Workforce Solution

Partnering to deliver a rail workforce solution

A new model of collaboration could be the workforce solution for a labour-constrained industry.

In 2018, after years of waiting, work began on the full electrification of the Gawler Rail Line. A critical project to modernise Adelaide’s rail network and allow for the introduction of electric rollingstock, the relatively small size of the rail sector in South Australia presented an obstacle for the project – how to get the right number of qualified people to work on the project.

An issue not uncommon to rail projects around Australia, the limited supply and ageing demographic of the rail workforce means that labour shortages are a significant issue, said Angela Henderson, national operations manager of Momentum Rail Workforce Solutions, a specialist rail services and personnel provider engaged for the project.

“The challenges are that there is really a set amount of qualified people with the correct competencies to do the roles required for this project and we need more than what there is in the pool,” said Henderson.

The specific roles that the project required were protection officers as well as stopboarders. Staff in these roles play a safety critical role in managing the traffic coming in and out of the worksite. To meet this need, Momentum joined forces with sister company rail training provider CERT Training (Centre for Excellence in Rail Training) to provide the staff with the required level of competency to work on track.

Initially, the project has focused on the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) owned section of rail, which requires specific knowledge of ARTC safe-working rules. Getting staff to this level of competency took a combination of theory and practical knowledge, said Michael Arthur, CERT general manager.

“The staff need to be trained up on the ARTC safe working rules, and the process for that is a combination of formal training in the classroom and also on-site training and mentoring them with experienced Momentum staff members
to get them to the level of knowledge and capability to perform those duties on their own.”

So far, three groups have been conducted through the program, with training for each combining in classroom and on-site instruction taking two months.

What made this project possible, was the unique combination of CERT’s training capabilities with Momentum’s workforce solution. Momentum has collaborated with a job provider to find suitable candidates, while CERT has ensured that they have the required qualifications to be on the worksite. By working with a job provider, staff have been drawn from outside the rail industry and from a diversity of backgrounds, including women, long-term unemployed, people from minority backgrounds and Indigenous people, overcoming the traditional demographics of the rail industry. On the Gawler project, this has meant for those roles covered by Momentum, staff have not had to be poached from other projects.

“What we’ve found is that we’ve been able to enlarge that pool of required people for the project,” said Henderson.

Momentum’s experienced senior employees then mentored these employees to be ready to productively complete the work required, said Arthur.

“Through the mentoring process, the trainees get to consolidate their learning, and once they’re able to prove that they are competent, we get sign off from our trainer that they’ve passed the theoretical and also demonstrated that in a practical environment, then we can issue them their qualification for safe working.”

In this program, CERT and Momentum, both companies under the Engenco Group umbrella, have been able to combine their distinct abilities.

“Together we can offer a complete workforce solution to our clients and that’s exciting,” said Henderson. “By coming together, we bring that expertise together and we offer a very good product to our client.”

As Anthony Fritsche, executive general manager – Workforce Solutions outlines, the outcome is more than a job, and more than a training qualification.

“It’s actually about offering a full pathway, when you put training and labour together you offer a whole onboarding, employment, and career development program. The full value chain in human resource solutions.”

A COLLABORATIVE WORKFORCE SOLUTION
In the case of the Gawler project, the collaboration would not have been possible without buy-in from the lead contractor, in this case Lendlease. Rather than mandating that staff have 6 to 12 months of experience before working on the project, the contractor trusted CERT’s ability to appropriately train staff before coming onto site, said Henderson.

“The way the project is structured, the new staff can work under another protection officer, and is directing them. They’re able to get the experience required through that process by having that more senior person there constantly to assist them.”

The on-site supervision is backed up by CERT’s rail training heritage, with training built upon industry experience, highlighted Arthur.

“We make sure that our trainers have industry leading backgrounds and experience in all the different disciplines that they deliver. We have subject matter experts that create the resources internally and we work very closely with operators in the industry, to make sure that everything that we’re using is current. Then we work closely with Momentum to ensure that the training programs that we have available are adequate and fit for purpose for their staff when they go out on site and meet the needs of the rail operators.”

