from a level playing field with equal treatment in terms of access pricing, government policies, and the role of productivity in regulation.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, trucks were able to have curfews lifted to extend delivery windows in NSW and Queensland. However, due to the nature of our infrastructure and the shared tracks of passenger and rail networks, our industry does not have the same flexibility. As a result, we must look for other solutions to improve the productivity of rail freight.

Rail freight operators are committed to the highest levels of safety compliance but are routinely challenged by Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) derogations that exist, most notably the differing fatigue management requirements in NSW and Queensland, and the different drug and alcohol management requirements in NSW.

As I outlined in my March 2020 article, these inconsistent, state-based regulatory requirements go against the objective of national regulation and add costs to rail freight without any proven safety benefit. The ARA believes that multiple layers of often conflicting regulation impacts rail freight productivity.

A modern, risk-based approach to rail safety that focuses on productivity will improve our supply chain resilience and unlock significant economic and environmental benefits for the whole country.

Queensland institutes toughest fines yet for spitting on workers

Queensland is instituting some of the toughest fines yet for those who deliberately cough, sneeze or spit at public officials and workers.

The direction allows for fines of up to $13,345 for those who do so, and includes transport workers including train crews.

The move follows similar fines in NSW, where police can issue anyone who coughs or spits on workers a fine of up to $5,000.

Announcing the directive, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that she wanted to protect workers.

“I was disturbed to hear stories of people threatening to deliberately infect frontline staff.

“It’s disgusting and I want police to throw the book at them.”

The directive covers a public official or any worker at work or travelling for work during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

There have been reports of spitting and attacks on transport staff in other jurisdictions in Australian and New Zealand. On April 20, Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison said there were two incidents where essential workers have been spat at.

“A couple were joy-riding on our trains and were told to get off. As they were being escorted from the train, a female spat at three of our staff. Two men and a woman have had to be stood down as a result of this incident and have gone into isolation. This behaviour is totally unacceptable. The incident was caught on CCTV and the police now have that footage.”

Another incident occurred when a security guard was spat at while working for Auckland Transport.

“Our staff and contractors are out there in all weathers ensuring that essential workers can get to their jobs and we cannot tolerate this sort of behaviour. We are working with the police to ensure that our staff can do their job without being assaulted,” said Ellison.

In NSW, a teenage girl spat at a Sydney railway station staffer, and said, “I have COVID” according to reports.

David Babineau, secretary of the Tram and Bus Division of the Rail, Tram & Bus Union of NSW, said that all workers should be treated with respect.

“Frankly, it’s disgusting in any circumstance but in the middle of the current health crisis it cannot be tolerated. Everyone has the right to go home safely from work and not wonder if they are bringing a potentially fatal disease home to their loved ones.”

Rail industry to come together for Rail R U OK?Day

On April 30, for the sixth year running, the rail industry in Australia and New Zealand will come together to ask colleagues, friends, and workmates, “Are you ok?”.

Run in collaboration between the TrackSAFE Foundation and non-profit suicide prevention organisation R U OK?, the day serves a way for those who work in the rail industry to support each other, said Bob Herbert, executive chairman of TrackSAFE.

“There’s around 300 attempts and 150 deaths on Australia’s train lines can be attributed to suicide each year. That impacts rail employees very severely, whether they’re drivers, stations staff, or maintenance staff and so Rail R U OK?Day was originally set up to deal with that trauma,” said Herbert.

In 2020, the day has taken on added significance as rail workers contend with the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on their working conditions, and the industry has responded in kind.

“We’ve got around 100 organisations participating in it this year, and each one appoints at least one champion, so there’s 120 champions, and we haven’t got the final figures yet, but I reckon we’ll touch 70,000 employees. This would be our biggest year ever,” said Herbert.

While a national R U OK?Day will be held in September, April 30 is a rail specific event that acknowledges the particular experiences of rail employees, said Katherine Newton, CEO of R U OK?.

“Rail R U OK?Day is distinct because it’s an industry specific campaign. It’s a day for the rail industry, for operators, drivers, admin staff, for everyone who’s in the industry to come together. It’s about acknowledging that they do see challenging incidents, and that the rail community as workmates and as colleagues can be there for each other during those times.”

In keeping with the grassroots nature of the wider R U OK? iInitiative, the rail day is a day for industry, by industry, highlighted Herbert.

“I’m delighted that this is the industry funding it, there are 30 subscribers, big and small rail companies, and they see this as an important initiative for the whole industry.”

Ahead of the day, TrackSAFE and R U OK? Have distributed rail-specific materials to encourage colleagues to sit down with each other or pick up the phone and get in touch. Herbert noted that these resources, in addition to TrackSAFE’s partnership with Lifeline, allow for an ongoing conversation.

