funding

Captured by value: Finding the funding for faster rail

To make fast and high speed rail possible in Australia, governments are looking for new methods of funding.

In the mid 1990s, the CSIRO was looking to sell its defunct McMaster Farm. The Commonwealth research agency no longer needed the animal research field station located on the outskirts of south-western Sydney. The federal government put the 350-hectare property on the market, and two brothers banded together to purchase the site, paying $3.5 million, about $10,000 per hectare. While reports at the time indicated the price was lower than the going price for agricultural land, the location’s heritage was continued and the site was used for farming.

Only two years later, the federal government came back to the site at Badgery’s Creek. This time buying a portion of the farm back off the brothers for $175m, 50 times the price per hectare. What had changed?

Head out to the former farm today and the fields, cross-crossed with creeks have been changed. Major pieces of equipment and machinery are turning over soil to build the foundations for the new Western Sydney Airport. The brothers bought the land next door. The rest of the land that wasn’t purchased back by the federal government has now been bought by property developers and the expected windfall for the brothers is rumoured to be half a billion dollars. For an investment on $3.5m, the brothers have made a return of over 140 times. Their last name? Medich.

Federal parliamentarian and chair of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities, John Alexander has been using this example into a recent parliamentary inquiry entitled Options for Financing Faster Rail. What frustrates him about this is that we’ve seen it all before, particularly with the construction of the North West Rail Link, now Sydney Metro North West.

“What we saw at Castle Hill where people sold their houses for 40 and 50 times their value that will be nothing compared to what will happen when previously rural lands are made into high rise development or urban development.”

Badgery’s Creek is where history is repeating itself. With not only the airport, but also the rail corridors confirmed, the NSW and federal governments are investing billions of dollars into infrastructure for the Aerotropolis and private landowners are reaping the benefits.

“With the last announcement of the government, which was surprising, $11.5bn going into bringing the Metro rail forward to St Mary’s and seven train stations, those landowners around those train stations will have the ultimate uplift and we have failed on our investment of our taxpayers money to get a fair share of that,” said Alexander.

There is no suggestion of anyone, landowner, developer or government, having committed any crimes.

What Alexander and the committee have set out to do, is find out what is the fair return for the increase in land value brought about by rail infrastructure.

“If you try to search what is fair when the taxpayer puts in $11.5bn into one project and someone puts in $3.5m and walks away with half a billion, of that $500m uplift what should have the taxpayer got as their fair share of that? That’s the question that we need to be answering.”

A TRILOGY OF INQUIRIES
The current inquiry is the third of a series of inquiries into how the federal government can get a better return for the investment it makes in infrastructure. To do so, a method of value capture is needed, in order to tax the windfalls that private property owners gain from public infrastructure investment. This would then support the funding of infrastructure and communities.

“The prime goal is to provide a sustainable, affordable supply of housing for generations to come and to do that you’ve got to have a plan of infrastructure that facilitates that settlement,” said Alexander.

The committee’s first report, Harnessing value, delivering infrastructure found that all governments had not adequately planned for the future.

“Harnessing value, delivering infrastructure explored what needed to be done that had been absent, that had been overlooked by both sides of governments at all levels. There had been an absence of planning and an absence of capitalising when governments have invested taxpayers monies,” said Alexander.

Other observers have noted examples of this lack of planning not just in NSW. Cameron Murray is a Queensland-based economist who quantified the value returned to private landowners near the Gold Coast Light Rail line.

“I wanted to demonstrate that this occurs in general and put a number to it, because it’s very hard to get a good idea of the value to everybody in aggregate. You might think if we put a train station here and that shopping centre owner got some value, but everybody in the area gets a benefit and so looking at all these property sales data allowed me to add that all up.”

Murray found that the increase in property sales prices, as an indicator of change in land value, showed that the construction of the light rail line increased property values by $300m in the 1,324 plots of land within 400 metres of a light rail station. If this increase was captured, it would be equivalent to 25 per cent of the capital cost of the light rail line.

Taking these results and applying them to new rail lines, particularly faster and high speed rail, Alexander sees a way forward for debates over high speed rail in Australia.

“It’s a golden age for rail, faster rail and high-speed rail, and most people who discount high-speed rail and say it shouldn’t happen simply don’t know what the purpose of it is. It’s a simple equation, once you can say that the uplift in the value of the lands that will be created by high-speed rail can fund the additional cost that it takes to go from regular rail to high speed rail then it is a deal. It’s making money, you do it.”

Using the value uplift in land as the key commercial indicator, rather than the commercial operation of the service can make high speed rail a much more attractive proposition.

“If you’re just going to charge the ticket retrieve the cost of the construction and operation from the traveller, that will not stack up commercially. If you look at what is the purpose of high-speed rail, other than moving people from A to B, from Sydney to Melbourne, but a position of creating megacities and having areas that would have been outside of a commutable time, when delivered by high speed rail, you bring places like Gosford and the Southern Highlands to within 15 minutes of the CBD of Sydney, Goulburn and Newcastle within 30 minutes, it is an absolute game changer.

“When you look at Melbourne the opportunities are even more vast. There’s five fast and high-speed rail lines going out of Melbourne that will create an incredible megatropolis and reduce road traffic into the city but produce a number of satellite cities that would be linked by faster and high speed rail and commutes of less than half an hour.”

In addition to the federal inquiry, the NSW Productivity Commission is also conducting an inquiry into infrastructure contributions. In response to questions, the Productivity Commission said that as it was in the phase of listening to stakeholders it would be premature to offer a position.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has prepared a submission to the inquiry, and CEO Caroline Wilkie said that good planning processes can make the most of infrastructure investment and save governments billions of dollars.

“Australia’s increasing infrastructure needs will mean governments alone will not be able to deliver every project that is required to meet future demand. We support value capture mechanisms that allow governments to share in the benefits of significant land value increases that result from their investment in infrastructure. As with all things, it is important cost recovery is applied equally,” she said.

Private property owners close to major transport infrastructure have seen property values increase substantially. Image credit: RailGallery.com.au

A POTENTIAL SOLUTION?
Murray has proposed two ways of implementing value capture, the first being a land tax.

“A land value tax that you revalue every year, that automatically raises money from every capital investment made by the government or raises more money when there’s a boom and less money when there’s a bust.”

Both NSW and Victoria have mooted switching from stamp duty to a broad land tax and have raised these ideas with the federal government. Another method, Murray suggests is to allow property owners to buy denser zonings.

