ARTC hiring women in Hunter. Photo: Youtube / ARTC

Women shaping rail

This week the rail industry as well as the wider industrial sector recognised the role of women in engineering roles for International Women in Engineering Day, held on June 23.

Now in its seventh year, the theme of this year’s event was ‘Shape the World’, as rail organisations highlighted the contribution of women to the world’s mobility and transportation networks.

The Level Crossing Removal Project highlighted the contribution of women working on the major project, demonstrating the potential to shape the way the city moves through engineering.

Senior project manager Mahnaz Shilani said that working on a project such as the Level Crossing Removal Project is particularly rewarding.

“I get to transform the way Victorian’s live and work and travel, I provide the outputs Victorians expect and that’s quite rewarding.”

Engineering coordinator Hazel Balod said that the rail industry has a place for a diversity of people.

“If you’re interested in solving problems, in seeing how things get built, then there’s definitely a place in this industry for you.”

To continue celebrating and acknowledging the achievements of women in the rail and wider industrial sector, Rail Express is co-presenting the Women in Industry Awards.

Nominations are open now and cover a variety of roles, including mentoring, safety advocacy, and industry advocacy.

Rail Express encourages you to nominate yourself or someone you know – nominations close in just a couple of weeks on Friday, July 3.

Why celebrating diversity and emerging rail specialists matters

Now is the time for the rail industry to embrace diversity and new ways of finding solutions, write Thomas Kerr, RTAA president, and Laurena Basutu, RTAA marketing manager.

The world has changed dramatically. For the rail industry, the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed how we work and communicate with others to deliver the services and infrastructure that our community needs.

Although challenging, COVID-19 has created an opportunity for the industry to creatively tackle another key challenge – meeting the significant demand generated by the pipeline of projects in Australasia. Specifically, ensuring that the rail industry workforce has the capacity and capability required.

This challenge presents us with an opportunity to enhance the diversity of the industry workforce by tapping into the broader ecosystem of talent from other industries such as the airline and hospitality sectors, while also celebrating and nurturing the talents of emerging rail professionals. Their creativity and innovation will build the industry’s resilience and capacity now and into the future.

The Rail Track Association Australia (RTAA) Emerging Rail Specialist Award and Diversity Award has gone some way to meeting this challenge by inspiring individuals and companies to rise to the significant talent constraints we face. Ultimately, encouraging, celebrating, and building the capacity of emerging rail specialists will help us retain the knowledge and foster the innovation required to ensure the success and sustainability of our industry.

RTAA MEMBER SPOTLIGHT – JAMES DONOVAN – 2017 RTAA EMERGING RAIL SPECIALIST AWARD WINNER
James Donovan defines excellence as “a willingness to not accept the status quo. Trying to address existing problems in everyday tasks with a novel approach and being willing to consider a different way of doing things to achieve a better result.”

Donovan, a systems interface engineer for MTR Australia, was nominated for the RTAA Emerging rail specialist award by his then employer Metro Trains Melbourne for his work on a project to automate the isolation and earthing of the overhead wiring system. The benefits included significantly faster and safer track access both for maintenance and incident response.

Attending InnoTrans 2018 was a “gunzel’s dream” for Donovan. “I came away with many new rail friends, and a greater appreciation of how rail works outside of Australia. The rail industry in Australia (and across the rest of the world) heavily relies on the import of specific products from other countries, which is a long and expensive process. All of these organisations are seeing unprecedented orders, as the global push on rail continues. It was valuable to understand the challenges these international organisations face, to better inform the implications any impact to their business may have on our local business.”

The best advice Donovan can offer other emerging rail specialists is “grab any opportunity that comes your way. Both personal and professional development comes from new opportunities and experiences. Even if you have difficulty, there are so many helpful and knowledgeable people within the industry that would be keen to provide their insight.”

If you know a talented emerging rail specialist who has demonstrated innovation and creativity in their field, nominate them for the RTAA Emerging Rail Specialist award: www. rtaa.org.au/services/emerging-rail-specialist- award.html. The winner will receive up to $10,000 to attend an international transport conference of their choice. Entries close June 26, 2020.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU
During this time, things many not be exactly business as usual as we adapt to different ways of connecting. It is important for us at the RTAA to keep in touch. Let us know the best way to connect to help you connect with others by completing this simple four question survey: www.surveymonkey.com/r/KYCMVD6.