With the staff now out on track working, there is the opportunity for them to take these skills further in the rail industry. Some will add competencies to their skill sets as the project moves from ARTC track to rail controlled by the South Australia Department of Infrastructure and Transport, while others will be able to take the skills they have learnt so far and apply them to new projects, creating a pipeline of skilled, competent and experienced rail workers.

“Having entered with no background at all, the opportunities for them to develop and work their way through the system is endless,” said Arthur. “They can go as far as they want to go.”

With the experience on the Gawler project, there is also opportunities for the model to be applied to other areas of the rail industry. Already, CERT and Momentum are working with a national freight operator to find, train and deliver drivers, terminal operators, and shunters.

“Operators recognise that there’s an ongoing demand for drivers that isn’t being met through traditional means,” said Arthur. “We’ve worked with them to put together a program now where we’ll take people with no rail background and run them through a series of training programs that includes vocational placement that will allow them to gain practical experience and ultimately the plan is to work them right through until they become qualified drivers.”

With labour shortages a critical issue for the rail sector as a whole, innovative workforce models such as this will be critical for the sector’s future.

“The traditional way of offering a dollar more than the next operator down the road to pinch their staff is a very short-sighted model and not one that’s going to be sustainable,” said Arthur.

“Whether the projects be safe working, infrastructure, or driving operations, we’re looking at programs across the country and where we can provide our clients a pipeline of staff who are new entrants to the industry. They are trained specifically for that operator in their rules and procedures, and then through Momentum, we’re able to place those people into employment. It’s effectively providing a customised, tailored workforce solution that’s implanted into a client’s business and then able to grow to meet their ongoing demand.”

Fritsche highlights that this workforce solution will be key for the rail industry to meet the demand for skills and labour.

“This model will be able to increase the pool of talent in a structured way. We’re building a fit for purpose workforce of the future through this type of model, drawing upon different demographics and because we’re providing the training, the skills, the knowledge and the employment, then we can control that whole process ensuring an effective and sustainable outcome.

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Port Botany

Tender released for Port Botany Rail duplication

The design and construct tender for the Port Botany Rail duplication has been released to the three shortlisted contractors.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), which is leading the project, has released the documentation to CPB Contractors, Laing O’Rouke Construction Australia, and John Holland, who were shortlisted in January.

Once complete, the $400 million federally funded project will allow for more freight to be transported to and from Port Botany via rail, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“The Botany Rail Duplication will upgrade and duplicate the current single freight rail track between Mascot and Botany to increase the capacity of Sydney’s freight rail network while bolstering operational efficiency, flexibility and reliability for freight customers,” he said.

“This will create more than 400 jobs during construction and provide a welcome boost to all the hard-working local businesses who use the rail line to get their products to markets.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the project would enable a reduction in trucks travelling through local roads in Sydney.

Australia’s freight requirements are set to grow significantly over the coming decades. While this is great news for the industry and the Australian economy, it will place increasing pressure on our roads,” he said.

“I look forward to this transformative project getting underway so that Sydney, New South Wales and our national supply chain can reap the benefits.”

The Cabramatta Loop Project tender, which will allow freight trains to pass each other on the Southern Sydney Freight Line, will be released separately.

The Port Botany Rail duplication project was recently approved by the NSW government in its fast track process.

The project was also added to the Infrastructure Australia Infrastructure Priority List in August, 2020, recognising the need for greater freight rail capacity to and from Port Botany.

NSW Farmers and CWA launch legal action on Inland Rail

The NSW Farmers and the Country Women’s Association of NSW have begun legal action against the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) regarding its handling of the Inland Rail project.

The two organisations have appointed a law firm to raise concerns about the ARTC’s hydrology modelling. NSW Farmers Inland Rail taskforce chair Adrian Lyons said that flood modelling was causing concerns.

“We are using this opportunity to demand the ATRC engage in a productive manner with affected landholders,” he said.

