New members appointed for ARA young leaders board

Four new young rail professionals have joined the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Young Leaders Advisory Board (Y-LAB).

The new members are:

  • Jane Gillespie, senior consultant at Arup;
  • Josh Steed, team lead at SNC Lavalin;
  • Melanie Bowden, area manager at CPB Contractors; and
  • Alexander Daview, project manager at the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).

In addition to the four new members, the ARA has appointed two reserve members to step in for vacancies that may arise due to career movements. The reserve members are; Tahni Littlejohn, systems analyst manager at Transport Canberra and City Services, and Karthik Krishna Kumar, project manager at Bombardier.

The new members join the four continuing Y-LAB members.

The Y-LAB is part of the ARA’s push for involvement in the rail industry from a younger generation of the workforce. The thoughts and insights of this group have been incorporated into the workings of the ARA, said ARA chair and acting CEO, Danny Broad.

“The Inaugural Y-LAB made a big impact last year, giving us some clear direction on how to attract a younger workforce, participating in the ARA Board’s Strategy Day to develop our 2019-24 strategic plan and many other key contributions.”

Broad was enthusiastic about the participation of younger members of the rail industry in the program and what this meant for the industry as a whole.

“The fact that we had such a strong field to draw from, with 37 applicants is testament to the eagerness of younger employees to contribute to the future of our industry and I look forward to working with the second iteration of Y-LAB in the year ahead.”

Arup will host the first meeting of Y-LAB for 2020 on March 3, in Sydney.

Broad acknowledged the work that the outgoing members have done.

“I’d like to thank our outgoing members, Jamie Ross-Smith of UniPart, Tegan Ball of Queensland Rail, Amy Lezela of Metro Trains Melbourne and Mike Groves of Network Rail Consulting for their contributions during 2019.”

Stellar third year for Future Leaders program

A modern approach to safety during the first and last mile and navigating public transport through the language barrier were just two of the difficult problems tackled by teams during the ARA’s third annual Future Leaders program.

AusRAIL PLUS 2019 helped bring to a close the latest iteration of the Australasian Railway Association’s Future Leaders program, which graduated a cohort of 33 young professionals from seven different Australian states and territories and New Zealand in 2019.

Future Leaders is one of the ARA’s key initiatives in response to the ongoing skills crisis threatening the rail sector’s potential. “Within the rail industry there is such a demand for resources and skills due to the major investment by governments right across Australia and New Zealand in new rail infrastructure,” ARA chief executive officer Danny Broad said when discussing the program in its third year.

To address this, the program aims to build a network of future leaders and provide a two-way exchange between future and current leaders in the rail industry. This higher level of engagement with the next generation of leaders is aimed at retaining them within the sector as they progress through their careers.

The program is delivered in part by Dr Polly McGee, an author and professional training expert who has worked with the ARA since the inception of Future Leaders in 2017.

“We’ve heard a lot throughout AusRAIL about people, and people being the centre of everything we do as a sector. Leading them, inspiring them, and understanding them is key,” McGee told the AusRAIL 2019 audience.

McGee explained the process of the Future Leaders program, which is split into three parts.

“In the first part, we really want the participants to look at themselves,” McGee explained. “Who are they in the mix? What do they bring to their leadership? And what do they need to have as part of their own development to be able to really effectively lead other people, and lead them from any part of the operation.”

This first stage was delivered during a three-day workshop in July. Starting with a Myers-Briggs test, participants learned more about themselves and their personality traits. After an open discussion of some of the wicked challenges facing rail, and drawing on the Myers-Briggs results, six diverse project groups were established to get to work solving them.

“The first phase of the program really helped us look within and see where our strengths were, and maybe where they were not – and how we as leaders can adjust to better manage and work with others based on that knowledge,” participant Shakira Rawat told Rail Express.

“They specifically put us together into groups because we were very different personalities,” fellow participant Tahni Littlejohn added. “Different minds working together with different strengths – you get the best of everything.”

The Future Leaders got together again in September for their second workshop, which kicked off with alumni from past Future Leaders program during a speed networking breakfast.

“One thing that’s really beautiful to see, now that we have these three cohorts graduated, is that the alumni group has become really strong,” McGee said. “Now they’re starting to reach out and support each other, it’s becoming an ecosystem of leadership.”

Following the alumni networking was a tour of Yarra Trams’ Tram Hub and Metro Trains Melbourne’s Metrol facility, a Port of Melbourne boat tour, and a series of major project briefings.

The second workshop also included a certified Dare to Lead training program, developed by bestselling author Dr Brené Brown.

“This program is so essential in the current environment we’re in,” McGee, a certified Dare to Lead facilitator, explained. “What it does
is ask leaders, ‘How do we train you to lead from courage and vulnerability?’ Courage and vulnerability are the two things that are going to be able to take us forward as a sector.

“I’ve never met anyone in rail who said they were in the sector for the brand-new Tesla and the giant house. They’re here because of rail’s legacy, and they come because it’s important to them, so they need to be able to express themselves and be who they are in their roles. The Dare to Lead program gives them those tools, and it puts them in a place of deep discomfort from which they can really learn.”

“The key takeaway for me from Dare to Lead was understanding yourself and having a belief in yourself,” Shez Islam, a senior project manager at VicTrack, told Rail Express. “During the project our group had a number of times where we doubted ourselves, and what we could do. But the self-belief that we had kept us going towards a great result. It was a lifelong lesson that we’ll take with us throughout our careers and in our everyday life.”

“The program is actually quite challenging,” Kelly Iverach, an associate director for workforce planning, train crewing and support at Sydney Trains added. “It asks you to dig quite deep and consider why you are responding to certain situations in a particular way; digging down to find what’s at the core of why we find things challenging, and that’s a different journey for everyone.”