For more information on the RTAA contact: businessmanager@rtaa.org.au or follow RTAA on Twitter: @RailTAA, LinkedIn: @Rail Track Association Australia – RTAA, and Facebook: @RailTAA.

Worker transfer deal maintains train manufacturing jobs in Ballarat

The Victorian government has brokered a deal to transfer manufacturing staff from Alstom’s manufacturing site in Ballarat to Bombardier’s maintenance depot in the same regional town.

The deal was agreed to by the Victorian government, the two major manufacturers, and unions, and will see 27 of Alstom’s permanent manufacturing staff redeployed to work on the VLocity train maintenance program, which will be carried out at Bombardier’s Ballarat workshop.

Alstom workers who have not been redeployed will continue working on other rollingstock projects, said Minister for Public Transport, Melissa Horne.

“We’re helping keep these highly skilled manufacturing jobs in Ballarat – giving certainty to workers and their families.”

The deal comes after speculation over the future of Alstom’s Ballarat workforce once the final X’Trapolis trains in the current order are completed. While the Victorian government has committed to an order of X’Trapolis 2.0 trains, designs are still being completed, leaving the workforce in limbo. Victorian secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) Luba Grigorovitch said that the jobs could have disappeared altogether.

“There was the potential for these regional jobs to be lost, and I’m really pleased that the state government applied the pressure that was necessary to ensure that the redeployment of the employees has been facilitated.”

The Victorian government has committed $12 million to Alstom to continue designing the X’Trapolis 2.0 trainsets.

Grigorovitch welcomed the investment but said that a confirmed order was needed.

“The investment in the design phase is only the first step and the workers and their families will only truly be secure once they see an order of much needed X’Trapolis 2.0s.”

By redeploying the workers onto the VLocity fleet, maintenance schedules will be sped up, said Horne.

“Alstom workers will gain new experience and skills carrying out vital maintenance on our VLocity fleet – helping to keep services moving across regional Victoria.”

Addressing the rail industry’s engineering deficit

The Australian rail industry has experienced a shortage in key engineering skills for many years now, in part due to the ageing workforce. One solution to this issue is to increase the quality and quantity of training being provided. Whether it be given to junior engineers or retraining experienced engineers, a well-trained and experienced workforce is a fundamental requirement of any successful project. Formed in 2016, Omada Rail Systems is growing rapidly and has established itself as a leading provider of rail systems management and engineering services throughout Australia. As a company focused on growth and innovation, Omada is undertaking a number of initiatives to tackle this issue head on.

Upgrading training facilities
Australia’s current rail project boom has led to a deficit of highly experienced and skilled engineers, particularly in signalling. With an abundance of major projects being delivered concurrently, such as Inland Rail, Cross River Rail, and the Melbourne Metro Tunnel, the industry’s engineering resources are stretched thin. While being involved in many of these major projects, Omada Rail Systems has been chosen to complete a project aimed at tackling Australia’s engineering shortfall. This project is to upgrade the signalling facilities at the Rail Academy in Newport, Victoria’s only specialist rail training facility. Omada’s goal in this project is to transform the Rail Academy into one of the best equipped facilities in the world.

Omada’s junior engineers will be involved in all aspects of the Rail Academy project while under the mentorship and strict guidance of senior staff. This ensures they gain valuable hands on experience and develop a well-rounded set of skills, while completing work to Omada’s high standards. This work allows Omada to demonstrate its signal engineering capabilities, ranging from project inception through to the testing and commissioning phase. Omada will be creating numerous designs detailing different signalling and infrastructure scenarios. Alongside these designs, there will be duplicates made with intentional faults, to provide training in fault finding. When asked about his views on the project, Omada Rail Systems director Christopher Miller said, “This project is an exciting opportunity for Omada Rail Systems to enhance the development of our own engineers, and once completed, all engineers who train there.”