“We have also stressed the need for transparency around the key documents underpinning the proposed route, particularly the hydrology modelling which to date has caused consternation in our members.”

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller said that the infrastructure project has had ongoing engagement with NSW Farmers for the past two years.

“We were able to come to agreement on land access protocols and principles and we have published the answers to all their questions in the past.”

Of particular concern is the stretch of rail between Narromine and Narrabri. The Environmental Impact Statement for that section is currently being finalised for submission to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the ARTC will be meeting with all affected landowners between June and September.

“We have met with over 100 of the farmers and landowners that we are working with collaboratively to deliver Inland Rail between Narromine and Narrabri in the past couple of months,” said Wankmuller.

“Those are productive meetings, that will ensure that we can build Inland Rail to the highest standards while mitigating the impacts on those farmers.”

Lyons said that NSW Farmers had recommended to members to not engage with ARTC.

CWA of NSW CEO Danica Leys said that the engagement could extend to other sections of the project.

“Currently, our legal correspondence is focused on the Narromine to Narrabri stretch of the rail route, but our aim is that any positive developments would be mirrored in other parts of the infrastructure.”

Wankmuller said that ARTC would continue to work with farmers.

“Working with farmers is the best way for us to ensure that we can mitigate their impacts and deliver Inland Rail to the highest standards.”

Three level crossings to be upgraded North East Rail Line

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has confirmed that works will continue over the Easter weekend to upgrade the North East Rail line in Victoria.

The three level crossings upgraded over the long weekend are at Racecourse Rd, Chiltern, Federation Way at Bowser (Wangaratta North), and Bourke Rd at Bowser (Wangaratta North).

These improvements are on top of the 19 level crossings already upgraded in regional Victoria, including at West Wodonga, Wangaratta, and Barnawartha. Additionally, 16 rail bridges have been improved as part of the $235 million project.

“Teams have worked systematically south after major work started in Wodonga with four more level crossing renewals scheduled for April,” said ARTC general manager major projects Ed Walker.

“Work will start at 6pm on Sunday 12 April to improve these level crossings and we thank the community for their patience with changed traffic conditions in place and increased vehicle movements in the area.”

The project has focused on having benefits during the construction phase flow through to regional communities, with a major site office located in Wangaratta employing locals and engaging 32 North East Victorian suppliers.

Over 100,000 tonnes of ballast have been added to the track for depth improvement, mudhole removal, bridge works, and level crossing renewals.

Work underway on level crossing near Parkes

Work is currently underway on improving a level crossing on the Newell Highway near Parkes.

The ARTC is working in collaboration with the NSW government on improvements, which are carried out as part of the NSW Level Crossing Improvement Program.

The works will continue until 6am, Thursday March 12.

4,000 vehicles, including 1,000 heavy vehicles, use the crossing each day at Tichborne, located between Parkes and Forbes.

Old equipment is now being decommissioned as new predictive track circuitry and safety systems are installed and tested. The existing lights will be upgraded to high intensity LED flashing lights and retro-reflective boom gates will be installed.

The improvement of the Tichborne level crossing is one of 1,400 public road level crossings around NSW, which are having their safety improved in the Level Crossing Improvement Program.

The $990,000 upgrade at Tichborne, funded by Transport for NSW, is being delivered by Wabtec on behalf of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).

“Level crossings between trains and vehicles are a major road safety risk, and while these safety upgrades are important, it is also essential that motorists take care around all level crossings,” said ARTC general manager asset management Brian Green.

“We are asking motorists to take care and be patient while the works are taking place this week as the new equipment is being installed and tested,” he said.

Although incidents of train colliding with road vehicles at level crossings in NSW have been trending down to date, in 2018-19 there were five collisions between a vehicle and a train. In addition, while incidents have decreased from the previous year, fatalities increased, with three fatalities in 2018-19 after no fatalities in 2017-18.

Green noted that in most cases, errors by motorists have caused incidents.

