On the second day of AusRAIL, panellists highlighted that Australasia had a great opportunity to implement innovation in the rail industry, but there is a long way to go yet.
In her shadow minister’s address, Catherine King set out that there is a significant opportunity to harness the massive investment pipeline in rail to create jobs and build a sustainable rail industry, not only in the construction stage but in the manufacturing and supply sectors of the industry. Noting that the manufacturing sector in particular is fragmented and inefficient, King highlighted Labor’s rail manufacturing plan as one initiative to harness the rail investment pipeline.
For Labor, King outlined, this would mean, “we must ensure that as much government spending as possible benefits Australian workers”.
The international keynote from Joshua Schank, chief innovation officer at LA Metro, took another approach in connecting innovation to rail investment. Schank outlined that transportation authorities have the ability to lead, incubate, and transform, when it comes to the latest ideas in transportation.
This begins with setting a vision for the transportation system a city or region wishes to have, and then spreading the net wide to harness the best ideas to make the vision a reality. In Schank and Los Angeles’ case, this came from working with the private sector through an unsolicited proposals process to find new solutions to old problems. In one example, this led to LA Metro working with a private on-demand transportation provider to launch a micro-mobility service to cover the last mile between station and destination.
Then, with Schank joining a panel of rail industry experts, discussion moved to what are the barriers to innovation occurring in Australia.
Commonly cited impediments included the lack of standardisation and differing policies between states limiting the ability of rail businesses to find scale locally. However, panellists also highlighted that in some areas, such as condition monitoring and heavy haul networks, Australia was a leader and that here the task was to build on these achievements and apply their insights to other sectors.
Panellists further noted that with drivers to innovation such as the rapid adoption of new technologies and ways of working during COVID-19, and future imperatives such as the need to increase sustainability, there is the opportunity to enable further innovation.