Bringing on engineers
Providing junior engineers with valuable experience in projects enhances their training and builds a new generation of engineers with the necessary knowledge and skill base to deliver Australia’s pipeline of rail projects. Over the course of Omada’s three-year graduate program, cadets are exposed to every aspect of rail signalling, from planning and design all the way through to testing and commissioning.

Offering a complete range of engineering and management services across all aspects of the project life cycle, including planning & scoping, feasibility studies, and preliminary & detailed design, Omada is constantly looking to develop all areas of their team. As a growing company with ongoing projects across Australia, there are a great deal of opportunities available to build on their current team. Putting a strong emphasis on Omada’s capability to train new and current staff, Miller said, “It doesn’t concern me if people are not superstars on paper, our engineers can guide and teach them along the way. As long as they have a positive attitude, a strong work ethic and are a team player, we can give them all the training required.”

Boosting the industry’s talent pool
Alongside their engineering capabilities, Omada has subject matter experts providing signalling competency assessments, qualified to assess Metro Trains Melbourne, V/Line, and ARTC competencies. This service provides industry engineers with a value for money option when updating or attaining their competency, supplying the industry with a greater number of qualified engineers. According to Omada’s website analytics, 37.25 per cent of people looking for competency assessments are under 35, showing that there is a large talent pool of young engineers looking to develop their competencies and help drive Australian rail forward.

Following the delivery of a number of successful commissionings in Queensland, NSW, and Victoria, and the impending increased demand of testing and commissioning resources, Omada has proactively grown their testing team. Now capable of taking on much larger projects, Omada’s growth has created opportunities for inexperienced but hard working engineers to gain the valuable experience and training they require.

To find out more about Omada Rail Systems and the work they are doing, head to their website to watch their capabilities video or read their latest update. www.omadarail.com

Working groups to address skills, standards to improve safety, productivity

Three working groups have been formed to improve the productivity and safety of the rail industry, and address key issue facing the sector.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack announced the working groups, which were agreed upon by Commonwealth, state, and territory government as part of the National Rail Action Plan.

“We are improving Australia’s rail system by continuing to align and harmonise operating rules, infrastructure and operational standards and systems across the national network.,” said McCormack.

The three groups cover skills and labour, interoperability, and harmonising national standards.

“The Australian government is committed to delivering critical rail infrastructure and improving the safety and productivity of rail operations and we are overseeing a major wave of investment in rail,” said McCormack.

The National Rail Action Plan was agreed upon by state and federal transport ministers as part of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Transport and Infrastructure Council, and is implemented by the National Transport Commission.

The leadership of each of the working groups includes government and industry representatives. CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie will co-chair the skills and labour working group with Tony Braxton-Smith, CEO of the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. Simon Ormsby, group executive strategy at the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), will co-chair a group on interoperability with the NTC Chair, Carolyn Walsh. Deb Spring, CEO of the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), will co-chair a working group on harmonising national standards with Ben Phyland from the Victorian Department of Transport.

“The National Rail Action Plan will complement the 10-year $10 billion National Rail Program, which is designed to help make our cities more liveable and efficient as they grow. The plan also aims to reduce the burden on our roads, provide more reliable transport networks and support our efforts to decentralise our economy and grow regional Australia,” said McCormack.

Wilkie said that the formation of these groups will tackle ongoing challenges in the rail sector, and encourage broader economic growth.

“We have long known that a national focus is crucial to ensuring the rail industry can continue to deliver the efficiency and productivity needed to drive Australia’s economic growth. These working groups will promote collaboration and support a truly national vision for rail.”

The National Rail Action Plan notes that the large pipeline of rail investment has created challenges in terms of critical skills in construction, operations, and manufacturing.

“There is no question we will need more skilled people in rail in the coming years. The working group will be looking at how we can collectively promote the industry as a great place to work. There is a real diversity of careers available in the industry and we need to make sure there are clear pathways to encourage the best and brightest to join us,” said Wilkie.

The Plan also sets out that the multiplicity of standards for infrastructure, rollingstock and components, safe work, and communications and control systems have presented a regulatory barrier to the rail industry. Addressing this will be one of the tasks of the working groups.

