TrackSAFE appoints new executive director

TrackSAFE Foundation has appointed a new executive director, Heather Neil.

Neil has begun with TrackSAFE as of May 4, 2020.

The industry-funded foundation, which works to reduce collisions, injuries, and fatalities on the rail network in Australia, recently facilitated Rail R U OK?Day with attendance figures higher than ever.

Bob Herbert, chairman of TrackSAFE, highlighted Neil’s previous achievements as CEO of RSPCA Australia and as a director of the Community Council for Australia.

“Throughout her career, Neil has been actively involved in advocating for and delivering improved legislation, policies and practices across a wide range of issues,” said Herbert.

TrackSAFE facilitates Rail R U OK?Day alongside the R U OK? suicide prevention organisation in April each year and works year-round with telephone crisis support service Lifeline. Herbert noted that Neil will be strengthening these connections.

“A key role for Neil will be to engage with all sectors of the rail industry and TrackSAFE’s partners, both Lifeline and the R U OK? charities. We work in tandem with both these bodies,” said Herbert.

In addition to the ongoing situations that rail workers are exposed to, restrictions and behaviours surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19) have increased pressures on the mental health of those in the rail industry, said Herbert.

“All too frequently rail employees are exposed to traumatic incidents due to suicides, level crossing accidents and through the untoward behaviour of trespassers on the rail network. Now, added to that COVID-19 is having its impact on employee well-being and mental health. Never before has there been such a strong need for the role TrackSAFE plays.”

Rail R U OK?Day

Participation higher than ever in Rail R U OK?Day 2020

Rail R U OK?Day has been marked by rail organisations around Australia and New Zealand, with engagement reaching all-time highs.

On April 30, for the sixth year running, those within the rail industry reached out to their colleagues, co-workers, and friends to ask, “Are you ok?”

While traditional face-to-face get-togethers have been limited due to physical distancing measures in place to keep people safe due to coronavirus (COVID-19), numerous organisations still encouraged employees to pick up the phone or jump on a video call to check in on each other.

South Australian Public Transport Authority executive director, Anne Alford, said that Rail R U OK?Day in 2020 was the most significant yet.

“It’s now more important than ever that we promote a sense of community, reach out and ask our friends, family and workmates and ask, ‘Are you ok?” said Alford.

In Melbourne, Metro Trains driver Stephen King said that the simple action of asking a colleague how they are going can make a significant impact.

“To be able to just ask and check in on somebody to see how they’re going can make all the difference.”

Train drivers, station staff and the wider rail industry are often the first witnesses or respondents to traumatic incidents that occur on the rail network, leading to a focus on mental health within the industry.

“On any given day, at any given time, we’re prepared for any incident – whether it’s an accident or a trespasser. There are also things that happen away from the job that can affect us as drivers,” said King.

“There is a fair bit of stress and pressure that goes with the job for sure.”

In Queensland, Queensland Rail set a Wellbeing Conversation Challenge to encourage their team to check in on their workmates. Sydney Trains also encouraged employees to get involved in the conversation challenge.

“The virtual conversation challenge saw employees across Sydney Trains engage with each other by sharing videos and posts on our internal communication channels, and nominating others to take up the challenge,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

Roughly 3,500 Sydney Trains employees participated both at in-person, socially distanced events and virtual panel discussions and live streams.

KiwiRail similarly looked to virtual methods to get colleagues to check in on each other.

“As we continue to be in lockdown due to COVID-19, we used our staff closed FaceBook group to share the message. More than 1,600 staff belong to this group and use the page as a discussion and information sharing forum,” said KiwiRail group general manager human resources Andrew Norton.

Rail R U OK?Day is facilitated in collaboration between TrackSAFE and harm prevention charity R U OK?. Participation numbers are still being confirmed, but across Australia and New Zealand, over 75,000 people participated, surpassing previous years’ figures. Bob Herbert, chairman of TrackSAFE, said that each year leads to more ongoing conversations that last throughout the year.

“We keep hearing numerous anecdotal accounts whereby a rail employee has trusted their instinct and noticed the signs that someone near them has been struggling, and we’re thrilled to learn that they have started a conversation that has put that person on a whole new path.”

Katherine Newton, CEO of R U OK? Said that the event showed how the rail industry can work together to address challenges such as mental health and wellbeing.

“Our partnership with TrackSAFE is one R U OK? is extremely proud of and is a brilliant example of an entire industry being committed to the R U OK? Movement,” said Newton.

“Participation in Rail R U OK?Day has grown more than 800% since the inaugural event in 2015, as we see, rail employees from across Australia and New Zealand are transforming their workplaces into strong and resilient environments every day of the year.”