“If you have a new rail station, and you say, ‘We’re going to densify this corridor.’ What you do is you charge landowners for the additional air rights to take advantage of that new zoning and density that you’ve facilitated.”

Alexander is instead proposing a form of capital gains tax on land that is impacted by infrastructure and rezoning. The tax would be triggered by a change in zoning. This would overcome the ad hoc nature of current developer contributions, raise a more significant amount than stamp duty, and create a fairer outcome.

“It shouldn’t be the developer that pays the outrageous price for the land, and then has to pay the developers contribution to develop it, it’s the person who makes the windfall through no effort of their own, simply by owning land that is now going to be rezoned and going to be the beneficiary of taxpayers funding.”

The tax would be collected by the federal government, which would create the master plans with state governments. State government would provide the infrastructure and local councils would determine local-level land use.

“The federal government collects the uplift, quarantines it and then hypothecates it to the state for distribution for the infrastructure.”

Currently, the National Faster Rail Agency (NFRA), which is developing business cases for fast rail to Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney with state governments and the private sector. As part of these business cases, the NFRA considers funding and financing options, such as private sector contributions and value capture opportunities.

“Matters such as funding and financing and opportunities for value capture from sources such as land value uplift to supplement project funding are considered in line with this framework,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

The spokesperson however directed detailed questions regarding value capture mechanisms to the Infrastructure Project Financing Agency (IPFA). Formed in 2017, IPFA “supports the Australian government in making commercially astute decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects and programs through the provision of independent, whole-of-government commercial and financial advisory services”.

After email inquiries to the publicly available email contact went unanswered, Chris Allen, managing director, transport and industry, responded to a LinkedIn message noting that “as there is not a consistent view on value capture and its implementation across the Commonwealth, we do not think that it’s appropriate for IPFA to provide its views or comments outside of government at this time”.

In its joint submission to the Options for Financing Faster Rail inquiry, the National Faster Rail Agency and IPFA wrote that “examples where value capture made major contributions to funding cost are defined by unique characteristics, such as significantly higher population densities than regional Australia”. The submission noted the case of transcontinental railroads in the United States in the late 19th century, and Hong Kong rail operator MTR’s Rail plus Property model.

In London, the extension of the Northern Line, a £2.5bn ($4.56bn) project, was entirely funded through a levy on development in the Nine Elms district and business rates revenue. Alexander also points to the Korean method of funding high-speed rail. There, the government owned corporation that constructs and operates the line provides half of the funding for the line. It can then take 100 per cent of the value uplift inside a determined development precinct next to the proposed stations. The national government, which provides 50 per cent of the funding, takes 50 per cent of the value uplift of land adjacent to the development precinct.

“I think it’s a structure that’s not far off the mark,” said Andrews.

There is another model, however, that is closer to home. In the ACT, where all land is owned by the government, 75 per cent of the increase in the value of leasehold land is captured by the territory government.

“Imagine if you got 75 per cent of the uplift of that $500m,” said Alexander. “That would’ve left $375m that would have gone towards the cost of the infrastructure, and the investor, for only putting in $3.5m, would have made $125m. Not doing too badly at all.”

Murray has done the sums on how much more money governments around Australia would raise if they followed the ACT example.

“If you scale that to the relative prices and quantities of new dwellings that are built in NSW, Victoria, and Queensland you get roughly $19bn per year in revenue, if they had the ACT system.”

With a number of faster rail projects at the business case stage and future projects in the pipeline, there is a need for governments to come up with a solution.

“Before the project is announced, before the zoning is announced, you’ve got to have your value capture legislation through Parliament,” said Alexander.

“We talk about, ‘We’re all in it together.’ That means everybody who is the beneficiary pays and it’s to the benefit of the taxpayer because you can then literally look at all infrastructure being funded in this way, relieving our general revenues, simplifying our taxes, simplifying the role of developers, and making our growth sustainable and creating affordable housing for all.”

generation

Preparing for the growth ahead: Finding a new generation of rail workers

CEO of the ARA Caroline Wilkie writes that a generation of young people looking for opportunities have the talents to fill rail’s skills gap.

In a year that has been more about preserving jobs than creating them, the concept of skills shortages can be a difficult one to reconcile.

However, the impact of this year’s events has not changed the fact that a very real and significant skills gap looms in the rail industry.

The Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) 2018 skills capability study found the rail industry was staring down the barrel of a 24 per cent skills gap on current employment levels by 2024.

The gap existed across the spectrum, from technicians, trades and operators to managers and rail professionals.

Clearly, this is an area where action is needed if we are to make the most of the significant investment pipeline of the coming decades.

The National Rail Action Plan skills and labour working group, which I co-chair, is currently looking at how the industry can address this issue.

The group is bringing together key people from across the industry to inform this work and I look forward to reporting on our progress as time goes on.

In the meantime, the ARA is continuing to advance its skills agenda.

As more rail projects come online, there will obviously be a need for the development of skill sets that are specific to the rail industry.

We will need a stronger focus on skills and education to achieve this. The ARA is advocating for the development of a dedicated skills academy that offers targeted solutions to meet the industry’s future needs.

This will not only ensure the focus is firmly on the technical requirements of the industry but will also ensure a strong culture of safety and excellence can be embedded in training programs before people even enter the rail workforce.

And the time to create this capability is now. Because a generation of young people in particular are looking for new and rewarding career opportunities more than ever.

Even before the impact of COVID-19, conditions were not good for those just starting their careers.

In July, the Productivity Commission released a working paper that found the weak labour market that had emerged after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis had been bad news for young people for a generation.

In the decade that followed, there were full time jobs became harder to come by as part time employment began to rise.

Young people started on lower wages and found it harder to find their chosen roles, despite having a good education behind them.

For those who took a job that was less than what they hoped for just to get their start, their career trajectory did not always recover, and better jobs did not always come along.

Those challenges have only been compounded this year, with another generation of young people hit harder than most by job losses and employment insecurity in the wake of the pandemic.

In this toughest of climates, there will be exceptional young people looking for career options that will last a lifetime, take them all over the world if they choose, and allow them to work in diverse roles on exciting projects.

What better time than now for the rail industry to step forward?

As an industry, a key part of attracting the best young people to work in rail over the coming years will be highlighting the benefits we have to offer – both to individuals and the broader community.

The ARA’s Young Leaders Advisory Board has identified sustainability as one of its focus areas to do just that.