“The ARA also looks forward to engaging with the working groups on interoperability and harmonising national standards. Greater national consistency would allow us to get more value out of investment in rail and further streamline passenger and freight operations,” said Wilkie. “The calibre of industry representatives taking part in these groups really highlights how important the focus on these issues is.”

team

New team to track occupancy and facilitate social distancing on Sydney Trains

Sydney Trains has a new team who will be monitoring CCTV and passenger data to reduce crowding on the network.

Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance announced the new team, which will encourage physical distancing on the transport network.

“This dedicated team of 80 people will be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Sydney Trains network. Every day teams will monitor 11,000 CCTV cameras and utilise new real time app technology to monitor patronage numbers and help facilitate physical distancing across the rail network,” he said.

Transport for NSW secretary Rodd Staples said that the new team is in addition to preventative measures on platforms and in carriages.

“Last week we launched the ‘No Dot, No Spot’ campaign to help customers physically distance and there has been an extra 132,000 hours of cleaning since March, with regular deep cleans and hand sanitiser units being rolled at 163 staffed stations,” said Staples.

The NSW government has been encouraging commuters to stay off public transport unless they must use it, and has announced pop-up carparks and cycle lanes to facilitate alternative travel arrangements.

Although patronage levels remain low, there have been some increases as restrictions begin to lift. Trains are limited to carrying 32 per cent of their regular capacity.

Sydney Trains chief customer officer Suzanne Holden said that the new team would trial innovative approaches based on data collected around the network.

“I could not be more proud to lead a team of people who have spent long hours innovating and finding solutions to transport problems we have never experienced in our lifetimes. New features we have created for loading data technology and this new pilot program is setting the standard for the rest of the country.”

track worker

Global study to provide best practices for track worker safety

Australian rail safety organisations will conduct a global investigation of best practices to inform track worker safety practices.

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) have tasked the Australian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) to report to the Australian industry on promising initiatives overseas.

ONRSR chief executive Sue McCarrey said that there is always room for improvement.

“This is about saving lives. Too many track workers have lost their lives in tragic and, on many occasions, avoidable accidents and we must always be exploring what more can be done to prevent them,” she said.

“Track worker safety is a long-standing national priority for ONRSR and together with our partner agencies we have an opportunity to facilitate really effective change.”

Over the next six months, ACRI will explore and identify existing technology and techniques which improve track worker safety. The research institute will then understand how these practices can be applied locally or modified to fit Australian standards, providing insights into how operators can implement the approaches.

RISSB CEO Deb Spring said that the investigation would take a comprehensive look at safety.

“This project will form a critical component of a suite of related RISSB initiatives, offering both engineering solutions and exploring options around planning, communication and culture,” she said.

“This important work will help the Australian rail industry drive improvements in the safety of its most important asset – our people.”

Once a survey of international best practices is complete, ACRI will develop a database of track worker safety technology based on international case studies. A final report based on local stakeholder engagement will enumerate the best options for the Australian rail industry.

ACRI chief executive Andrew Meier said the organisation was proud to work with RISSB and ONRSR on the project.

“Trusted information made readily available is vital to rail decision making,” he said.

Contracts announced for More Trains, More Services infrastructure upgrades

The NSW government has announced the two successful tenderers as part of the next stage of construction on the $4.3 billion More Trains, More Services upgrades.

The Next Rail partnership of John Holland and Jacobs will fulfil the contract between Central and Hurstville, and Transport for Tomorrow – made up of Laing O’Rouke and KBR – will work from Mortdale to Kiama. Each contract is worth about $300 million.

The program of works includes upgrades to rail infrastructure such as stabling yards, signalling, track, station platforms, and power supply on the South Coast, Illawarra and T8 Airport Lines.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that the works would enable better services on each line.

“The work will support the introduction of new suburban and intercity trains and allow us to deliver more frequent train services, with less wait times and a more comfortable journey for customers on the T4 Illawarra, T8 Airport and South Coast lines,” he said.

“We’re prioritising these lines because they are among the busiest on the network, catering for 440,000 trips in a typical day, which is around one third of daily rail customers.”

Construction will begin in the middle of 2020 and be completed ahead of the service improvements, which are scheduled for late 2022.