The third workshop occurred the day before AusRAIL PLUS on December 2. The six project teams, having worked together throughout the year, pitched solutions to their chosen wicked problems to a panel of ARA Board members.

“We ask the teams to look at some of the wicked problems of rail, and come up with some really innovative, able-to-be-commercialised ideas, that they can pitch to our panel of experts on the final day of the program, before they graduate,” McGee explained. “We ask them to do something meaningful and real – and the six projects that we had this year were nothing short of extraordinary.”

Helping teams throughout their project were mentors – senior leaders selected from around the rail sector. One such mentor, Robert Angus, technical director for Infrastructure Projects at Aurecon, said the Future Leaders program was helping make the rail industry a better one.

“My focus was helping the team channel and focus some of their ideas and provide helpful guidance and an independent view where I could,” he said. “But ultimately it’s great to see young future leaders across the industry collaborate together towards a common cause.”

The winning pitch, voted for by attendees and announced at the AusRAIL Gala Dinner, was SafeMILE, an app concept developed by Matt Green, Tahni Littlejohn, Thomas Pulsford, Shakira Rawat and James Shaw.

The basic premise behind SafeMILE is to use a peer-to-peer ride sharing model to help individuals find companions or groups to travel with.

“Our project matters because we are aiming to transform the first and last mile into the SafeMILE,” Littlejohn said during the team’s presentation. “As a lot of work is being done to make transport journeys safer, the first and last mile remains a wicked problem – one our group has tried to address.”

While relevant to all users of public transport, the SafeMILE team opted to target university students, given they are often financially restricted, and travelling late at night. One study reviewed by the group showed 79 per cent of surveyed female students had experienced harassment, groping or stalking on public transport in the last three years. Another found 90 per cent of female students surveyed in Sydney were not comfortable walking home at night.

The SafeMILE team’s own survey found 80 per cent of respondents had felt unsafe on public transport, and more than 50 per cent said they felt unsafe specifically during the first or last mile of their journey.

Their solution is a peer-to-peer ride sharing application for smartphone users. Using Google Maps data and public transport operational data, the app aims to plan journeys and connect users, providing key in-journey safety features.

When a user selects a journey, they are informed whether there are any other app users taking that same journey. They can then request to join that person – or group, if one is already established – on that journey.

Users can opt for varying levels of anonymity, but are assigned a rating, and can view each other’s level of verification: bronze is a simple email verification, silver is an account connected with a university email address or at least two social media platforms, and gold is an account which has provided police clearance.

Along with its basic purpose, the app also features journey sharing, GPS location, a duress alarm, and an incident reporting service.

The journey sharing feature allows the user to notify people within their ‘circle of trust’ (e.g. family, close friends) the details of their journey, and GPS then keeps those people up to date with the user’s location throughout their journey. The SafeMILE team has also suggested this feature could be linked up with university security, if applicable.

“In cases of duress, there’s a button within the app and on your smart watch, if you have one. Or you can also click your power or volume up button four times, and this will send an alert to your circle of trust, as well as campus security, or to public transport security, depending on your location,” Shaw, a senior systems engineer with Calibre, explained during the pitch.

“Separately the incident reporting feature allows users to report areas or sections of their trip where they witnessed threatening behaviour or felt unsafe, and this information can then be shared with other users of the app so they can make informed decisions about their journeys home that night.”

Littlejohn added: “That data can also then be used by public transport users or universities to target unsafe hotspots, and focus their resources most appropriately to address them.”

The SafeMILE team was at AusRAIL pitching for a $250,000 investment, which they believed would help them deliver a user-ready app, and invest in targeted advertising to help develop a starting user base. Revenue would come from in-app advertising.

The second-placed pitch, also presented to the wider AusRAIL audience, targeted improved customer satisfaction, reliability, and levels of engagement on public transport for non- English speaking residents and tourists. It was presented by Transport Assist Australia, a team of Daniel Adams, Aaron Hargraves, Shez Islam, Kelly Iverach, Tristan Smith and Luke Stevenson.

Using Bluetooth beacon technology, an app would help users navigate stations and concourses in their native tongue. Beacons would be set up around a station and used to trigger alerts via the app on the user’s phone.

One example would be a welcoming beacon, which would provide key information and options as the user approached the station itself. Another would be a safety beacon, which would ensure users are alerted that they are in or near an unsafe location, e.g. beyond the yellow line while waiting on the platform.

“We spoke with both transport operators and effective users, and 96 per cent of those users said they would use an application like this while on transport here in Australia. 88 per cent of operators agreed this would improve ticketing and 100 per cent agreed it would improve wayfinding,” Hargraves, an infrastructure response team leader at Metro Trains, outlined.

Hargraves explained when you combine the 800,000 Australian residents who speak little to no English, with the 13 per cent of the average eight million annual tourists visiting Australia who are in the same boat, there is certainly a substantial target audience for this product.

Under the team’s business model, $176,000 would be spent in year one to develop Southern Cross station as a pilot site for the program. $155,000 would be spent in each of years 2-5 to expand the program to the full City Circle – 30 stations – and develop interstate opportunities. $72,000 would then be spent in years 6-10 to maintain the City Circle systems and expand into other sectors and outside of Australia.

The ARA has announced plans for the 2020 edition of Future Leaders. Nominations will open in mid-March, ahead of a trio of planned workshops:

  • Workshop 1: Tuesday 30 June – Thursday 2 July in Melbourne;
  • Workshop 2: Tuesday 1 – Thursday 3 Sept in Sydney; and
  • Workshop 3: Monday 30 Nov (AusRAIL 1 and 2 Dec) in Adelaide.


Transforming the first and last mile into the SafeMILE – Allowing commuters to connect and engage within their level of comfort to travel the first and last mile to help them feel safer.

