AusRAIL, Freight Rail, Passenger Rail, Rail Supply, Rolling stock & Rail Vehicle Design

Similarities and contrasts in rail COVID-19 response


While all elements of the rail sector felt the impact of COVID-19, no company would have responded in an identical way.

This was on display in the first industry panel of AusRAIL Live & On Demand where speakers from across the rail industry shared their experience of working throughout 2020.

Kicking off the panel was Wendy McMillan, ANZ President of Bombardier Transportation who highlighted that the first impact for the manufacturer was on the supply chain. While the companies operations in China was able to give the global group a heads-up on the coming pandemic, disruptions in China meant that parts coming from there were not as readily available.

For Howard Collins, COO Greater Sydney for Transport for NSW, the focus was on keeping services running. A number of initiatives were rolled out across all public transport modes, including the “sit here” green stickers, to maintain social distancing and help customers to continue to travel.

On New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project, operations had to shut down. According to Sean Sweeney, CEO of City Rail Link, the alliance form of delivery enabled construction to wind down and then start back up again more successfully than other infrastructure projects around New Zealand. With a large fly-in fly-out workforce from Australia contributing to the project, new ways of working had to be rolled out to ensure the project could continue without elements of its workforce.

While these differences were the result of the varied conditions and projects in the rail sector, panellists also highlighted similarities. One of these was safety.

Raymond O’Flaherty, CEO of Metro Trains Melbourne said that safety for customers and staff was a key focus for the operator which experience two waves of COVID-19.

“We worked hard to ensure that staff were safe and passengers were safe.”

Another similarity was collaboration. Julien Dehornoy, CEO of Yarra Trams, pointed out that for services to continue running, collaboration was needed between the operator, government, unions, and industry.

“What impressed me is the way that everyone reacted, got together to design solutions and invent new ways of operating,” he said.

This was also felt in the freight sector, with Caryn Anderson, executive general manager port growth and planning at Port of Melbourne also noting the collaborative environment during COVID-19.

With all jurisdictions now opening up with COVID-19 numbers low, some of these experiences are hoped to encourage permanent changes to ways of working. Dehornoy said that new methods of communicating with staff instituted during the pandemic, such as daily email updates and digital forms, would continue. Similarly, Collins noted that the speed at which new technology was able to be deployed across the network, including updates to passenger information apps, was something he would like to see continue.

As commuters return to the network, all panellists noted that travelling patterns and customer expectations will not simply return to how they were before 2020. The rail sector would need to support the deployment of new technology, such as anti-viral HVAC filters as highlighted by McMillan, to continue to provide safe and efficient mobility in 2021.

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