Speaking to the industry’s young leaders, we have heard time and again how the sustainability credentials of the industry, and the essential community service it provides, has been a driving force in determining their future in rail.

They tell us that seeing the industry’s role in helping people and businesses in their daily life is part of what makes them enjoy working in rail so much.

They also see the value of sustainable, long term infrastructure development in rail that can take more congestion off our roads and better connect our cities and towns than ever before.

The fact that the projects they work on are exciting, dynamic, innovative and ever- changing is icing on the cake.

It is these benefits that has led to many of our young leaders staking their claim for a long-term career in rail.

And it is these benefits, together with the opportunity to gain the skills needed to succeed in the industry, that will help us attract the next cohort of rail workers.

So, while we deal with the challenges 2020 has given us, we must also prepare for the growth that will follow in the years ahead.

Having the right people with the right skills in place will be key to our success.

First section of Inland Rail complete

The first section of Inland Rail, linking Parkes and Narromine in the NSW Central West, has been completed.

A ceremonial opening of the line was held today, September 15, at Peak Hill, where the first shipment of steel was delivered to begin the project in January 2018.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that today marked a historic point in the project.

“Inland Rail is nation-building and today recognises a great milestone in this transformational infrastructure,” he said.

“Inland Rail is an investment in Australia – in our economy, in our regions and in the capacity of our future freight network.”

Industry welcomed the breakthrough on this stage of the project, which when complete will link Melbourne and Brisbane by rail in under 24 hours. Chair of the Freight on Rail Group Dean Dalla Valle said this would improve the competitiveness of rail.

“In the past, trucks would do the ‘first and last mile’ between rail terminals and ports, warehouses, distribution centres and manufacturing plants. Today on some key transport corridors – notably between Sydney and Melbourne – trucks are doing every mile,” he said.

“A typical 1,500-metre interstate freight train can haul up to 220 shipping containers – equivalent to approximately 180 B-double return truck trips.”

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie said that with this section complete, the rest of the project should soon follow.

“The promise of Inland Rail has already generated significant activity in the Parkes region as the community readies itself for the opportunities better rail freight connections will bring,” she said.

“It is now critical that the project’s swift progress across the rest of the route is supported so even more communities and businesses can benefit in this way.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the 1,700km freight rail link would improve Australia’s entire freight network.

Long-haul rail is cheaper, safer and more reliable than road, that’s why the Australian Government is enhancing the national freight rail network through our investment in Inland Rail,” Cormann said.

“The shift from road to rail builds resilience in our freight network – not only will Inland Rail deliver a long-term freight solution for Australia to meet the needs of our growing population – it is also a critical investment supporting an efficient Australian economy.”

A focus for the Parkes to Narromine section has been the involvement of locals, with 760 contributing to the project and $110 million spent with local businesses. Work on the project included a rebuild of almost 100km of existing rail track and a new 5.3km connection between Inland Rail and the Broken Hill line.

Steel for the project came from South Australia, concrete sleepers were sourced from Mittagong and culverts came from Tamworth. The final ‘golden clip’ which McCormack hammered into place to signify the completion of the project was one of 365,000 sourced from a supplier in Blacktown, Sydney.

Construction is expected to commence on the Narrabri to North Star leg before the end of 2020 with a contractor to be confirmed soon.

The commemorative plaque marking the opening of the P2N section of Inland Rail. Credit: Amanda Lee.

Celebrating diversity key to unlocking talent

Recognising leadership and growth in the rail sector, the finalists for the 2020 Women in Industry Awards are celebrating the rail sector’s diversity.

The headline figure from the Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) Gender Diversity Report was that rail had once again continued to grow the participation of women in the workforce.

Since 2017, the ARA has been surveying the industry to measure the gender diversity of rail at all levels, from track and maintenance workers, through to senior management. These report cards also highlighted the breadth

of roles that women take within the rail industry, from working with rail operators, to consultants and suppliers.

In 2019, reported Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, the industry achieved its best figures yet.

“In 2014, women represented only 17 per cent of the workforce. In 2018-19, women’s representation in the industry was 27 per cent.”

This increase, six per cent higher than previous figures in 2016-2017, has been driven by a number of factors and initiatives across the industry. By 2019, 86 per cent of rail organisations had formal policies or strategies that support gender diversity, 41 per cent have specific gender pay equity objectives.

These strategies have been supported by the work that the ARA has done for the industry as well. After the publication of the Women in Rail Strategy, the ARA set up the Women in Rail Advisory Committee and the Women in Rail Network and mentoring program to support initiatives undertaken by rail organisations themselves. These cross-industry groups have been able to provide a forum for networking and information sharing across the industry.

“As a result, we are seeing more women build their network in rail to support their career advancement, connect with mentors and create new opportunities for growth,” said Wilkie.

Despite these achievements, when compared to the national workforce, there is still more work to do. For example, the national average of women in full-time roles is 38 per cent, while in rail only 21 per cent of full-time workers are women.

However, recent events may provide new opportunities. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the associated change in working patterns, flexible working was one area that was seen as enabling greater diversity in the workforce, and not just for women.

“Flexible work is increasingly important for all of us, not just women. The experience of this year has shown once and for all that we can succeed while allowing people to work flexibly. Many of us have juggled working from home alongside our kids attending school online and have still delivered for our employers,” said Wilkie.

With 74 per cent of rail organisations reporting having formal policies for flexible working arrangement in 2019, and a 16 per cent increase in employer funded paid parental leave for primary carers, taking the industry figure to 62 per cent, Wilkie said it is likely that these policies will be extended.

“As our workplaces return to normal, we should be considering how flexible arrangements can ensure our people can live their lives well while also working effectively. Providing flexibility will increasingly be part of attracting and retaining our top talent, whether male or female.”

Indeed, as flexible working has shown, the benefits of a diverse and multifaceted workforce are felt through the industry. With rail having a critical workforce shortage, particularly with the planned and projected levels of investment, it will be more important than ever to encourage more people to the rail sector.

“As the rail industry grows, we will need the best and brightest to propel the industry forward and we can only achieve that if we are a truly diverse industry. Put simply, if we don’t have a diverse workforce we are missing out on talent,” said Wilkie.

For an industry that provides a critical service to a variety of the general public, diversity is also about being able to meet customer needs.

