Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand)

Leadership driven by customers

MTR’s Chief Executive Officer for Australia, Raymond Yuen, speaks about his aims for the corporation as it embarks on plans to expand its footprint in the Australia-New Zealand region.

2024 is shaping up to be a big year in Australia for Hong Kong-based public transport operator MTR, with milestone celebrations, a new metro line opening, a key project being delivered and the expansion of local operations.

MTR is celebrating two major milestones this year with its joint venture operators Metro Trains Sydney (MTS) and Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM). 

MTR first brought its decades of metro operations experience to Australia in 2008-2009, and is incredibly proud to be the lead JV partner for MTM, and MTS.

MTM won the Melbourne Trains franchise in 2009.  Since then, there has been transformation across the Melbourne network with a huge amount of new assets delivered, new technology integrated and significant increase in performance levels.

MTS is the operator and maintainer for the Sydney Metro Northwest line and has spent almost five years running Australia’s only automated metro service. 

The MTS team delivers an incredibly high performing service and are preparing their teams for the Sydney Metro City and Southwest line opening, which will see MTS operate the first ever automated trains under the Sydney Harbour into Sydney’s CBD.

MTR is currently in the testing and commissioning phase for the Trains and Systems contract for the City section of Sydney Metro’s City and Southwest project, which will extend the automated Sydney Metro Northwest metro line through the Sydney CBD to Bankstown. 

The corporation is also looking to expand its metro operations and has been shortlisted for two packages on the Sydney Metro West project.

Raymond Yuen (right) with Metro Trains Sydney CEO Daniel Williams. Image/MTR

As well, MTR will be hoping to install its highly-regarded Rail plus Property model into not just Australia, but also New Zealand, where it plans to establish a stronger foothold.

The accomplishments are impressive for a company which has only been in Australia for 15 years, with further growth and success targeted as part of the MTR strategy.

Tasked with achieving these goals is MTR’s Chief Executive Officer for Australia, Raymond Yuen, who took up the reins almost two years ago. Rail Express spoke to Yuen about his career, his goals for MTR in the Australasian region, and how he plans to bring these about.

How did you enter the industry?

“I held various managerial and executive positions in the aviation and energy sector before joining MTR, with main focus on operational and high-level strategic planning, marketing and pricing, customer analytics and experience, frontend and backend information systems, process improvement and quality control,” Yuen said. 

“I am a very customer-focused person and I was looking for an industry that had direct relationships to customers and was an integral part of their lives. MTR provided this link and at its heart is a customer centric business, where the very business model is based on providing the best possible experience for our customers.

“I joined MTR in 2015 as General Manager – Marketing and Planning, with the primary responsibilities of formulating and implementing effective marketing strategies for the corporation’s railway services, particularly including pricing strategies to balance the interests of all stakeholder groups, as well as fare payment strategies to drive customer satisfaction and cost management. 

“I was invited to be part of the company’s transformation journey, helping to create and implement a new corporate strategy aimed at improving performance, growing communities and keeping cities moving sustainably. 

“That allowed me to have a better understanding about the whole end-to-end value chain for the rail industry: how to deliver service from the back end, how to purchase the trains, how to maintain them, how to deliver to the operator to run the business and service every day.  On the back of that work, I was appointed as CEO for the Australian Business in March 2022.

“I knew I was joining a great company in MTR, with its work values and integrity close to my own. It was a company that I grew up with, and being born and raised in Hong Kong, was a brand I was proud of.”

What is your management strategy?

“I work very closely with my teams,” Yuen said. “Right from day one, when I talked to my leadership team, the focus was on working together and aligning priorities. Our Australian business strategy has three key objectives: maintaining focus, delivery and growth. They do a very good job of delivering the MTR brand in Australia.

“MTR is a global leader in metro business and it takes a disciplined team to maintain focus and transfer our expertise into our contracts to ensure clients get the best possible outcome. To achieve this, it starts with our team. MTR works hard to attract the right people to join our teams, our people deliver on our priorities and deliver for clients.