Passengers will see a 20 per cent increase in peak services on the T4 Illawarra Line, with space for up to 3,600 more travellers, equivalent to an extra three services an hour in the peak from interchanges such as Hurstville and Sutherland. There will be a 60 per cent increase on the T8 Airport line at the International, Domestic, Mascot, and Green Square stations with the capacity for an extra 2,400 passengers.

On the South Coast Line station platforms will be lengthened to accommodate the 10 car trains of the New Intercity Fleet trains as well as an extra off peak service each hour between Wollongong and the Sydney CBD, bringing frequency to a train every 30 minutes.

Constance said that the work will allow for an employment boost across a number of professions, including engineers, trades workers, and apprentices.

“Today’s announcement means we are keeping people in work and creating about 350 direct new jobs and around 200 indirect jobs located either in Sydney or on the South Coast.”

New board members announced for Cross River Rail Delivery Authority

The Queensland government has appointed five new members to the governing board of the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority.

The board is now comprised of an array of senior Queensland public servants, and is chaired by Damien Walker, director-general, Department of Innovation and Tourism Industry Development.

In addition to the director general of the Department of Transport and Main Roads, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, and the Under Treasurer, who are required to be on the board in the relevant legislation, the five members of the board are from the State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning, Housing and Public Works, Innovation and Tourism Industry Development, and Transport and Main Roads departments.

The appointment of new board members follows the removal of the previous Cross River Rail Board. Removed board members were Paul Lucas, former Queensland Attorney General, former NSW chief scientist & engineer Mary O’Kane, CEO of State Gas Ltd, Lucy Snelling, former director general of the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet John Lee, Brisbane City Council nominee John McEvoy, and Airservices Australia board member Tim Rothwell.

The previous board’s terms were to expire in April 2020, however in February Minister for Cross River Rail Kate Jones informed them that their terms will not be renewed.

At the time, Jones said that the move to replace the board was about improving compliance.

“It is clear to me and to Cabinet that now we have moved from the procurement phase to the construction phase of the project we need to beef up compliance,” said Jones.

“I want to ensure I have the right people with the right skills to deliver this project and hold CPB and Pulse Consortium to account.”

CPB Contractors was put into the spotlight by construction union CFMEU, which has counted 50 breaches of Workplace Health & Safety laws since early demolition work begun at Cross River Rail sites six months ago.

“To have more than 50 enforcement notices issued in this space of time on one project is just extraordinary – if this was a motorist behind the wheel of a car you’d strip the driver of their licence and impound the vehicle in the interests of public safety,” said CFMEU assistant secretary Jade Ingham.

CPB Contractors was contacted however declined to comment.

Growing a nation-building industry

Fourteen days into her tenure as CEO of the ARA, Rail Express sat down with Caroline Wilkie for an exclusive interview – her first major interview since taking over from incoming chairman, Danny Broad.

In her opening address to the Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) Light Rail 2020 conference, the new CEO of the ARA, Caroline Wilkie highlighted that the next 10 to 15 years would see the opening up of major opportunities across the rail sector.

In almost each major city in Australia, a new rail project will begin operating in this period. In Canberra, stage 2A of the light rail project is scheduled to open as early as 2023. In Melbourne, the Melbourne Metro tunnel is looking at completion in 2025. In Perth, the Metronet project’s components will start to come online from 2021. In Queensland, Cross River Rail is due to be completed in 2024, while on the Gold Coast, stage 3A of the Light Rail project could be up and running by 2023. Finally, in Sydney the next stage of the Sydney Metro is scheduled for opening in 2024.

While there will be many opportunities for ribbon cutting at each of these projects’ opening days, it will be ensuring that the continued benefit of each rail project extends from the construction into the operational phase that animates Wilkie as she makes her mark on the industry.

“Now is a good time to talk about what role rail will have into the future.”

Wilkie, who was for nine years the CEO of the Australian Airports Association (AAA), highlighted that she would be taking a collaborative approach to communicating these benefits and looking for future opportunities.

“If I’ve got to a media release or I’m banging on the door of a minister’s office, I certainly feel like I’ve not done the right thing,” said Wilkie.