“Diverse workplaces encourage a mixture of thought and ideas,” said Wilkie. “Different perspectives help bring innovation to the fore and make sure the rail industry is meeting the needs of everyone that uses the rail network.”

Beyond attracting diversity into the rail workforce, the next step is retention. This can be in part achieved through industry awards and recognition, which showcase the range of roles that women take in the industry and the successes they achieve.

In July, Rail Express announced the finalists of the 2020 Women in Industry awards. Showcasing the talents of women in industrial, and often male-dominated sectors, the awards this year saw a record number of nominations, beating the 2019 record by 27 per cent. The growth of the awards was not only represented in the nominations themselves, but the number of individual businesses and organisations submitting nominees across varied industrial sectors.

The awards span multiple categories, including Social Leader of the Year, Rising Star of the Year – sponsored by Atlas Copco – Business Development Success of the Year, Industry Advocacy Award, Safety Advocacy Award – sponsored by BOC – Mentor of the Year, and individual excellence awards across the fields of transport, engineering (sponsored by BAE Systems Australia), mining, and manufacturing.

The most nominated category was the Rising Star Award, which received a record number of entries this year.

Rail organisations represented in the awards include agencies within the NSW transport cluster, including Transport for NSW, Sydney Trains, and Sydney Metro.

Sonja Malcolm, senior manager – capability & development from Sydney Metro, is a finalist for the Industry Advocacy Award, which recognises the work done to promote the transport industry. Malcolm has transformed the way that NSW government agencies support and enable sustainable employment of disadvantaged groups.

Nadine Youssef, associate director at Sydney Trains is a finalist for the Safety Advocacy Award. Youssef has worked to raise awareness of electrical hazards in her role within the Electrical Distribution Unit as the networks is modernised.

Lidija Dumbaloska, professional head of electrical engineering at Sydney Trains, is a finalist in the Excellence in Engineering category. Dumbaloska has supported collaboration across transport agencies and the energy sector to grow knowledge of electrical engineering.

The opportunity to highlight the achievements of women such as Malcolm, Youssef, and Dumbaloska is critical for the industry as a whole said Wilkie.

“When we recognise the women that are achieving great things in the industry, we also encourage other women to aspire to build their own careers in rail. As they say, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ So, it is important to celebrate the successes of women in rail.”

In addition, although not named in the awards, behind each finalist and potential winner is the champions and organisations that have supported them.

“It is also important to celebrate the men and women that are championing diversity in their organisations and awards help us recognise the positive efforts of many in our industry,” said Wilkie.

Winners were announced in August and a full list of finalists are below.

Social Leader of the Year
Winner
Jackie Lewis-Gray – BAE Systems Australia
Finalists
Alanna Vial – BlueScope
Althea Papinczak – Women in Design and Construction (WIDAC)
Elizabeth Taylor – RedR International
Gemma Murphy – QBE Insurance
Jane Tiller – Monash University
Sarah McSwiney – Boeing Aerostructures Australia

Rising Star of the Year
Proudly sponsored by Atlas Copco
Winner
Alicia Heskett – Shell Australia (QGC)
Finalists
Helen Vu – BOC
Kate Robertson – Geological Survey of SA
Kate Stanbury – Stantec Australia
Keren Reynolds – BAE Systems Australia
Louise Azzopardi – WesTrac
Nima Sherpa – BHP
Rose Lindner – MMG
Vera Milutinovic – Inenco

Business Development Success of the Year
Winner
Rachael Ashfield – ifm
Finalists
Caroline Murray – APS Industrial
Jackie Thew – Abrasive Media Supplies
Marika Logan – Elgas
Stefanie Frawley – Colliers International
Sonia Turner – Scope Systems

Industry Advocacy Award
Winner
Rose Read – National Waste & Recycling Industry Council
Finalists

Elizabeth Molyneux – AGL Energy
Hayley Jarick – Supply Chain Sustainability School
Jacquelene Brotherton – Transport Women Australia Limited
Jodie Sainsbury – Kickass Women
Joy Marrocco – AGL
Shay Chalmers – Strategic Engineering
Sonja Malcolm – Sydney Metro

Safety Advocacy Award
Proudly sponsored by BOC Ltd
Winner
Nadine Youssef – Sydney Trains
Finalists
Annastasia Denigan – Cement Australia
Lyndal Denny – Women In Trucking Australia
Maddy Holloway – CITIC Pacific Mining
Natalia Trewin – WesTrac Pty Ltd
Noelani Reardon – Transport for NSW
Terese Withington – Weir Minerals Australia Ltd
Tracey MacDonald – BAE Systems Australia

Mentor of the Year
Winner
Dayle Stevens – AGL Energy
Finalists
Clytie Dangar – CRC ORE
Kylie Jones – Diageo Australia
Marie Varrasso – Officeworks

Excellence in Manufacturing
Winner
Rochelle Avinu – Leica Biosystems
Finalists
Josie Costanzo – Brickworks Building Products
Marina Melik – Boeing Aerostructures Australia
Rebecca Parnell – Artisan Food Company Pty Ltd
Samantha McDonald – Bluescope

Excellence in Mining
Winner
Sarah Withell – Whitehaven Coal Limited
Finalists
Carlie Hayward – BHP
Clytie Dangar – CRC ORE
Jacqueline Madsen – Caterpillar
Kim Parascos – iVolve Industrial Technology
Rose Lindner – MMG
Terese Withington – Weir Minerals Australia Ltd

Excellence in Engineering
Proudly sponsored by BAE Systems Australia
Winner
Elizabeth Taylor – RedR International
Finalists
Jane MacMaster – Engineers Australia
Jo Withford – Department of Transport
Lesley DeGaris – Boeing Aerostructures Australia
Lidija Dumbaloska – Sydney Trains
Mandy Petrides – Bosch Australia

Excellence in Transport
Winner
Melissa Strong – Lindsay Australia Limited
Finalists
Agnes Lesson – Elgas
Camilla Drover – Transport for NSW
Danelle Kempton – Dananni Haulage
Jane Gillespie – Arup
Lyndal Denny – Women In Trucking Australia

AusRAIL Live & On Demand program launched

The AusRAIL Live & On Demand program is now live, with new streams, international keynotes and a wide range of Australian and New Zealand industry leaders to form part of the expanded, three-day event.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Chief Executive Officer Caroline Wilkie said the program gave people more access to content than ever before.

“We are really proud of the breadth of speakers and content to be featured at AusRAIL Live & On Demand,” she said.