RUNNER UP: Transport Assist Australia:
A multi-lingual application to make navigating Australian railways simple and efficient for everyone.

  • Re-Rail Your Career: A social media campaign targeted at people who believed that their skills and experience cannot be easily transferred to the rail industry.
  • TIES – Tertiary Institution Engagement Strategy: Connecting students to the industry through rail course content.
  • oneTrack: Across the Australian rail market there is a distinct opportunity for the introduction of a centralised rail safe-working tool. oneTrack would act as a “one-stop-shop” for location based safe-working and operational information regardless of network owner/operator.
  • Momentum Materials Management: A tool to provide inter-organisational visibility of stock levels of key railway materials and share/purchase stock of standard items in order to keep the rail industry moving.

Find out more on the ARA’s website: future-leaders-program

LINX puts funding behind AFLW

Logistics provider LINX Cargo Care Group has joined the AFL Women’s team.

LINX, which operates the Enfield Intermodal Terminal in addition to its rail services, will be part of the women’s AFL league in 2020 and is part of the league’s connection to its partners, said AFL general manager of commercial, Kylie Rogers.

“Demand from partners stems beyond a desire to be associated with football. We have developed long-term, value-based relationships with brands whose purpose and mission are aligned to ours.”

Part of this mission is growing the participation of women in fields that were once dominated by men. As the league has become more professional participation by women and girls at all levels has increased, the AFL stated.

According to Anthony Jones, CEO of LINX, the logistics sector shares a similar story.

“The supply chain and logistics industry have until recently been largely a male-dominated sector, much like Australian football, until the AFLW paved the way for a more diverse, inclusive sporting landscape,” he said.

In a 2018 survey conducted by the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), 21 per cent of the Australasian rail workforce are female, a four percentage point increase on 2014 figure. However, of the full-time workforce, only 18 per cent are women, while 56 per cent of the part-time workforce and 24 per cent of the casual workforce are women.

Other findings from the survey include that women occupy 19 per cent of managerial positions in the Australasian rail industry. Furthermore, in clerical and administrative positions, women make up 60 per cent of the workforce, while in technicians and trade positions, women make up only 5 per cent, the lowest proportion of any role.

Jones said that the company will be seeking to grow the place of women in logistics, as the AFLW has in sports.

“LINX Cargo Care Group is committed to bringing that same inclusive and disruptive ethos to the supply chain and logistics sector, which makes our partnership a natural fit.”

Teaching contemporary rail practices in the training room

The Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure, a foundational qualification for those in the rail maintenance and installation sector, involves over 60 units of competency and comprises seven core units and a selection of nine electives, spanning the maintenance and use of hand tools to safely accessing the rail corridor.

At the CERT (Centre for Excellence in Rail Training Pty Ltd), a training solutions provider for the rail and allied industries, courses are delivered by a team of trainers whose experience within the rail industry ensures that each unit of competency is taught with first-hand knowledge in mind.

One of those trainers is Craig Ramstadius, who brings with him 25 years of experience across construction and transport infrastructure. Sean Choat, National Quality and Queensland operations manager at CERT, described how Ramstadius brought this knowledge to the rail sector.

“Craig started his career in general construction, he worked for TAFE as well and about 25 years ago he got into rail and because he’s had experience with masonry, concrete, and bricklaying and it gave him insights into rail structures.”

Since joining CERT in 2012, Ramstadius has delivered courses through its competency-based approach to vocational education and training (VET).

“Craig worked in a number of companies, including Taylor Rail and he was in railway asset maintenance. He knows what he’s talking about, he’s done the work, but in terms of being an instructor, and he can assess people to their position of competence,” said Choat.

As a national training provider, with sites in each state and the Northern Territory, trainers such as Ramstadius have got to grapple with the varied standards and regulations that apply in each state and impart this flexibility to their students.

“Craig has come to Queensland to deliver some training in the past and it has been fantastic,” said Choat. “Because of the wealth of experience that he has, he’s able to apply himself, understand the rules and regulations in Queensland under this particular network because they’re all different.”

Similarly, Phillip Cavanough, a trainer/assessor at CERT can utilise a broad base of understanding across the rail industry to train the next generation of rail maintenance workers.

“Phil is very well qualified,” said Choat. “He delivers both our Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure and our Certificate III as well. Phil’s worked extensively in Queensland and Western Australia, he’s done some work in NSW and Victoria also.”

Cavanough, who worked for Queensland Rail as well as Fluor Rail Services, combines a knowledge of track infrastructure with rail operations, Choat said.

“Our trainers at CERT have that experience not just to construct a track, but to actually understand the interface between rollingstock, track, and signals,” he said.

Staying in touch

The experience that CERT trainers have enables them to understand the knowledge required to work in the rail industry that goes beyond the black and white stipulated requirements. Wayne Krause brings 22 years of experience for Queensland Rail and Aurizon to the training programs he delivers. Choat highlights that this experience brings more knowledge that can be shared with students and trainees.

“Wayne has qualifications as a track protection officer, so when he’s delivering training to our maintenance and construction students, he’s able to impart that awareness and understanding of rail safety and how it interfaces with working on track. For example, it’s important that you’ve got your protection in place when you carry out all of the processes so as to protect workers.”

Keeping this knowledge up to date is also something that CERT proactively ensures.

“Every 12 months, all of our trainers, no matter how experienced they may be, have to go back and do a vocational placement. So, they will go in to a rail environment and actually see what’s going on and participate.”

While these visits are a requirement, mandated by the Australian government for all training organisations to continue their registration, Choat highlights how businesses respond when a CERT trainer comes into the organisation.