Rail industry to come together for Rail R U OK?Day

On April 30, for the sixth year running, the rail industry in Australia and New Zealand will come together to ask colleagues, friends, and workmates, “Are you ok?”.

Run in collaboration between the TrackSAFE Foundation and non-profit suicide prevention organisation R U OK?, the day serves a way for those who work in the rail industry to support each other, said Bob Herbert, executive chairman of TrackSAFE.

“There’s around 300 attempts and 150 deaths on Australia’s train lines can be attributed to suicide each year. That impacts rail employees very severely, whether they’re drivers, stations staff, or maintenance staff and so Rail R U OK?Day was originally set up to deal with that trauma,” said Herbert.

In 2020, the day has taken on added significance as rail workers contend with the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on their working conditions, and the industry has responded in kind.

“We’ve got around 100 organisations participating in it this year, and each one appoints at least one champion, so there’s 120 champions, and we haven’t got the final figures yet, but I reckon we’ll touch 70,000 employees. This would be our biggest year ever,” said Herbert.

While a national R U OK?Day will be held in September, April 30 is a rail specific event that acknowledges the particular experiences of rail employees, said Katherine Newton, CEO of R U OK?.

“Rail R U OK?Day is distinct because it’s an industry specific campaign. It’s a day for the rail industry, for operators, drivers, admin staff, for everyone who’s in the industry to come together. It’s about acknowledging that they do see challenging incidents, and that the rail community as workmates and as colleagues can be there for each other during those times.”

In keeping with the grassroots nature of the wider R U OK? iInitiative, the rail day is a day for industry, by industry, highlighted Herbert.

“I’m delighted that this is the industry funding it, there are 30 subscribers, big and small rail companies, and they see this as an important initiative for the whole industry.”

Ahead of the day, TrackSAFE and R U OK? Have distributed rail-specific materials to encourage colleagues to sit down with each other or pick up the phone and get in touch. Herbert noted that these resources, in addition to TrackSAFE’s partnership with Lifeline, allow for an ongoing conversation.

“There’s nothing more important that having employees say to one another, ‘‘Are you ok?’’ and knowing what to do if you’re not ok, where do you refer them, how do you help them, make sure that there’s some action being taken and getting some follow up to see if you’re ok. That’s the message, quite simple really, but of all the things that I’ve been engaged in this is one of the most important at addressing mental health issues.”

THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 
Having been determined to be an essential service by all levels of government in Australia and New Zealand, the rail industry has been operating throughout measures implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19, and each sector has been called upon to contribute in their own way. Occurring in the run up to Rail R U OK?Day, Herbert has seen the industry come together like never before.

“Each of the companies are conscious of all the rules that apply, in terms of social distancing, and companies are practicing that. They understand their employees will face stressed passengers, and I’m pleased that TrackSafe can offer a big piece in the jigsaw as to how best it’s managed.”

Newton concurred, noting that while there may be a new physical distance between the rail industry, it’s more important than ever to be socially connected.

“While we’re being asked to be socially distant, we still need social connection and that’s really our message. We need to stay connected while and I think that the way that people have come together, with the increases that we’ve seen in both organisations that are taking part and the number of champions that are within those organisations, testifies to the idea of there is a lot more talking at the moment.”

Ahead of the day itself, participating rail companies and organisations have been provided with resources tailored to the conditions imposed by COVID-19 and are preparing for virtual meet-ups and calls.

“Let’s see what happens on the day but people are putting together some really creative ways online that they can connect,” said Newton. “It’s a great opportunity to pause and to take a moment, whether that be via phone, SMS, social media or the zooms that are happening around the country.”

AN ONGOING CONVERSATION
On April 30, leaders within the Australasian railways industry will be talking with their colleagues and checking in with each other, Herbert included.

“I won’t be sitting back and watching on the 30th, I’ve been invited to engage firstly with QR and Transdev New Zealand have asked me to do a presentation. My collages Danny Broad and Caroline Wilkie will be kicking in with Sydney Trains and Metro Trains Melbourne, so everywhere that we can spread ourselves we will be doing it.”

Other organisation will hold online webinars highlighting strategies for workmates to ask the critical question and for the past months two interactive question marks have been travelling around the country, beginning in Canberra for the first time. However, both Herbert and Newton noted that these conversations can continue year-round.

“Our message is that every day is R U OK?Day,” said Newton. “It’s very much around creating a culture of R U OK? and that’s where we see it works best. It’s not just having some cupcakes on Rail R U OK? Day or indeed R U OK?Day in September, it’s about having meaningful conversations and chats and that can only really come with trust.

“There has to be trust within colleagues and managers and it can be really helpful if leaders can show a bit of vulnerability and can show that they trust the people around them and say, ‘we all go through stuff, I’m human too and this is what we can do for each other’.”

