Thursday 20th Feb, 2020

NTC to develop action plan for skills, harmonisation of standards

Australia’s transport ministers have asked the National Transport Commission to develop an action plan to address the skills shortage facing the rail industry.

During the 11th meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council – which includes transport and infrastructure ministers from all the states and territories and the federal government – a range of senior leaders from rail construction, infrastructure and operations firms had a chance to raise key issues facing the sector.

The ministers subsequently resolved to refer two key challenges to the National Transport Commission (NTC): the supply of skills and labour, and the harmonisation of rail industry standards.

The council’s communique said the NTC had been asked “to develop and circulate an action plan ahead of the November council meeting to focus on these priority areas and identify measures to be taken immediately and map out a forward work program that is designed to deliver outcomes that support the unprecedented level of investment in the rail sector”.

Australasian Railway Association boss Danny Broad welcomed the announcement by the council.

“Industry is looking to work with government in a joint partnership to solve these problems. Today’s decision gives us a framework by which to begin to address the issues,” Broad said.

Together state, territory and federal governments are set to spend more than $150 billion on new rail and rollingstock projects over the next 15 years. The ARA late last year released a BIS Oxford Economics report, ‘Rail Skills Crisis – A Call to Action’, highlighting the growing shortfall of skilled rail workers to meet future demands.

“Governments can’t leave it to a nebulous training ‘market’ to resolve, because it’s just not working,” Broad said.

“These are national issues requiring a national approach, which reinforces the need for jurisdictions to work together to ensure consistency and alignment between jurisdictions.”

Pacific National boss and Freight on Rail Group chair Dean Dalla Valle also addressed the council, to reiterate his concerns over competitive imbalance between road and rail operators in many key Australian freight corridors.

“Sadly, the business of rail freight has allowed itself to be neglected by government policy makers for decades, resulting in costly inefficiencies infecting Australia’s supply chain,” Dalla Valle told the council.

“Delivering new and improved rail freight infrastructure is sorely needed – but it doesn’t solve every problem. Policies must keep pace with new ideas and technologies.”

While the council didn’t reference the road-rail imbalance in its communique, it did finally agree to the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and its associated National Action Plan.

“With our freight volumes expected to grow by more than a third by 2040 and online shopping growth at over 20 per cent a year, we need to increase the productivity of our freight system,” federal transport and infrastructure minister Michael McCormack said.

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