To successfully advocate for an industry sector as the head of its representative association, Wilkie nominates three essential ingredients. Number one being research.

“Define the issue. A clear policy proposal backed by research should be the basis of your advocacy. If you can’t present the facts in a coherent narrative you’re not going to get very far.”

The next step, highlighted Wilkie, was having a cohesive voice as an industry.

“The second thing is then having all the partners and stakeholders on board. There’s no point us advocating for an outcome on behalf of a third party if that third party isn’t saying the same thing,” said Wilkie.

This also extends to ensuring that the government department that she is working with is onboard to convince the key decision-maker.

“If you can’t get the department on your side – both at a state and federal level – they’re not going to write a favourable brief up to the minister,” said Wilkie, who has been closely involved with federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s office during her time at the AAA.

“The minister is going to have a million and one things on his plate and if I’m coming in and saying one thing and the department is saying something opposite, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

The final element is understanding but not playing the politics, said Wilkie.

“Playing a straight bat is really important. I know that there’s government and there’s opposition, but at the AAA I always made sure that we briefed both, to make sure that everyone is aware of our views. That has been the ARA’s history as well, and I intend to maintain that bi-partisan approach.

“I will never attack the government in the media, it’s making sure that those in the departments that we talk to, state or federal level, and the ministers, state or federal, know that we’re positive partners and that we really want to engage with them in a constructive fashion.”

EXPERIENCE IN MAKING THINGS HAPPEN
In her nine years at the AAA, Wilkie oversaw a number of initiatives, but in 2019 her efforts paid off in the form of an unprecedented $100 million fund for regional airports. The products of two years of lobbying, the funding vindicated Wilkie’s collaborative approach to advocacy.

“When we started the campaign, we knew it would take two years and we were right it took two years. We knew we were not going to get this budget cycle, but we could catch the next one if we do the right meetings, get the right messages out there, and generate the right noise and buzz.”

The effort was in the context of infrastructure being devolved to local councils, who were unable to pay for the upkeep of expensive and underutilised assets. Wilkie recalled that essential to the campaign’s ultimate success was the range of voices engaged in the campaign.

“One of the greatest things we did was actually getting our members to be advocates for us, talking to their local member about why it was important and getting that local member to talk to the Deputy Prime Minister.”

The program’s ultimate success drew on these insights while also being realistic about what could be achieved within that timeframe.

“Too often you see some people saying, ‘We want this and that.’ But to be successful, you need to understand to the perspective of the Government of the day and the circumstances in which it is operating. You need to be collegiate in understanding the department’s mandate and its context, ” said Wilkie. “For example, there’s no point going to the Commonwealth this year and asking for additional expenditure, because we’re in a difficult period with the bushfires and coronavirus, so we’re planning conversations for next year.”

However, Wilkie’s experience at the AAA also highlighted that just as much as getting government to fund something or take an action, effective industry leadership can be just as much about ensuring a change does not happen.

In 2012, a proposal was put forward for airports to cover the cost of the presence of Australian Federal Police (AFP) at the facilities.

“It was a classic case of lobbying against a bad policy,” said Wilkie. “Sometimes the greatest achievement is making something not happen.”

Framing the issue as one of national security, and therefore the responsibility of the federal government, and getting other stakeholders on board, was to ensure this extra cost was not imposed on airports.

“I think the greatest traction we got in that campaign was arguing that if you want to charge us for that, we want KPIs, we want to have a say over the resourcing,” said Wilkie. “If we’re paying for it, then we want a say and you can well imagine the AFP saying ‘Absolutely not, this is a national security issue.’ This, of course, was our whole argument in the first place. We were able to get a lot of people in the community on board for this particular campaign.”

In other areas, Wilkie has found the value of research in effecting change. In late 2019, the Productivity Commission finalised a report into the airport sector, which found that the current regulation of the sector was fit-for-purpose.

“We were engaging with the Productivity Commission on the facts because we took the view that as they are the greatest economic minds in the country, they will consider the case on its economic merits. That was probably the best example in my time at the AAA of fact-based research and making sure that you got all your members to really be focused on that fact-based research.”