“There’s nothing more important that having employees say to one another, ‘‘Are you ok?’’ and knowing what to do if you’re not ok, where do you refer them, how do you help them, make sure that there’s some action being taken and getting some follow up to see if you’re ok. That’s the message, quite simple really, but of all the things that I’ve been engaged in this is one of the most important at addressing mental health issues.”

THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 
Having been determined to be an essential service by all levels of government in Australia and New Zealand, the rail industry has been operating throughout measures implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19, and each sector has been called upon to contribute in their own way. Occurring in the run up to Rail R U OK?Day, Herbert has seen the industry come together like never before.

“Each of the companies are conscious of all the rules that apply, in terms of social distancing, and companies are practicing that. They understand their employees will face stressed passengers, and I’m pleased that TrackSafe can offer a big piece in the jigsaw as to how best it’s managed.”

Newton concurred, noting that while there may be a new physical distance between the rail industry, it’s more important than ever to be socially connected.

“While we’re being asked to be socially distant, we still need social connection and that’s really our message. We need to stay connected while and I think that the way that people have come together, with the increases that we’ve seen in both organisations that are taking part and the number of champions that are within those organisations, testifies to the idea of there is a lot more talking at the moment.”

Ahead of the day itself, participating rail companies and organisations have been provided with resources tailored to the conditions imposed by COVID-19 and are preparing for virtual meet-ups and calls.

“Let’s see what happens on the day but people are putting together some really creative ways online that they can connect,” said Newton. “It’s a great opportunity to pause and to take a moment, whether that be via phone, SMS, social media or the zooms that are happening around the country.”

AN ONGOING CONVERSATION
On April 30, leaders within the Australasian railways industry will be talking with their colleagues and checking in with each other, Herbert included.

“I won’t be sitting back and watching on the 30th, I’ve been invited to engage firstly with QR and Transdev New Zealand have asked me to do a presentation. My collages Danny Broad and Caroline Wilkie will be kicking in with Sydney Trains and Metro Trains Melbourne, so everywhere that we can spread ourselves we will be doing it.”

Other organisation will hold online webinars highlighting strategies for workmates to ask the critical question and for the past months two interactive question marks have been travelling around the country, beginning in Canberra for the first time. However, both Herbert and Newton noted that these conversations can continue year-round.

“Our message is that every day is R U OK?Day,” said Newton. “It’s very much around creating a culture of R U OK? and that’s where we see it works best. It’s not just having some cupcakes on Rail R U OK? Day or indeed R U OK?Day in September, it’s about having meaningful conversations and chats and that can only really come with trust.

“There has to be trust within colleagues and managers and it can be really helpful if leaders can show a bit of vulnerability and can show that they trust the people around them and say, ‘we all go through stuff, I’m human too and this is what we can do for each other’.”

Herbert agreed, and is looking forward to connecting with his rail colleagues once again.

“While April 30 becomes a significant exclamation mark for asking R U OK? It ought to be something we are doing all year round. We’ll engage with the national R U OK day in September I hope by then people can get together like they normally do,” he said.

Victorian

Design released for locally-made new VLocity sets

The design of the new VLocity trains for the North East line in Victoria have been released.

The new model will be manufactured by Bombardier at its Dandenong workshops, said Minister for Public Transport, Melissa Horne.

“These new trains will be the first VLocitys to run on standard gauge tracks on Victoria’s regional network and will provide North East line passengers with a more comfortable and reliable train journey,” said Horne.

Features of the new trains include built in USB chargers, six luggage racks and overhead luggage storage, a modern catering facility, and six wheelchair spaces with companion seats nearby. Three bike racks will be installed, as well as four shared tables so groups can sit together. The design also includes accessibility improvements so that transport is accessible to people of all abilities.

The units will be manufactured in three car sets which can run coupled together for a six carriage train. Todd Garvey, director sales & marketing Australia for Bombardier, said the company has utilised its local knowledge and expertise.

“Bombardier is proud to support the Andrews Government by manufacturing these new standard gauge trains for North-East Victoria, in Victoria, using our local supply chain. Our operations in Dandenong employ over 500 people and we are the only business in Australia that can build trains and trams from end-to-end right here in Melbourne. We are fortunate to have a strong, talented workforce and a facility that can deliver for Victoria.”

The new design was developed in consultation with the community in North East Victoria, said Member for Northern Victoria, Jaclyn Symes.

“The feedback from local passenger groups, accessibility advocates, local government and tourism representatives has been fantastic, and central to the design process – I thank everyone who contributed.”

Once the $235 million upgrade to the North East Line is complete, the new trains will run on the standard gauge line. Current services to Albury are hauled by N class locomotives as the rest of the V/Line VLocity fleet are designed for Victoria’s broad gauge network.