“The online format will allow delegates to tailor their AusRAIL experience over the course of the three days and catch up on additional content on demand after the event.

“This is an amazing chance to extend the professional development opportunity that AusRAIL presents well into the new year.”

ARA members will have six months of continuing access to presentations on the event platform, while other attendees will have three months of continuing access.

The program makes the most of the ability to take part in livestreamed, interactive sessions, with Q&As and live chats to be part of the event’s features.

New streams include dedicated content for freight and ports, contractors, suppliers, passenger transport, and much more.

Key issues such as sustainability and accessibility will also be featured.

AusRAIL Live & On Demand will also feature an online exhibition, with exhibitors sharing live demos, videos, product information and the chance to meet with them via 1:1 video chats.

Wilkie said she looked forward to welcoming the rail industry to AusRAIL Live & On Demand.

“This is a unique chance to hear from local industry leaders and their global peers about the latest developments in the industry, all from the comfort of your home or office,” she said.

“The program really has something for everyone.”

AusRAIL Live & On Demand takes place from 1-3 December. Register at www.ausrail.com

Sydney Train

Build trains locally and create thousands of jobs: Weld Australia

There is the potential for thousands of jobs to be created in Australia and to support the country’s economic recovery from COVID-19 if more trains were built locally, according to CEO of Weld Australia, Geoff Crittenden.

Reforming procurement practices in Australia would have deep benefits for local and national comments, said Crittenden who leads Weld Australia, the peak body for welders in Australia.

“State government rail procurement practices that support local welders and fabricators would create thousands of jobs, supporting local families and local economies in a post COVID-19 world. It would facilitate technology transfer and drive some of the world’s most innovative research and development,” said Crittenden.

The call for local manufacturing follows the NSW government’s dismissal of the talents of local rail manufacturers, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying that Australians were “not good at building trains” and Minister for Transport Andrew Constance train manufacturing does not exist in Australia.

While Crittenden highlighted that Australia and NSW has a heritage of building technically advanced train fleets, he also pointed to the potential for future improvements.

“With a long-term procurement commitment from the state governments, rail industry manufacturers would have the confidence to reinvest in their own capabilities, strengthening the industry from within. This type of business innovation strengthens businesses and creates new and better jobs, which together support a move to higher living standards. Innovation investment by business is crucial to our ongoing prosperity. It would make Australia home to a world-leading rail industry, with the capability to build and export superior quality trains.”

Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Senator for Western Australia Louise Pratt said that Commonwealth funding should be directed towards local manufacturing, including rail.

“As COVID-19 has highlighted how sensitive we are to global supply chains and as unemployment is rising, particularly in regional areas, now more than ever we need a plan for manufacturing which includes rail.”

With an extensive local maintenance and repair industry, the cost of whole of life support means that it makes sense to build more trains locally, according to Crittenden.

“If our state governments adopted a nationally consistent procurement process that considered whole of life costs and prioritised local content, not only would it create thousands of jobs, it would deliver better quality public transport. Locally fabricated trains would adhere to all relevant Australian and international Standards, reducing expensive rework and repair. Cheap imports from overseas often cost more in the long run,” he said.

Having more consistent procurement standards between different states would improve the competitiveness of Australia-based manufacturers, highlighted Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie.

“We have long been calling for a national procurement process for rail manufacturing to give the industry greater scale, promote efficiency and create more local jobs which are supported by advanced manufacturing techniques from industry.”

In a tendering framework released in May, the ARA said that greater harmonisation of specifications was one area that would reduce the cost of tendering in Australia.

Berejiklian criticised for NSW train manufacturing comments

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been criticised for comments that local manufacturers of rollingstock are not up to scratch.

On Wednesday, August 26, Berejiklian said at a media conference, “Australia and New South Wales are not good at building trains, that’s why we have to purchase them.”

The comments drew immediate push back from the NSW Labor party, with deputy leader Yasmin Catley saying that NSW should be investing more in locally manufactured public transport vehicles.

“Instead of running down our local industries at press conferences, Gladys Berejiklian should be giving them the opportunity to build our new ferries and trains,” Catley said.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance backed his leader’s comments, reportedly estimating the cost difference at 25 per cent more for locally manufactured trains, due to higher energy, labour, and raw material costs.

“I think most people know the car industry, the train industry, in terms of manufacturing here in Australia; we don’t have it, and there’s a reason for it,” said Constance.

Following these remarks, the NSW Labor leader, Jodi McKay announced that Labor would introduce a NSW Jobs First Bill, which would require tenderers on government contracts to support NSW jobs and industries.

The dispute has come as NSW puts the first of its second order of Chinese-manufactured Waratah Series 2 trains into service. The Korean-made New Intercity Fleet, which are replacing the Western Sydney-made V-Set and allowing the Newcastle-made H-Set to enter suburban service, are also in the early testing stage.

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association Caroline Wilkie said a national procurement process would enable locally-built trains to become more competitive with their overseas counterparts.

“The NSW Government’s procurement choices have eroded the manufacturing sector and make it harder for local operators to compete,” said Wilkie.

“Better coordination with their counterparts in other states and territories would see more trains manufactured locally and improve efficiencies and cost profiles across the life of the asset.”

Wilkie noted that only looking at the upfront cost of purchasing rollingstock ignored the cost of lifecycle support, and a whole of life cost approach should be taken.

In 2019, the Western Australia government signed an agreement with Alstom to manufacture 246 railcars in Bellevue, in eastern Perth. The contract will see at least 50 per cent of the railcars built locally and 30 years of maintenance. Announced in December 2019, the contract was $347 million under the $1.6 billion budget.

Wilkie said that with overseas trade and travel limited due to COVID-19, the value of local manufacturing was greater than ever.

“A nationally consistent procurement process would benefit both state government purchasers and the rail manufacturing industry itself,” she said.

“The NSW government says it is open to working with other state governments and industry to strengthen and standardise procurement processes – it’s now time for them to act.”

NRAP

The NRAP: Putting reform into action

Bringing together representatives from all facets of the rail industry, the National Rail Action Plan (NRAP) is setting a template for rail’s future.

On a chilly Adelaide day in August 2019, federal and state transport and infrastructure ministers assembled in Adelaide for the 11th meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council.

At the meeting, Danny Broad, then CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) gave a heated speech outlining that without coordinated state and federal action, rail’s massive investment boom would be squandered, citing the dual challenges of a workforce shortage and the lack of common standards.