Wilkie sees reports such as the Value of Rail report, prepared for the ARA by Deloitte Access Economics as forming this evidence base for government decision-making, and is something that Wilkie will be looking to update further.

CONTRIBUTING TO THE GREATER GOOD
With these experiences under her belt, Wilkie is aware of the differences between the airport and rail sector, one that she describes as “issues rich”.

“After my first 14 days it’s pretty clear to me that there are distinct groups in the membership, and they each have their distinct issues. I think we can clearly advocate for each of the sectors’ needs without conflicting with someone else.”

Rather than seeing these different sectors as competing Wilkie highlighted that in coming together, the sectors can improve outcomes for the industry as a whole.

“With any membership organisation you go on the principle of ‘do no harm’, as in with any policy I don’t want to advance one member at the expense of another member. More broadly you want to do what’s best for the industry as a whole.”

Apart from her experience heading the AAA, Wilkie has a deep knowledge of the role of industry associations and peak organisations from prior roles at the Tourism and Transport Forum and the Financial Planning Association.

“I love working in industry associations. I enjoy the variety of the role as CEO and I love the advocating for the greater good,” she said.

“For all the work that I did at the AAA the thing that brought me the greatest joy was doing anything that helped people in regional communities, hence why I always say that getting that funding for regional communities is our proudest professional moment. It was a gut-wrenching decision to decide to leave but I had always looked very warmly on the ARA, I knew Danny Broad previously. I am excited about rail and I like the fact that it’s a nation-building industry. It still has that connection with the regions, and it’s obviously got a really exciting trajectory.”

Less than a month into the job, Wilkie is already looking at where rail can have a greater presence in the national conversation.

“We’re looking at doing refresh on some of our statistics; what is the value of rail and why is it important, particularly after the summer bushfires the issues of climate change and emissions are very much front and centre in the policy debate.”

As Europe increases its spending on rail to reduce the carbon footprint of mobility, Wilkie sees the ARA as having a role to play in setting the agenda for a decarbonised economy.

“That’s an area where rail has an amazing story to tell about what it can do, not only in metro areas in terms of increasing use of passenger transport, but even in regional areas, and particularly in terms of freight.”

In other areas, Wilkie is hoping to continue the work already being done by the ARA.

“The other area that’s a big focus for the ARA and which I will take the mantle up on, is about workforce development and skills development. I think that promoting rail employment as something that’s not old fashioned, but modern and dynamic is important. The many environmental benefits of our industry lends itself to being promoted as a green alternative to enriching life. That modern perception will actually greatly impact making it an employer of choice and making younger people decide to work in rail.”

In these areas, Wilkie has been doing her own, firsthand research.

“I grew up in the Hills district in Sydney and now we have the North West Metro. Over Christmas I took my son on it, just to go and ride it, because it was extraordinary. Having grown up in Castle Hill, the best you could hope for was an occasional bus down to Parramatta. So for kids, the new Metro has opened up travel, and allowed people to engage with the city. With developments like that you’re seeing people have a legitimate choice and that’s the difference.”

NEXT STEPS
Wilkie, who describes herself as “conservative” in her approach to association budgeting, stresses that the current ARA team and structure is key to the ongoing success of the association.

“Listening is going to be key in this period and then we’ll go to the ARA Board with a rough plan of how we can service the needs of the distinct groups within the rail industry. Then can we ask for each of these issues what do we need to do? Do we start from basics, is it a research project, do we need to do a submission to government?”

More broadly, Wilkie notes that the role of the industry association is to find areas that can benefit the sector as a whole.

“I think for a body like the ARA, it’s not necessarily about advocating for build more, I see a role for us in trying to move the industry to do better and more with what we have. So, what are the vagaries of the national system that aren’t working for us as an industry, and where can we see productivity improvements? It’s not particularly sexy. I don’t know that anyone can cut a ribbon around it, but when you look at the productivity for the sector, that’s where we as the ARA can actually add the greatest value.

“That really comes back to what the role of the association is about, bringing together the voices of the sector, and putting their issues front and centre with the decision makers.

“As a collective voice, we can achieve things for industry.”