“Our clients are impressed CERT values them as providing value in underpinning trainers’ industry currency.  As a result, our graduates hit the ground running having benefitted from their trainer’s exposure to current practice and technology on the job.  On the first day of work graduates are put into a gang and onto tasks and they know what needs to be done and how to do it.”

Undertaking these placements ensures that as the rail industry continues to modernise, contemporary practices are taught in the classroom.

“Our trainers are getting to see how technology and new types of equipment can improve the way rail work is done, so they can then come back and they can inform their learners, not on something that they picked up when they were a track worker themselves, but what’s happening now,” said Choat.

A holistic approach to training

After all, not every situation that a rail maintenance worker will confront can be simulated at a training facility. Bridging this gap, according to Choat, is the approach that CERT trainers bring to vocational education. 

“You can’t put people through and consider all the conditions they might experience on the job – they might be in night work, it might be wet, it might be confined spaces – so a good assessor can identify through asking underpinning questions, like, ‘If it was dark and there wasn’t enough lighting, how would go about performing this job? If a machine broke down, what would you do?’”

These outcomes ultimately deliver a more skilled and competent rail workforce, said Choat.

“We like to think that our graduates hit the ground running and they’re contributing to a better rail system in Australia.”

TAA to deliver Safeworking training in Victoria

Training Ahead Australia (TAA) will begin delivering safeworking training in Victoria next month on approved networks from Handsignaller through to Track Force Protection Coordinator Level 3.

Different courses will be on offer based on the level of seniority required by the candidate.

The course progresses through the levels of a further view on the current ARO Rail standards of paperwork and the importance of documentation along with hazard assessments. 

Dannielle Walz, Director of Operations at TAA said the current facility in Maribyrnong Victoria has a 20m track with a variety of concrete, composite, and wood sleepers with a half set of points, which allows trainers to go through more practical demonstrations. 

“Training Ahead Australia is an approved ARTC safeworking training provider and is looking to go above and beyond in the methods of teaching the courseware, through continuing to develop its current facility which includes day and night time training and its ability to show day and night time scenarios with train running at the Victorian distances based on the Victorian line speeds,” Walz said.

Walz said a great Track Force Protection Coordinator (TFPC) has the potential to add hours of productivity and to almost eliminate hazards from rail traffic based on their management strategies.

“Safeworking has the capacity to ensure that all supervisors and machine operators – along with all other roles required comprehend the job at hand and the timelines that allow them to conduct their works through the safeworking brief conducted by the TFPC for the shift.

“Since October we have been assisting over 22 individuals enter the initiative and it is something we are very proud to be leading,” Walz said.

“In the future we  would like the opportunity for companies or ARO’s to see the value of Trainers to facilitate and shadow Trainees in live environments once they are signed off to add value in the craft of Safeworking.”

Making the right connection: Finding outstanding people to fill rail’s skills shortage

The boom in the Australian and New Zealand rail industry is stretching the skills of the industry. An estimated $50 billion worth of investment in Australia alone, across all mainland states and the ACT, is turning capital cities and regional centres into hives of rail activity. In New Zealand, the government announced NZ$1 billion ($962.5 million) in rail investment in the 2019 budget.

This makes for an exciting outlook for the rail industry, but the level of activity is placing significant pressures on the industry. In 2019, 90 per cent of employers reported a skills shortage, according to a report from Australian Industry Standards. Multiple, simultaneous developments compete for the talent and expertise required to complete complex projects on time and to budget.

Added to this is that the boom is not confined to Australia and New Zealand. European countries are also announcing large projects, with Germany alone investing over $100 billon on rail in the next ten years.

In 2018, the Australasian Rail Association forecast that by 2023, there will be a workforce gap of up 70,000 people as construction of new rail projects hits its peak. As a result, the ARA called for a National Rail Industry Skills Development Strategy, which has yet to materialise. This has meant, in the meantime, that rail companies have had to find innovative ways to find talent.

Janette Herdman, founder of specialist rail recruitment agency JHA Global, has seen businesses grapple with the skills challenge.

“In the current market the demand is outstripping the supply. Companies might win a tender and then they need to find more staff quickly.”

JHA Global’s approach is to work hand-in-glove with rail businesses’ HR departments to find people that are the right fit.

“The way we look at it, HR is made up of the keepers of the keys to an organisation. They control culture, manage talent, work to contain costs, keep the company regulated, provide a safe haven for staff and keep an organization growing,” said Herdman.

Janette Herdman ensures JHA Global’s objectives are aligned with the business it is assisting.

“HR is too important to ignore. The talent solution is a partner to the business, not an add-on or a temporary fix. When we go into an organisation, we always make sure our goals are exactly the same, and that we’re aware of the business objectives. JHA Global compliments and builds on the work of HR to create a well-oiled machine that is consistently moving towards growing your business and achieving your goals.”

JHA Global takes a three-pronged approach to addressing the rail skills gap. Starting at the foundation, JHA Global connects businesses with the next generation of talent via its cadet program. As rail competes with other, growing industries for the best graduates and school leavers, securing a pipeline of cadets provides a business – and the wider industry – with a pool of engaged and committed individuals.

“Our clients find the cadet program gives them the strategic advantage to secure great talent and train them to understand their systems – with no down-time to them,” said Herdman.

“We help identify and recruit cadets with drive and ambition for the rail industry and provide mentorship and reviews to help propel them – and your organisation – to success.”

The next prong of JHA Global is its rail recruitment arm. Here, JHA Global combines its industry knowledge with the latest smart systems to match its database of applicants with the jobs in the industry.

“By using smart technology and artificial intelligence we help our recruiters identify and attract high-calibre talent across our extensive talent network,” said Herdman.

Using artificial intelligence, JHA Global can find a match between applicant and job 10 times faster than in traditional processes.

