Although many other portions of the rail industry are already privatised, the Queensland Rail breakup and privatisation late last year has emphasised the reality that rail is now a mainstream business in the Australian community, writes Martin Baggott*.
In fact rail has thrived on new models brought from other industries.
Airline safety regimes have been applied, land use planning is impacting decision making on rail development as it should, and the realities of a global financial crises has had consequential impacts on the vibrancy of the rail business, with financing options emerging that cause changes to the direction of a “traditional” railway project.
Not forgetting the globalisation of operations in addition to the already well established equipment supply industry, all of these changes now mean that the “rail” portion of the business is a small part of the overall picture and the mix of skills needed for a rail project is now much broader than it ever used to be.
This is how it should be, with rail being the facilitator of the business and not the driver of the development in its own right.
So, with many new players, will the rail industry find its place easier or harder to establish? It is losing its identity? Will the complexity of stakeholders be worth the effort in terms of the quality of outcome? How can this be measured?
Surely the success of an industry is measured by the profitability and financial sustainability of the private sector and the confidence with which governments wish to invest in their social infrastructure.  What are the components of these broader objectives?
Ultimately, the success will be judged by how favourably the services are perceived by the customers. Good service entails high levels of reliability, courteous service, timely response, high availability at an affordable price.
An example of the chain of business and engineering success is where the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) points to the advanced age of our locomotive fleet.
The performance of locomotives have a direct impact on many of those parameters of success.
We learned at the CORE conference in Wellington, New Zealand, last year that Canadian Pacific had replaced all of their locomotives in one move.
This gave them a locomotive fleet that is highly reliable, available and with improved power and condition monitoring thereby giving direct improvement to service. This strategy also resulted in internal efficiencies providing simplified stock holding, maintenance procedures, training and labour costs.
Even for procurement alone, no doubt all of the mainstream professions were involved including legal teams, financiers and engineers and then after commissioning the trainers and operators with new skills to learn and new human resource issues.
We have since been updated about procurements occurring closer to home in New Zealand. The Hillside workshops have just completed a refurbishment and upgrading program on most of KiwiRail’s locomotives including retrofitting control equipment giving greater power and diagnostics.
But lessons are also being learned in the railway system with chronic under-investment. The Hillside workshops were unsuccessful in securing built or assembly work for new locomotives.
Jim Quinn says in KiwiRail Express Issue 76, "We will not be pursuing local build or assembly for future locomotive orders, as this [the recent China CNR Corporation supply of new locomotives] shows that the gap is simply too great to close".
So now rail’s expertise runs into international trading, commerce and legal skills!!
Other issues to address in securing our success include maintaining and enhancing the quality of the industry’s people.
To that end, and only in the relatively recent past, the industry has engaged universities and training organisations to an intense level. We now have a suite of courses ranging from an “Introduction” to more formal Masters level courses.
We still haven’t cracked the Undergraduate level of training but we are encouraged by universities considering whether the units completed in the Masters courses could be credited. We would wish to have Undergraduate units developed for use in the Transportation Streams.
An analysis of the participants at CORE shows about half as from the traditional engineering areas, about 10% from the commercial/economic/financing area, and about 10% from educational areas and 20% from the managerial/administration area.
*Martin Baggott is GHD business leader rail and former chairman of the Railway Technical Society of Australasia (RTSA).