“The majority of level crossing accidents are due to errors by motorists, so we ask all drivers to take care and don’t take risks at level crossings,” he said.

“Common risky behaviour can include ignoring warning lights and signs, speeding or being distracted by using mobile phones while driving.”

The next level crossing to be worked on will be the Welcome level crossing, also between Parkes and Forbes, work will be carried out later in March.

Track repairs commence following V/Line and freight train crash

Work is now under way to replace more than 1,800 damaged sleepers and more than 180 metres of damaged rail.

Last week an incident involving a freight and passenger train between Chiltern and Barnawartha in south of Wodonga, Victoria caused all services on the line to be suspended until further notice.

A northbound freight train derailed, and a passenger train travelling south on the adjacent track struck a wagon of the derailed freight train.

A spokesperson from the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) provided an update on the investigation following the incident that occurred on Wednesday, January 29. 

“The ARTC is continuing to work with rail safety regulators and operators on the recovery effort,” the spokesperson said.

After safety regulators completed their initial assessments the day after the incident, the recovery operation started involving around 60 workers.

“Work so far has focused on recovering wagons, components, and containers from the track and moving the V/Line train and majority of freight containers,” the spokesperson said.

“While repairs are underway, timing for the line to reopen is not yet confirmed.

“With temperatures reaching more than 44 degrees in the recovery site area, hot works are being extremely carefully managed and crews provided additional rest breaks and hydration measures.

“ARTC will provide further updates to media and our customers as soon as they become available.”

ARTC to modify reference design for Inland Rail route

John Fullerton, Australian Rail Track Corporation CEO, said “the current route is not locked in,” at a senate inquiry hearing of the management of the Inland Rail project, held on January 30 in Brisbane.

Richard Wankmuller CEO for the Inland Rail Programme said “we understand we need to improve.”

One senator called out “Mr Fullerton, there are pitchforks waiting for you,” as the CEO addressed “white hot anger” concerns of the proposed inland rail route from QLD senators.

Fullerton said the potential “fatal flaw” is floods. 

The ability to construct a public safety model that aligns with the proposed Inland Rail route through the McIntyre floodplain is the main area of concern, Fullerton stated in the hearing.

“There are a number of areas of concern that we’re looking at,” Wankmuller said.

“We’ve finished about 90 per cent of the reference design phase and we’re modifying the reference design.”

Fullerton said ARTC’s main priority is investigating floodplains and “increasing transparency”.

“I get people are scared, and it’s our obligation to [construct] something that is safe,” Wankmuller said.

“This is not just an ARTC program, that is a community program and there is no way we can be successful without community, council, and private sectors.”

Fullerton’s hearing follows criticism that the major freight rail corridor will go through one of Australia’s largest floodplains, raised from the rural Senate Committee meeting in Millmerran on Wednesday evening. 

Goondiwindi Mayor Graeme Scheu said the regional council is an advocate for the project, but object ARTC’s decision-making process.

Scheu stated to the committee that the decision to announce D1 as the preferred design option “came as a major surprise to everyone in our region”.

“From the minute D1 was announced, it has been the opinion of Goondiwindi Regional Council that if the route had to cross the floodplain (primarily to appease the time restraints), then the only acceptable solution would be an elevated bridge from the Queensland side to Wearne on the NSW side,” he said.

“I must reaffirm that Goondiwindi Regional Council is supportive of the Inland Rail Project and have been for many years but the decision making process of ARTC leaves a lot to be desired.”

Goondiwindi Regional Council stated they are advocating to overturn the D1 route design option and “believes the decision should be over turned to the alternative option of A”.

“The route directly crosses the floodplain, minimising the flood potential once the Whalan escape route is fully addressed.

Community consultation results and opinion will support Option A over D1.”

Fullerton said that “this is a complicated project that is important to people,” and recognises that engagement in the past “wasn’t up to speed”.

“We are looking where we have made the right decision or where a different decision should be made.

“There is government procedures in everything we do, we meet with the minister’s department for monthly and quarterly reporting to look at each issue.”