“With MTM and MTS, we aim to make sure that we deliver strong results for our clients and their end users. This ranges from customer-focused delivery and high levels of performance to asset management improvements and project delivery leadership.

“At the same time, we are in for the long term in Australia. We need to maintain a very good relationship with our clients and deliver what they need whilst providing additional value. If there is a case where we can draw some of our global experience – not only from Hong Kong, but also from our global hubs like Mainland China, UK and Europe – we are more than happy to do so.

“We have a lot of good talent. As we deliver our projects successfully, we can explore more growth opportunities, including New Zealand and the famous MTR Rail plus Property model.”

How do you work with Australian clients?

“We always want to show how we can make use of our successes in Hong Kong and our global hubs, and apply these to here,” Yuen said.

“Customer-centric thinking and stakeholder management are very important for MTR and that’s why we have taken extra steps to ensure that our expertise is embedded into all of our projects and operations. So a key role for me is ensuring that I have close relationships with our clients, partners and customers and to deliver a lot of information sharing.

“We regularly have our Hong Kong and global experts involved to help with projects, new line openings or operational improvements, and we share our experience, best practices, the innovations and knowledge. MTR invests and applies latest technologies to improve customer experience and asset performance.

“For example, we have developed AI tools to reduce energy consumption with very encouraging results coming from trails in stations, commercials buildings and shopping malls.

“MTR has for many years operated a global database to collate and share hundreds of technology solutions among our global hubs. This allows any MTR group member who has identified an improvement opportunity or encountered an issue to quickly search a database and see if another team has experienced something similar, review their process, proposed solution and outcomes, and contact the team directly for more information.

“We developed a mobile app in Hong Kong which is built to simplify and enhance our customers’ daily travelling and shopping experience. It combines different transport modes, ticketing and shopping functions at various MTR shopping malls, and allows MTR to provide highly integrated, targeted and real time information to our customers. When there is an incident, this app is particularly useful, allowing customers to make informed decisions on whether to take alternate routes in MTR system or another mode of transport. 

“And more recently, MTR has introduced additional contactless payment options to the ticketing system which will bring greater convenience to local passengers and travelers as well as mark a key milestone in MTR’s journey in smart mobility.

“So that kind of digitisation technology is something we share with metros or even state governments, to make the best use of data to enhance the passenger experience.

“MTR also understands that our people are the most important part of MTR and we often send people to Hong Kong or elsewhere for familiarisation visits as we believe that knowledge gained from international exposure to our hubs is of benefit is to the local market in Australia.”

“So the key is how we can make use of our international network to help our future leaders.”

How do you plan on expanding the Rail plus Property (R+P) model?

MTR pioneered the concept in Hong Kong, where MTR, the government and developers work together to deliver integrated community precincts and transport projects. MTR plans, finances and builds new metro lines; in return the government provides the operator with land “development rights” at stations or depots along the route. 

Yuen said the model has much potential in Australia. 

“Australian cities have very good infrastructure and transport nodes are an incredible location to build highly integrated communities and housing projects. Developing R+P projects also has the advantage of offsetting a portion of the transport project’s capital or operational expenses,” he said.

 “New Zealand faces similar challenges: they have got a good plan and want better value capture around the infrastructure, and also need to increase availability of new housing stock. 

“One of the key points in R+P is knowledge-sharing about successful integration and ensuring that we can help the clients in their journey.”

What does the future hold for MTR in Australia?

“MTR is a world class company and we have been very privileged to play a role in the growth of Melbourne and Sydney for 15 years. The cities are definitely world class and we plan to continue being a key driver of innovation and customer focused operations in Australia and New Zealand for a long time to come,” Yuen said.

“MTR’s global depth is a unique asset which we have leveraged to help local clients build customer-focused communities, deliver the high performing metros and build local talent.

“In the past five years, we’ve opened multiple automated metros around the world. Sydney Metro City and Southwest project and its driverless trains will be next, followed by Melbourne Metro tunnel.

“Bringing that real world global experience about issues that happened during openings, and how to best formulate that strategy to ensure the clients get their desired outcome on day one, is incredibly important.”