The final prong is JHA Global’s executive search function. A boutique and targeted service, JHA Global goes beyond the established networks and connections to find the unique applicant who will drive a business forward.

Herdman describes this service as targeting people who have a demonstrable track-record of delivering outstanding results in challenging markets.

“Not the kind of people who are likely to respond to an ad placed on an online jobs board.”

While social media tools such as LinkedIn have become ubiquitous in the modern recruitment world, JHA Global’s approach is to go beyond these technologies to draw upon a global network.

“Social media has become the way forward for companies to promote and select people, but if you are not an expert, you will find it difficult to find the needle in the haystack,” said Herdman. “JHA Global finds the needle in the haystack.”

Indeed, while the rail infrastructure pipeline in Australia is large, the local industry is competing in a global market when it comes to finding the right people to complete some of the most challenging projects around the globe. JHA Global recognises this and looks beyond what is immediately apparent.

“My vision is to provide outstanding candidates to companies within rail, speedily and at reduced costs to what they are currently paying,” said Herdman.

“Our point of difference goes beyond technology. The JHA Global team is made up of highly-skilled and experienced professionals worldwide who are motivated to deliver exceptional service and positive outcomes for our clients and candidates.”

Surviving a Digital Tsunami: the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s legacy

A digital revolution is underway in the rail manufacturing industry, says Stuart Thomson, CEO of the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).


With the growth of emerging technologies which will disrupt the way industry conducts its business, “the changes are going to be rapid and the rail industry needs to be ready,” Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO, Stuart Thomson, tells Rail Express.

In response, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has spent the last five years working with the rail industry to start tackling these challenges. Launched in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s focus has been to increase the capability of Australia’s rail manufacturing industry. Industry participants include Downer, CRRC, Knorr-Bremse, Bombardier Transportation Australia, HEC Group, Airlinx and Sydney Trains, who collaborate on research and development programs with institutes such as University of Technology Sydney, CSIRO, Deakin University, University of Queensland, Monash University, CQUniversity, Swinburne, RMIT and CSIRO.

“By sharing the risk involved in the development of technology while building networks across the supply chains, this increases the Australian rail sector’s competitive global position and creates a depth of industry capability.”

Since commencing, though, there have been some changes in the centre’s focus. Initially focused on heavy-haul rail, the subsequent plateauing of the mining boom, coupled with massive growth in passenger rail thanks to state and federal investment in rail infrastructure, resulted in a shift in the centre’s focus.

While its projects have contributed to a more innovative rail manufacturing industry, the most important contribution of the Rail Manufacturing CRC is the newfound strong engagement between universities and participating rail organisations. Australia’s universities have highly skilled and worldclass levels of research capabilities, and the challenge lies in the capacity for the rail sector to use that knowledge.

“With less than half of one per cent of scientists and researchers working in rail, it is key to attract and train the next generation of employees, while recognising the new skills that research graduates can bring to Australia’s future rail industry,” Thomson shared.

Planning for the future has, so far, consisted of 32 industry projects, 48 PhD scholarships and the involvement of 35 organisations over the entire six-year life of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, with the centre now working towards a closing date of June 2020.

“Over our full six-year lifetime, we will have achieved a wide range of leading research and commercialisation activities across the centre’s program areas of Power and Propulsion; Materials and Manufacturing; and Design, Modelling and Simulation,” says Thomson.

In its Power and Propulsion stream of projects, the centre has focused on energy solutions for better rail efficiencies, looking at battery and supercapacitor development and manufacture, new composite braking materials and rail-wheel-interface projects. Some of these projects involve the testing of lithium storage technologies.

With Australia’s great lithium reserves, this has wide reaching benefit across the resources sector as well as for rail, and according to Thomson, there is a boom in the use of lithium in energy storage devices. In regard to battery technology, Thomson says the centre is looking at fundamental studies to create better and more efficient lithium batteries, supercapacitors and energy storage systems.

“The ultimate goal of our energy storage projects is to develop technologies that will make overhead rail catenary systems obsolete, resulting in reduced infrastructure and maintenance costs. We’re working with companies such as Downer, Knorr-Bremse, CRRC, and the HEC Group, all of whom have different applications in a very active field of endeavour.

“We’re also using energy storage devices for emergency applications in rail as backup batteries. We’re looking at using lithium and new battery technologies to decrease the cost and also increase the life cycle of those devices. Obviously, the less servicing needed means significant cost savings in terms of maintenance.”

Meanwhile, the Materials and Manufacturing stream of work focusses on component durability, maintenance optimisation, composite material design and assembly automation. The projects in this stream intend to create replacement materials that are much more light weight, yet still with similar or better structural properties and the safety properties required.

“The challenge in rail at the moment is that we’re creating more energy consuming rail rolling stock, so it’s ideal to reduce energy consumption by light-weighting light rail and heavy rail.”

Within this, the centre is investigating with Swinburne University, metallic cellular materials, such as recycled aluminium honeycombs and foams for rail sandwich panels. One project is researching the manufacturing methods to best make these materials, while another is looking at experimental works and simulations to investigate the mechanical properties of the sandwich panels.

Another centre project collaboration with the University of Queensland and Bombardier worked to predict the wear rates of axle bearings used in suburban passenger trains. Through the development of a software model, bearing life is predicted using algorithms that aim to optimise the bearing selection, lubrication and overhaul maintenance schedule with significant economic benefits.

Within the Design, Modelling and Simulation stream, the centre is focussing on passenger information systems and dwell time management, cabin airflow monitoring, data transfer and analytics, and virtual and augmented reality rail training.

One of the more visible of the centre’s projects is the Dwell Track technology created in collaboration with Downer and the University of Technology Sydney. The technology enables operators to anonymously monitor passenger numbers and movement using 3D cameras to extract the relevant spatial and temporal information in real-time.