The Inland Rail route will be about 1,700km in length across Queensland, NSW, and Victoria and is scheduled to be completed by 2025.

Services suspended following V/Line and freight train crash

A V/Line train collided with a wagon from a derailed freight train on Wednesday evening south of Wodonga in Victoria.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said ARTC can confirm an incident has occurred on its rail network between Chiltern and Barnawartha at approximately 5.40pm on Wednesday.

The ARTC spokesperson advised that a northbound freight train derailed and a passenger train service travelling south on the adjacent track struck a wagon of the freight train.

The 5.20pm V/Line Albury to Melbourne passenger service was travelling south on the adjacent track when it subsequently struck one of the freight train’s wagons.

The ARTC spokesperson said the train line “currently remains suspended to all services and the site is quarantined for attendance by independent safety regulators and for incident investigations through today,”

“Track opening will be subject to recovery and infrastructure damage assessments following site incident investigations across a roughly 1.7 kilometres long area,”

“A more detailed forecast of reopening will be provided once a full assessment of damage to the track is able to take place.”

ARTC said in a statement that their priority at this stage is to ensure the safety of the persons involved and assisting attending emergency authorities.

A CFA spokesperson said a number of the wagons were alight when emergency services arrived, and the flames sparked a grassfire.

The grassfire was deemed safe at 8.15pm Wednesday evening.

A VicEmergency update stated that the “train incident is still ongoing and is currently being assessed by the relevant agencies.”

There are no reported injuries to passengers or crews of either train service.

The ARTC will provide further updates as they become available. 

Community projects spread the benefit of Inland Rail

Inland Rail’s impact on the communities it serves will not only come in the form of rail services.

The project announced 19 initiatives from laptops to Dolly Parton to improve the wellbeing of the communities which the project interacts with.

The announcement is the third round of the Inland Rail Community Sponsorships and Donations program, and includes over $55,000 for schools, community groups, and associations in regional Queensland, NSW, and Victoria.

Director of engagement, environment and property for Inland Rail, Rebecca Pickering outlined the project’s rationale.

“A key commitment of Inland Rail is to leave a positive legacy along the rail corridor and the Community Sponsorships and Donations program is just one example of how we seek to ensure regional communities benefit from this unique project,” she said.

Over $180,000 worth of grants covering events, projects, and activities, have been announced so far.

The next round of funding is now open, and groups can apply for funding of between $1,000 and $4,000 until Friday, January 31.

“These grants are in addition to the support Australian Rail Track Corporation is providing to bushfire impacted communities which includes raising funds for the Bushfire Crisis Appeal and encouraging volunteering by employees,” said Pickering.

Grants in this round went to projects including the Narromine Dolly Parton Festival, the purchase of tools for the Gundy Men’s Shed, five laptops for Forbes Public School, and the Mitchell Community Multicultural Festival.

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Hunter Valley network maintenance requires crew of 1300

The Hunter Valley rail network has kept 1300 rail workers busy this week, doing maintenance and enhancement works, according to the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).

A program of 125 projects scheduled over three days, ending Friday, was undertaken from Kooragang port along the rail corridor to Werris Creek as well as the Ulan line west from Muswellbrook.

The work includes re-signalling at Thornton, a level crossing upgrade at Army Road at Glenridding and track reconditioning work at Quirindi.

“The Ardglen Tunnel will also be re-sleepered and re-railed. This is an interesting job as it is a heritage-listed tunnel and we have to take those considerations into account while undertaking the works,” ARTC group executive for the Hunter Valley, Jonathan Vandervoort, said.

“We will also take advantage of the opportunity to undertake a number of works including removing ballast and improving drainage on this section. With tunnels you need to be very efficient as the conditions are difficult to work in and to you need to be very organised to get all the works done in the allotted time.”

Passenger services were replaced by buses over the three days to allow crews to access the rail tracks safely.

“We ask people in communities close to the rail corridor to be cautious during the shutdown period and keep an eye out for increased vehicle movements in and out of work sites,” Vandervoort said.