Herbert agreed, and is looking forward to connecting with his rail colleagues once again.

“While April 30 becomes a significant exclamation mark for asking R U OK? It ought to be something we are doing all year round. We’ll engage with the national R U OK day in September I hope by then people can get together like they normally do,” he said.

Bumper year for ARA

Danny Broad shared some parting thoughts to the rail industry about the importance of smart rail technology and the need for young blood.

Outgoing Australasian Railway Association CEO Danny Broad hosted his last AusRAIL as CEO before handing over the reins to incoming CEO Caroline Wilkie.

Broad was elected ARA chair at the 2019 ARA Annual General Meeting (AGM), taking over from Bob Herbert – who will continue his contribution to the rail industry as Chairman of the ARA’s harm prevention charity, TrackSAFE Foundation.

“I thank Bob for his strategic leadership and achievements as chairman of the ARA, specifically the development of a new constitution, leading to improved governance and democracy within the ARA,” Broad said.

As part of his outgoing address, Herbert addressed some of the issues he considered significant to the rail industry.

“Rail is a victim of our federation. There is no one sovereign government calling all the shots for rail like there is for industries like defence or shipbuilding. Make no mistake, this holds rail back, with nine governments to deal with on key national issues,” Herbert said.

“It has stopped rail throughout its history, from the time the first rail tracks were carried. The cause lies in the way our political imperatives play out, it brings a natural cautiousness in decision making. Governments are always in different stages of the election process and rail is disadvantaged as a consequence.”

As an example, Herbert cites the operation of the Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC).

“This is the forum where transport ministers across the jurisdictions come together twice a year and are supported by a body of senior bureaucrats. Unfortunately, outcomes from this process can only be described as last common denominator.”

As such, he explained how trying to achieve a National Rail Plan is “still illusory”.

“The bureaucrats so often have differing priorities to industry, and they become entrenched within government departments. In some cases, meeting with industry seems to be anathema to them, so progress is at a snail’s pace and this is extremely frustrating for industry.”

In August 2018, members of the ARA met with the council so that companies could present their challenges to the council.

“These were telling representations from our members on challenges relating to skills, resources, and standards,” Herbert said. As a result, the council decided to develop the Rail Action Plan through the National Transport Commission.

“We’ve seen the first cut of this plan and so far, I regret to say, it falls a short of what we would like. So, there’s a lot more argy bargy to be doing with the National Transport Commission.”

However, he warned industry against relying on government to deliver “what we can deliver ourselves”.

As part of his own AusRAIL address, Broad recapped some of the ARA’s activities in what he called “an exciting and demanding year in all sectors of rail”.

The ARA, Broad said, spent 2019 advocating to governments about some of the biggest issues facing the industry.

“We have focused on advocating to governments on how best to address the skills shortage, resulting in the development in the National Rail Action Plan, by the National Transport Commission.”

The ARA has been calling on state, territory and federal governments to commit to a unified pipeline for major rail projects, to allow the private sector to better prepare itself with adequate skills and equipment to ensure contracts are executed as efficiently as possible.

As part of this, the organisation recommended the federal government resource the Australia & New Zealand Infrastructure Pipeline in its 2019-20 Budget Submission.

The ARA lodged seventeen submissions to parliamentary and government inquiries on behalf of the sector over the last year.

One of the key issues for a number of its submissions to government in 2019 included advocating for fairer rules for freight rail operators.

“As far as possible, domestic rail freight markets should operate on an even footing with other modal choices. This requires an environment with equitable regulatory settings to enable competitive neutrality between competing modes of transport,” says the ARA’s annual report 2019.

The ARA also called for an extension of the Inland Rail line, the largest freight rail project in Australia.

“The current project has the Inland Rail line ceasing at Acacia Ridge. The ARA calls for a commensurate project to ensure a freight rail line continues all the way to the Port of Brisbane. Research undertaken by Deloitte shows that building a dedicated freight rail connection to the Port of Brisbane could achieve a 30 per cent rail modal share, which would remove 2.4 million truck movements from the local road network,” according to the annual report.

Among other issues, the ARA also calls for a “pragmatic approach to fast rail that recognises the need to plan for an invest in elements such as modernised signalling systems, passing loops, track duplication, and other critical requirements to increase infrastructure capacity and speed of passenger services”.

“We have been progressing the smart rail and technology agendas, working with industry and governments on improving accessibility, advocating for rail and supporting rail careers through programs such as the women in rail pilot mentoring program and the formation of the young leaders advisory board, a potential attraction and retention campaign and the future leaders program to name just a few,” Broad said.

“I’m very proud of where the ARA is now, and feel it is the right time to pass on the reigns to our new CEO,” Broad concluded.