“We are able to monitor passenger flow and pathways. The information collected is used to better understand how platform infrastructure can be designed and operated in a more efficient way to limit congestion at certain points and times. By understanding where the congestion points are on platforms, operators are able to redesign or tailor solutions based on the information collected, so it’s really data driven.”

Thomson credits rail operators for providing the facilities to keep improving the Dwell Track technology.

“Queensland Rail, Sydney Trains and PTA Western Australia have all participated in testing and trialling the technology over a number of years. This has enabled the project team to tweak the technology to make it better as we’ve gone along. It is a real example of how operators have come to the fore to assist the development of new innovations,” he said.

While at the moment this technology enables decisions to be made or exceptions to be identified efficiently, Thomson believes this technology will eventually have an artificial intelligence component. “If we could automate some of those functions, such as if gates can be closed or opened based on computers rather than having staff on the platforms doing that work, we’d be able to free up staff time to concentrate on other critical issues.”

Ultimately, however, the goal is to take the data captured by the technology, analyse it and understand what responses can be taken to alleviate congestions at stations.

When asked about his predictions for the future of innovation in the rail manufacturing space, Thomson says data analytics is the key.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more use of data for modelling and prediction. We’re seeing a huge focus on condition-based monitoring applications and being able to monitor and understand all components to provide the operators and customers with information relating to the rollingstock’s use and performance in real-time.”

One of the critical uses for this is also to provide maintenance when its needed, rather than in the aftermath of issues. “Being able to predict when something’s going to happen before it does and fixing it prior to breaking down will have huge benefits for operators and manufacturers.”

One example of research being undertaken in this area is a Rail Manufacturing CRC, Deakin University and Downer collaboration to provide data specialists for Downer’s TrainDNA project. Aimed at improving data collection, analysis and interpretation, the team are developing algorithms and system platforms to provide real time information to customers, maintenance staff and engineering specialists.

The implementation of TrainDNA is likely to have significant benefits for those who operate and maintain rolling stock. The growth of new digital systems and data analytics in rail will require an ongoing adaption of the rail workforce.

“That’s where we see some of the challenges and the opportunities for rail companies in the future. Building new skill sets into the rail workforce is going to be key to unlocking these digital benefits that can flow into the sector.”

Where previously the skilled workforce in rail was confined to a few specific domains of engineering expertise, a new breed of skilled workforce is now needed.

“We no longer primarily need mechanical and electrical engineers, we also need people who can code, we need AI specialists, data scientists, virtual reality specialists, and more.” As such, the rail sector must be able to attract a whole new digital workforce.

“We’re not only competing with other transport providers for specialised blue and white collar workers, we’re also competing with other industry sectors such as finance, mining and tech giants like Google and Amazon,” Thomson said. “Too often, we focus on the technology, but a lot of the future solutions within the digital field will be expertise driven, they’ll be people-driven. The focus should be on a culture within the industry to build research and innovation capacity, but also to bring the right skill sets and expertise to utilise these new technologies most effectively.

“The biggest thing we have seen [during the CRC’s six-year term] has been a change in innovation culture. There are very talented young people who need to join the rail industry to propel it forwards, so the focus should be on the next generation of rail workers. I think that we’ve partly contributed to the industry realising that.

“We’ve got young researchers working on very exciting areas. At Monash University, we have multiple PhD students working on automating systems that can send drones onto tracks, into tunnels and even into the Pilbara region to automatically assess and monitor railway lines and the integrity of those systems.”

The main benefits to this are to get people out of danger, off the tracks and out of harsh environments, not only for safety reasons, but also to free them up to do other skilled jobs.

“It’s one thing to collect data, that’s the easy part, but it’s another thing to be able to automate, transmit and analyse it instantaneously, in real-time,” Thomson said.

The innovations that the Rail Manufacturing CRC has seen with the rise of the Internet of Things and other such emerging technologies has enabled a whole range of critical information to be captured, such as the integrity of rail infrastructure, the performance of equipment above and below rail, and the capacity to plan for future growth and safe operations of the networks.

Upon the completion of its term in June next year, Thomson tells Rail Express that a large part of the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s legacy lies in its initial commitment to collaboration.

“I think we’ve contributed to a realisation that collaboration between researchers and industry is a very good thing,” Thomson said. “The legacy that we’ve created is that collaboration between research organisations and the rail industry is assured.”

How can companies in the rail manufacturing space be more innovative?

“It’s simple,” Thomson concludes. “Hire, support and trust smart young people.”

Specialised skills approach to service rail’s construction boom

With work ramping up across the rail sector, labour hire, recruitment, managed labour and safety management firm Category 5 is focusing on its unique, specialised offering for a stretched skills market.


The pipeline of rail construction and maintenance work is estimated at more than $100 billion over the next decade. After construction work rose 56 per cent in FY18 and another 5 per cent in FY19, BIS Oxford Economics estimates it will almost double over the next five years. One of the sector’s biggest concerns as work ramps up in cities and regions all around the country, is the supply of skilled labour to meet this surging demand. The Australasian Railway Association-commissioned Skills Crisis report, conducted by BIS Oxford Economics at the end of 2018, estimated that by the expected peak for rail construction in 2023, the sector could be left more than 70,000 workers short of the jobs needed.

Paul Tobin, Category 5 Labour Management’s General Manager for Australia’s East Coast and New Zealand, tells Rail Express the skills shortage is the single greatest challenge facing the sector in both countries as a result of the infrastructure boom.

“Rail can be a tough, physically challenging working environment,” Tobin says. “In recent times people have been steered toward careers requiring university degrees rather than these labour/tradebased roles.”