In comments made after the meeting closed, Broad castigated the laissez-faire approach to training.

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

Also listening to Broad’s speech was the then-CEO of the Australian Airports Association Caroline Wilkie. Recalling the presentation, Wilkie was struck by the unanimity of the response.

“Over the last few years, ministers have been very keen to understand whether there’s any barriers, or indeed any opportunities, that we should be looking for on the back of this enormous infrastructure spend, particularly in transport. From that discussion, there emerged three key areas of focus.”

The three priority areas that would come out of the August meeting were skills and labour, common standards, and interoperability. The Transport and Infrastructure Council tasked the National Transport Commission to develop a National Rail Action Plan (NRAP), which, chair of the NTC Carolyn Walsh highlighted, built upon the current investment in the rail industry.

“The Rail Action Plan isn’t starting from scratch and saying nothing has happened before; it is drawing together the threads of a lot of things that have been happening over recent years like the development of Inland Rail, the ARTC’s investment in ATMS, Sydney Trains investment in Digital Systems, the Cross River Rail in Queensland.”

These investments were driven by the recognition at a political level that rail had to play a greater role in moving people and goods if Australia was going to improve productivity and reduce emissions.

“There’s been acknowledgement across governments for a number of years now about the freight task. There’s a strong sense that we’ve got a freight task that cannot be dealt with without investment in both roads and rail, but particularly rail for long-haul freight,” said Walsh.

“The growth of our metropolitan cities has been huge so we’ve seen much greater investment in public transport over the last 10-15 years which is terrific. Coupled with that is the recognition of the impact of climate change, and the importance of getting better environmental outcomes through our transport networks, both in terms of freight and passenger.”

What Broad and others had realised, and impressed upon ministers, was that the rail industry in Australia had an enormous opportunity, with all major capitals investing in significant modernisations of their rail network and interstate projects such as Inland Rail. However, this also represented the chance of a pitfall, and one that the Australian rail industry has been learning from for the past century and a half.

“The industry had collectively with government recognised the extent of that we’ve got to get all of those things right to make sure that we don’t create the break of gauge in the future,” said Walsh. “For those investments that are going to take the next 10 years to put in place and enable in-cab signalling for instance, how do we ensure we don’t get the future break of gauge, as those investments come together.”

Walsh noted that with a national pipeline of investment, individual rail infrastructure managers in each state were thinking about how to think about each network as a part of a national set of railways.

To make this happen, working groups for each focus area under the NRAP were formed, with Wilkie co-chairing the skills and labour group, Walsh co-chairing the interoperability group, and Deborah Spring, CEO of the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), co-chairing the harmonisation group. Each group will also have a representative from industry as the other co-chair, including the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), the Victorian Department of Transport and the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. In addition, members of each working group will comprise representatives from each state as well as industry representatives from RISSB and the ARA.

With buy-in from the Commonwealth, states, and industry, Walsh noted that the tone of the conversations was energising.

“People are very keen to take advantage of the fact that we do have significant investment,” she said. “Often, we’re all talking about how to cut back, how to find efficiencies, and we are looking to find efficiencies, but this is an opportunity on the back of money and investment going into rail. I think we’ve hit a time where those three planks of industry, the standards setters, and the policy makers are all seeing this as an opportunity.”

Photography by RailGallery.com.au

FINDING THE NEXT GENERATION OF RAIL WORKERS
The issue that Broad had honed in on in his presentation in 2019 was that without a fundamental change to the way that rail skills and qualifications were taught, the rail industry would have a skills crisis. This assertion was supported by a report commissioned by the ARA and published in 2018, which assessed the skills pipeline for the rail sector. As Wilkie noted, the findings were clear.

“We don’t have the incoming workforce to meet the requirements of rail projects. ARA members right now don’t have enough people coming through in terms of apprentices, younger people, people with experience, or people moving into the sector.”

In addition to the lack of people, the 2018 ARA report found that qualifications in one state were not always recognised in another.

“The report identified a number of areas of improvement and action that were required and a lot of that was activity that really required a national approach,” said Wilkie. Walsh also noted that rail is not the only infrastructure sector experiencing a boom.

“There’s two elements of it, the first is whether we have the skills base in Australia generally to be able to deliver on this broad range of infrastructure projects – roads, rail, hospitals, and schools are all competing with each other for the best engineers, leading the cost of infrastructure to go up unless we manage the supply of skills. There’s also how to make rail attractive as an industry in a modern world? It can have a reputation as quite a 19th century technology, when actually with all these investments we’re moving to a 21st century technology, which is very attractive to people developing engineering, IT, and other skills.”

Currently, the lack of skilled workers coming into the rail sector has led to reports of companies poaching staff, or having to hire overseas, increasing costs.

“What we really need to be looking at is how do we get more people into the mix, how do we develop more people and bring more people in, because it is getting difficult to take people from one project to the other,” said Wilkie.

Already, as the working group has had early meetings, Wilkie can see a need for the clear definition of pathways for school students and graduates who want to work in the rail industry. In addition, the working group will be looking at how to enable ongoing training, whether delivered by TAFEs or private registered training organisations.

“Talking to members across the country, every state has shortages in a variety of areas,” said Wilkie. “I was speaking to someone the other day about driver shortages in Western Australia, I’ve spoken to other people about signallers. We’re talking about issues of how you train people on the job, how do you get school children interested in the career. It’s really starting from the beginning to end, and what COVID also throws into the mix is how do you get people that might have been in other sectors with transferrable skills into the rail sector as well.”

Wilkie also highlighted that as rail is identified as a sustainable mobility technology, encouraging investment, this can also be a way for the sector to promote rail to younger workers.

“The ARA and the industry need to do more to talk about the environmental credentials of rail. For the younger generation, a sector like ours that is so good in the sustainability arena and makes such a big difference in terms of environmental footprint is something that we need to promote.

“It’s also promoting diversity. It’s about talking to women about why rail would work for them in their life. The perception of the railway sector if you talk to most younger people it would be of an older sector, which just from going to AusRAIL we know that’s not true. It’s a dynamic industry with lots of diversity from younger and older people who have a lot to add and a lot to bring and I think it’s an exciting sector to be part of.”

SCALING UP THE AUSTRALIAN RAIL INDUSTRY
Australia’s rail industry has long been hampered by the legacies of federation, with each state having their own standards and regulations for railways, and this has led to the proliferation of standards for the component parts of railways and infrastructure.

Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 10 different standards for the thickness of glass required for a passenger train carriage. Not only does this limit the ability of rail suppliers from competing in different states and increases the cost of procurement, it prevents the Australian rail supply industry from competing for international contracts.

“Harmonisation is about how do we actually get common standards of the component parts of railways, so that we’re actually building scale in the capacity of the Australian industry to be able to tender for those projects,” said Walsh.

In addition, distinct standards mean staff are largely tied to one state or rail network, said Wilkie.

“We’re talking about the ability of different operators to be able to move from state to state, and that links back with the ability of staff to move between state.”

What the working group aims to do, is also reduce the cost of operating when freight trains, for example, have to traverse across state borders.

“Another example that I’m given is you’ll have an operator who is working in the freight area and they have a number of different folders in their cab that’s relevant to the rules and regulations on the network in Victoria and they go across to NSW and there’s a different set of rules,” said Wilkie. “It’s about making that consistent, so it makes for a better safety outcome but also a more efficient outcome as well.”

Deborah Spring, RISSB’s executive chair and CEO, is co-chairing the harmonisation working group with Ben Phyland, head of rollingstock development, network integration at the Victorian Department of Transport. Already, a number of standards have been harmonised across states through RISSB’s Priority Planning Process (PPP).

“Six standards in the harmonisation section were raised through the PPP forum so we were able to put them on our plan and in fact four of them started to progress while the NRAP was being finalised, which I think shows the importance of the plan and also how RISSB is a conduit for industry,” said Spring.

Three standards identified in the NRAP, common standards for glazing, bogies, and interior crashworthiness have already been completed, with standards for egress, energy storage, HVAC and emissions now being worked on. As Spring describes, the harmonisation process under the NRAP is an extension of RISSB’s current work program.

“When we’re looking at a standard, we look across the industry’s existing standards, both domestically and internationally, and use that as a starting point for the development of our standards,” said Spring. “We also call for development groups and then we have our five existing standing committees right now, who then have a governance layer on top of that. So, these standards are developed in collaboration with industry, drawing upon industry’s expertise, and looking internationally as well.”

Beyond individual standards for components, the NRAP also calls for common rules for safe work. These will be developed out of the National Rules Project that RISSB is finalising.

“The next step of that project is that we have taken the Australian Network Rules and Procedures (ANRP) and gone out to industry with a survey asking, ‘With the 62 rules here, which ones would add the most value to be nationally harmonised and which ones would be easy to harmonise?’ We came up with a matrix to try and identify those rules which will be high value and initially easy to implement. We then set up a national industry reference group of all the senior safety leaders and executives throughout the rail industry to oversee the progression of work,” said Spring.

What this process has developed is a template for the standardisation and harmonisation of rules across the Australian rail industry. While certain rules are identified in the NRAP, their harmonisation will be the first of a pipeline of rules, where RISSB will focus on harmonising those rules that bring value to the rail industry.

“A lot of people talk about harmonising and standardising, but our approach is it should be done when it’s adding value and not just for the sake of it,” said Spring.

A NEW NATIONAL NETWORK
Being able to move people and goods via rail from one side of Australia to the other has been a relatively recent phenomenon. While the Indian Pacific first ran from Sydney to Perth in 1970, making the journey smooth for freight has also been a major challenge, Spring points out.

“I started in National Rail when we took over the assets from the five states and at that point, to get a container from Brisbane to Perth, nothing talked to each other. Not only did we not have one gauge, we didn’t have standard procedures, we couldn’t track anything, we couldn’t book anything, even the tariff system, nothing worked,” said Spring. “We made that seamless and we’ve got to be able to make it seamless now where you can go across the country and it doesn’t make a difference which system you’re using – the critical information getting to the driver is right, timely, and accurate.”

Having this history in mind, current projects are aware of the need to ensure interoperability, said Walsh.

“We’re looking at new type of railways that have got interconnecting points. The ARTC railway joins with the Sydney Trains railway and they’re both investing in technologies for in-cab signalling, but they are different systems. That’s ok, because you’ve got a different rationale for those systems in different operating environments, but they’ve got to be able to talk to each other so that you’ve got a seamless operation and you’re getting the maximum efficiency and safety out of the system.”

To enable the various systems that rail infrastructure managers and operators are investing in to work with each other, the NRAP working group on interoperability will be identifying how to develop standard operating rules that enable control and communication systems to interact. Walsh, who is co-chairing the group with Simon Ormsby, group executive strategy at the ARTC, highlights that the solution will not be one size fits all.

“The goal does not need to be for all of the networks to have the same technology because there is a rationale for why you would have a different signalling system for long-haul freight across deserts compared to what you need in the city where you want to get every inch out of the headway.”

For example, with digital train control systems being rolled out simultaneously on the nation freight network and on the Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane networks, Walsh noted that there needs to be a national conversation about how these systems will work together.

“I don’t think that we’re looking at for ARTC to convince Sydney Trains that they should both use the ATMS system or Sydney Trains has to convince ARTC to use ETCS, but I do think we need to have those early conversations about how they talk to each other and what is the investment we need to make sure that all rollingstock has the capacity to operate over both of those systems.”

This convergence of technological and financial change, while one of a successive number of national waves of reform, is in part unique due to the collaboration of government and industry in Australia’s contemporary rail industry.

‘Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s it was all about investing in a standard gauge so that people didn’t have to get out of the train and change the train at Albury to continue on down to Melbourne,” said Walsh. “Then in the 90s it was all about competition policy and there was a lot of attention in government about separating above and below rail and getting competition into the freight industry. Then in the ‘00s it was all about getting a single national regulator and this next wave, as we get this investment, is about how do we make sure, in partnership with RISSB as the standards setter and the railways that adopt those standards and adapt them, that we’re now not going to get the future break of gauge.”


Harmonising standards in rollingstock
and signalling will enable Australia’s rail manufacturing sector to be more competitive. Photography by RailGallery.com.au.

MAKING A LONG-TERM IMPACT
None of the NRAP co-chairs that spoke with Rail Express suggested that once the items listed on the plan were complete would the job of growing the workforce, harmonising standards or improving interoperability be finished. In fact, the NRAP hopes to set the groundwork for ongoing collaborative reform in the rail sector.

“The action plan is focusing on these three issues to begin with, but I think it’s legacy over time will be a way of thinking about the national rail system as a system that we need to make sure works collectively together,” said Walsh.