While the trend has been towards university degrees, Tobin says more and more rail construction projects are valuing workers with qualifications and skillsets that might commonly be seen as less prestigious and sought after than a university degree.

“Specific rail skills and experience have largely gone unrecognised in the past, but I think the industry is really shifting toward rail specialists, and understanding the value they can bring to a project,” he says. “The rail and infrastructure boom is going to be a game changer, and I think we are going to be left short of that specialist labour.”

Understanding where those gaps will emerge in the labour market is key to Category 5’s business. In recent years, the company has already responded to growth in demand in a number of key sectors, focusing on a deeper understanding of the needs of specific operators. Its Cat 5 Rail business has established teams serving a number of segments of the rail sector.

“Roles like traction overhead lineman, signalling technician and the like have come under real demand and set to continue,” Tobin says, citing an example.

With the significant growth in the traction overhead line sector, the company focused on providing highly skilled and experienced personnel for this part of the market. Subsequently, Cat 5 Rail has built specialty teams which have worked on the removal projects for nine level crossings on Melbourne’s Cranbourne- Packenham line. Cat 5 Rail also supplies specialist hi-rail plant and equipment for overhead wiring construction and maintenance.

“All our linesmen are nationally accredited and hold the competency on the Rail Industry Worker system,” Tobin says. “We have some of the most experienced and capable overhead support staff known throughout Australia and New Zealand.”

Cat 5 Rail has taken a similar approach to provide specialist support for signalling work, welding and track, as well as the supply of rail safeworking staff for a range of projects.

Tobin says the Cat 5 Rail team has become one of the most renowned, specifically for track work, in the Port Hedland and wider Pilbara Region. Across Australia and New Zealand, Cat 5 Rail’s track crews have worked with blue chip clients like BHP, Rio Tinto, Lend Lease, John Holland, Laing O’Rourke and Downer.

Training and education

While sourcing the right people for existing work, a critical element of solving the skills shortage for rail will be training and up-skilling workers. “For the industry to survive and excel throughout the boom, investment in training and education is going to be key,” Tobin says.

As a registered training organisation, Tobin says Category 5 is ready to help the industry meet these challenges. Sam Sycamore, Category 5’s CEO and owner, was born in Port Hedland and founded his business there after more than 15 years in senior mining and resources, oil and gas and industrial management positions. Gaining perspective from the customer side of the labour market, Sycamore identified a need for a more tailored solution than that offered by the biggest recruitment companies. He says seeing workers learn specific skills and develop into more specialised roles is one of the best aspects of the business.

“Someone might start off as a labourer, but some of these people who have worked for us for three years have become leading hands, machine operators, track machine operators,” Sycamore says. “They’re becoming specialists in their field, and that’s one of the joys of the job; seeing someone that has reached their potential or is beginning to reach their potential.”

Cat 5 Rail’s training business is partnered with Hedland High School and other organisations, to provide students the ability to undertake a Cert 2 in Rail Infrastructure.

Boosting presence

Looking to take advantage of its valuable offering for the rail sector, Category 5 has launched a new website and increased its social media presence on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. Tobin says the company has an excellent reputation among its existing customers, and has managed to thrive since it was founded in 2009 by focusing on the needs of its customers.

“Good old-fashioned customer service, a sense of urgency and a passion for what we do has been the fuel to our growth and success,” he says. “Our work in the Pilbara has provided the opportunity to work with a number of tier-one companies and we have been able to replicate this across the country.”

Over 10 years, the company has grown from a sole operator to a team of more than 20 dedicated professionals within Cat 5 Rail alone, servicing markets in Western Australia, Victoria and New Zealand, and soon in other states across Australia. While Category 5 works across several sectors, Tobin says rail represents the “roots” of the business.

“Cat 5 has been built from our work in the rail sector and the business has been built from a real personalised family, local type atmosphere whereby we know our clients and employees as our family and friends,” he says. “A lot of the Cat 5 clients are long term clients that have been with us from the start. We have varying lengths of contract, but our relationships continue on for the long term.”



Changing times, changing needs

While known as a training solutions provider for the rail industry, over the last 16 years since its inception, the Centre for Excellence in Rail Training has become much more than that.

The Centre for Excellence in Rail Training (CERT) began as a training facility in Western Australia in 2003, offering training courses for all areas required by the rail industry nationally, including rail infrastructure, rail operations, rail safeworking, rail safety investigations, rail structures and rail safety management.

Since then, the organisation has grown to become the nation-wide choice for those training courses, as well as assessment services, but also an international player delivering courses in Indonesia, Malaysia and East Africa. CERT now also offers extensive training for workers in mining, port and engineering industries, as well as its core market in rail. They are also best placed for future rail innovations such as in-cab rail signalling systems and automatic train protection systems. In addition, CERT has established training facilities in WA (Bunbury, Perth and Port Hedland) to provide training services for high risk work licences, mobile equipment, first aid, fire equipment, and training for working at heights and confined spaces.

Part of the reason for the organisation coming to take this place in the industry, according to CERT national manager, Mark Haigh, is its “ability to holistically service the industry nationally, with independent, compliant and quality training solutions”. Having presided over some of the most significant growth in CERT’s operations, throughout 2005 and 2006, Haigh has been able to establish an agile training team, designed to meet the needs of industry. CERT’s trainers have a minimum of ten years, while most have more than 20 years, experience in the industry.

Trainers have worked in the delivery of rail infrastructure, rail operations, and rail safe-working training and assessment. During this time, CERT has seen changes in Australia’s rail labour market.

“The attempt to align rail safety worker competence to national units of competence, in order to allow people to work in all states and all networks has been the biggest change in my fifteen years in the rail training industry,” Haigh said. “Allowing rail workers to have portability in their skills gives them and their families the ability to move from project to project and have sustainable lifestyles. It also allows networks, contractors and employers in general access to competent staff who have experience and exposure to rail networks nationally.”