“In the past it’s happened bilaterally, you’ll get ARTC talking to Sydney Trains about the interface of trains into Sydney, but actually at the other end of the country you’ve got Arc as the infrastructure manager from Kalgoorlie to Perth so now we’re actually saying this has to be a national conversation and a multi-lateral conversation around some of these issues.”

For Wilkie, the reform’s significance is having the decision-makers working together.

“In each of those three working groups there’s a representative from each state government, so it means everyone is in the room, everyone is part of the conversation. That’s why I’m so positive about this whole process. It’s shown that the ministers take it seriously, we have all of the right people in the room and now it’s up to us to use this opportunity to really make effective change.”

As Spring highlights, the reform process is a model of what the co-regulatory environment of the rail industry can achieve and avoids the need for top-down mandating of standards or rules.

“My approach is if a standard is good and it adds value and it’s had wide consultation, then in a way industry should be wanting to adopt it. These self-mandated standards then really support the coregulatory environment.”

All-in-all, the work on the NRAP signals that rail’s time has come, said Walsh.

“I grew up in Yass in the 70s watching the Hume Highway be duplicated, and at the same time we weren’t seeing a railway having that same level of investment.

“Partly that was because there didn’t appear to be the drivers – economically, environmentally – to have that investment. I think that’s really shifted in the last 20 years. There is pressure on the infrastructure in terms of the demand, as well as responding to the environmental and safety concerns of the community.”

Preparing for the growth ahead

CEO of the ARA Caroline Wilkie writes that a cohort of young people looking for opportunities have the talents to fill rail’s skills gap.

In a year that has been more about preserving jobs than creating them, the concept of skills shortages can be a difficult one to reconcile.

However, the impact of this year’s events has not changed the fact that a very real and significant skills gap looms in the rail industry.

The Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) 2018 skills capability study found the rail industry was staring down the barrel of a 24 per cent skills gap on current employment levels by 2024.

The gap existed across the spectrum, from technicians, trades and operators to managers and rail professionals.

Clearly, this is an area where action is needed if we are to make the most of the significant investment pipeline of the coming decades.

The National Rail Action Plan skills and labour working group, which I co-chair, is currently looking at how the industry can address this issue.

The group is bringing together key people from across the industry to inform this
work and I look forward to reporting on our progress as time goes on.

In the meantime, the ARA is continuing to advance its skills agenda.

As more rail projects come online, there will obviously be a need for the development of skill sets that are specific to the rail industry.

We will need a stronger focus on skills and education to achieve this.

The ARA is advocating for the development of a dedicated skills academy that offers targeted solutions to meet the industry’s future needs.

This will not only ensure the focus is firmly on the technical requirements of the industry but will also ensure a strong culture of safety and excellence can be embedded in training programs before people even enter the rail workforce.

And the time to create this capability is now. Because young people in particular are looking for new and rewarding career opportunities more than ever.

Even before the impact of COVID-19, conditions were not good for those just starting their careers.

In July, the Productivity Commission released a working paper that found the weak labour market that had emerged after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis had been bad news for young people.

In the decade that followed, there were full time jobs became harder to come by as part time employment began to rise.

Young people started on lower wages and found it harder to find their chosen roles, despite having a good education behind them.

For those who took a job that was less than what they hoped for just to get their start, their career trajectory did not always recover, and better jobs did not always come along.

Those challenges have only been compounded this year, with young people hit harder than most by job losses and employment insecurity in the wake
of the pandemic.

In this toughest of climates, there will be exceptional young people looking for career options that will last a lifetime, take them all over the world if they choose, and allow them to work in diverse roles on exciting projects.

What better time than now for the rail industry to step forward?

As an industry, a key part of attracting the best young people to work in
rail over the coming years will be highlighting the benefits we have to offer – both to individuals and the broader community.

The ARA’s Young Leaders Advisory Board has identified sustainability as one of its focus areas to do just that.

Speaking to the industry’s young leaders, we have heard time and again how the sustainability credentials of the industry, and the essential community service it provides, has been a driving force in determining their future in rail.

They tell us that seeing the industry’s role in helping people and businesses in their daily life is part of what makes them enjoy working in rail so much.

They also see the value of sustainable, long term infrastructure development in rail that can take more congestion off our roads and better connect our cities and towns than ever before.

The fact that the projects they work on are exciting, dynamic, innovative and ever- changing is icing on the cake.

It is these benefits that has led to many of our young leaders staking their claim for a long-term career in rail.

And it is these benefits, together with the opportunity to gain the skills needed to succeed in the industry, that will help us attract the next cohort of rail workers.

So, while we deal with the challenges 2020 has given us, we must also prepare for the growth that will follow in the years ahead.

Having the right people with the right skills in place will be key to our success.

approvals

Inland Rail investment requires route confirmation

A senate committee has heard that for Inland Rail to unlock investment in regional Australia industry requires certainty about the future of the project.

Speaking to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport and References Committee Inquiry on the management of the Inland Rail project, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said that the rail industry was ready to invest.

“There has already been significant investment in terminals and other infrastructure at regional hubs to serve the Inland Rail project when it is up and running,” said Wilkie.

“Further investment – and all the benefits that come with it – will only follow when business and industry finally have certainty about the future of the project.”

Also speaking at the inquiry was Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller who noted that Inland Rail has been cited as a catalyst for the growth of regional cities such as Wagga Wagga, Parkes, and Moree, the so-called bushtropolises.

Already, on the Parkes to Narromine project, Inland Rail construction has created 833 sustainable jobs of employment for six weeks or more, and $100 million has been spent in the regional community around Parkes.

Questioning from senators looked at the uncertainty of the route, particularly through Queensland. Such speculation on the route is limiting the ability of the rail sector to make investments off the back of Inland Rail, said Wilkie.

“ARA has members that need certainty regarding the commencement of construction and ongoing operation of Inland Rail. Continued public speculation about the route is destabilising for companies and causing stress and unnecessary hardship for those both on the government’s existing route and communities such as Cecil Plains and other communities not on the current alignment.”

Senators also raised the competitive pressure rail freight is facing from other modes of transport. With rail taking a declining share of freight between Sydney and Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane, reducing transit times to under 24 hours would enable the rail freight to be more competitive. Ensuring that the Inland Rail route allows for a transit time of under 24 hours between Melbourne and Brisbane will be critical, said Philip Laird, an academic at the University of Wollongong.