These changes have helped CERT grow into the business that it is today, having established training facilities and engaged trainers in all states of Australia. “CERT has and will travel anywhere to support rail safety workers in gaining competence which in turn assists them in gaining employment. Our demographic spread also mitigates costs to industry,” Haigh said.

Being capable of delivering its services in such an agile manner is another reason for the CERT’s success. Uniquely placed as it is within the Australian rail landscape, and with sixteen years’ experience, CERT holds such a comprehensive repository of information about the rail industry, that it has become the first port of call for those who are confused by the lack of, or by the mixed, information available about the rail industry. CERT staff field countless calls every week from people with questions as disparate as “how do I become a train driver” to “what medicals do I need?” CERT has expertise is competency consultancy in terms of skills mapping, organisational training needs analysis, mentoring and work skills coaching.

The organisation now intends to leverage its unique place in the industry and the wealth of knowledge of its trainers to become a one-stop shop for all information related to the rail industry. As such, CERT will soon be launching its new website answering these questions, from “RIW card – what is it and how do I get one?” to “what is rail infrastructure?” CERT will share its in-depth knowledge of the industry, making the it as transparent as possible.

Its major goal in this is to help students navigate the rail industry, whether it results in or even relates to students choosing a CERT course or not.

Delivering effective training solutions remains CERT’s core business, however, especially in light of the Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) predictions that Australia’s rail industry will struggle to cope as demand for labour peaks in the middle of the next decade and the workforce continues to age, during a time when the pipeline of rail infrastructure projects has never been bigger.

“Every state, every network in Australia is experiencing skills shortages. Investment in rail by all levels of government is high and the workforce is not keeping up with project demands. The rail industry has an ageing workforce and the investment in skills is required to ensure rail projects are sustainable,” Haigh said. CERT’s aim is to enable anyone who wants to, to be capable of meeting the rail industry’s needs.

While the organisation tailors customised cost effective and industry compliant training packages for Australia’s biggest rail networks, it is also agile enough to cater to individual needs. According to Haigh “CERT has a committed team of rail and vocational training experts dedicated to developing current and contextualised courseware to meet the needs of all rail projects nationally”.

“We are investing in the skills and currency of our trainers to ensure they can meet the demands of industry. We are not a labour hire company; we are training organisation that is committed to ensuring Australian rail safety workers have the skills to meet the needs of the rail industry for decades to come. Quality, compliance, responsiveness and flexibility in our delivery methodologies are key strategies in our business,” Haigh said.

When Paul, who is hearing impaired, required training for a new job role in Western Australia, CERT catered the course to suit his needs. The difficulty of translating the theoretical components of the course through Auslan meant Paul required a very specific environment to be able to attain a successful outcome. Paul worked with an Auslan interpreter over a course of months, rather than the usual one- or two-day courses, to translate the assessments and take extra time to slowly work through them, until Paul felt confident that he could complete the assessments.

Paul’s Employment Support Coordinator told CERT that “Paul’s self-esteem and morale has grown in leaps and bounds. From a business perspective, it’s another step in having a more flexible and can-do team which is good for everyone. CERT’s one-on-one training package delivered by Craig was certainly great value for money- thanks for making it happen.”

CERT has also partnered with another training solutions provider as part of a program designed to offer long-term unemployed and disadvantaged candidates the opportunity to complete work-based training and skills funded under the Skilling Queenslanders for Work (SQW) initiative. This is provided over an 8-10 week period across regional Queensland where rail-based employment opportunities are available. To keep as agile as possible, CERT is now in the process of changing its Student Management System.

The organisation says that is committed to investing in making the relevant changes to create a user-friendly, efficient and quick process to find and enrol in training courses. Once the transition is complete, there will be student and client portals available. From a business aspect, this will allow an employer to login and select any student in the system that has that client name listed as their employer, select them by name and book them into a selected course. It will also allow the client and individual student to view their training history and certificates.

Haigh emphasises CERT’s commitment to tackling the ongoing issues facing the future of the rail industry.

“Skills shortages, an aging workforce and access to complaint, current and cost affective training solutions are real and ongoing issues for the rail industry,” he said. “CERT has committed management, quality, training and administration teams that are conveniently situated nationally to assist rail safety workers and employers address these situations. CERT is also part of the public company Engenco, whose board is very supportive of ensuring rail industry skills are supported and developed in order to enable future projects and generations.”



Shadow transport minister calls for workforce research body

Federal shadow transport minister, Catherine King, reiterated her party’s promise to create a body to conduct research on the future of the industry workforce, in her address to the Rail, Tram and Bus union on Wednesday.

King described the party’s vision of a workforce forecasting and research body called Jobs and Skills Australia, under a similar model to Infrastructure Australia. The intention to create Jobs and Skills Australia was announced last month by Labour party leader, Anthony Albanese.

The body would be would assess the skills requirements for services where “government is the major funder and where demand is expected to change”, such as transport.

“This will include the manufacture, operation and maintenance of our public transport network,” said King.

The body will undertake workforce and skills analysis, and conduct capacity studies. It will be expected to review the adequacy of the training and vocational system, as well as deliver plans for targets groups such as the regions, workers over-55, and youth.

King said that she believes introducing new technology can create different job opportunities.

“I spoke yesterday with a major freight rail operator who is using real time condition monitoring to better forecast maintenance to reduce breakdowns. While that has replaced the task of physically walking the line inspecting trains in sidings. It has seen new jobs created in big data analytics, as well as increases in the maintenance schedule and maintenance jobs.”

However, transitioning jobs in industries like transport must be planned, she explained.

“People must always be at the heart of our transport system.”