ARA

ARA pushing for rail to take a greater share of Australia’s growing freight task

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) will conduct a research program to grow rail’s share of freight, improve productivity in the sector, and increase rail freight infrastructure investment.

The project is part of the ARA’s strategic plan for rail freight and ports, released on June 25.

CEO of the ARA, Caroline Wilkie, said that there is the need for more freight to be carried by rail.

“A strong and resilient freight network makes the best use of all available modes of transport and there is certainly a case for greater use of rail in the future.”

To get more freight onto rail, the ARA’s rail freight and ports executive committee will promote the value of rail to policy and decision makers, provide-evidence based findings that can guide investment, and assist rail operators to improve their service offering.

“A truly national approach will be essential to make sure we get the most from rail investment and create stronger connections between our cities and regions,” said Wilkie.

The strategic plan outlines clear benefits to shifting freight to rail, noting that a one per cent improvement in freight productivity could generate $8-20 billion in savings for the national economy over 20 years.

In addition, one freight train can replace 110 trucks off roads, and rail is nine times safer than road freight.

Communicating these benefits will be key as Australia’s freight task is expected to grow.

“Our national freight task is expected to rise 35 per cent by 2040 and rail will play a critical part in meeting this demand,” said Wilkie.

Work by the ARA will progress in two phases. The first will identify issues and establish the benefits of rail freight. This will be done by reviewing Australia’s supply chain, to see why freight rail has lost mode share, and updating the 2017 Value of Rail Report to demonstrate the positives of rail.

The second phase will put specific guidance on how to get more freight onto rail into the hands of government and industry. The rail freight and ports executive committee will produce white papers for industry and for government to make the case for greater rail freight.

Alongside this work, the ARA will continue to advocate for rail through policy submissions and involvement in policy development.

Industry welcomes Sydney Metro funding

The new Sydney Metro line to Western Sydney airport will lead to long term benefits for the rail industry and the wider economy said Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA).

“It will not only create jobs to support our post COVID-19 recovery, but will also generate new opportunities for business and industry in years to come.”

The injection of an extra $3.5 billion from the state and federal government to get the project underway in 2020 was announced on Monday, June 1.

“This is exactly the kind of jobs creating infrastructure investment the country needs right now and we are pleased to see this important project getting underway this year,” said Wilkie.

Western Sydney Airport Chair Paul O’Sullivan said that the new rail line will be essential to ensuring the airport’s economic impact.

“Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport will not only ensure that the Airport is connected to the city’s rail network, it will complement the Airport’s ability to create economic growth and opportunities for the region, creating jobs for the people of Western Sydney and providing new ways for people to get around.”

When making the announcement on June 1, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that the line will be opened at the same time as the airport, in 2026, a goal that Wilkie welcomed.

“A direct rail connection from day one only strengthens the case for the airport precinct as the region seeks to attract more businesses to western Sydney as part of the development,” Wilkie said.

“This gives the region the best chance of making the most of the opportunities the airport precinct presents.”

NSW Labor has supported the project, however noted that local content must be prioritised.

“NSW businesses must be given priority in supplying construction materials and services to build this important rail link,” said NSW Labor deputy leader Yasmin Catley.

Wilkie said that the investment now would pay dividends for years to come.

“Investment in rail projects like this one provides much more than just a short-term boost as part of our recovery,” she said.

“This is a great example of state and federal governments working together to make sure economic stimulus measures deliver tangible and lasting benefits to our communities.”

Working groups to address skills, standards to improve safety, productivity

Three working groups have been formed to improve the productivity and safety of the rail industry, and address key issue facing the sector.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack announced the working groups, which were agreed upon by Commonwealth, state, and territory government as part of the National Rail Action Plan.

“We are improving Australia’s rail system by continuing to align and harmonise operating rules, infrastructure and operational standards and systems across the national network.,” said McCormack.

The three groups cover skills and labour, interoperability, and harmonising national standards.

“The Australian government is committed to delivering critical rail infrastructure and improving the safety and productivity of rail operations and we are overseeing a major wave of investment in rail,” said McCormack.

The National Rail Action Plan was agreed upon by state and federal transport ministers as part of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Transport and Infrastructure Council, and is implemented by the National Transport Commission.

The leadership of each of the working groups includes government and industry representatives. CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie will co-chair the skills and labour working group with Tony Braxton-Smith, CEO of the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. Simon Ormsby, group executive strategy at the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), will co-chair a group on interoperability with the NTC Chair, Carolyn Walsh. Deb Spring, CEO of the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), will co-chair a working group on harmonising national standards with Ben Phyland from the Victorian Department of Transport.

“The National Rail Action Plan will complement the 10-year $10 billion National Rail Program, which is designed to help make our cities more liveable and efficient as they grow. The plan also aims to reduce the burden on our roads, provide more reliable transport networks and support our efforts to decentralise our economy and grow regional Australia,” said McCormack.

Wilkie said that the formation of these groups will tackle ongoing challenges in the rail sector, and encourage broader economic growth.

“We have long known that a national focus is crucial to ensuring the rail industry can continue to deliver the efficiency and productivity needed to drive Australia’s economic growth. These working groups will promote collaboration and support a truly national vision for rail.”

The National Rail Action Plan notes that the large pipeline of rail investment has created challenges in terms of critical skills in construction, operations, and manufacturing.

“There is no question we will need more skilled people in rail in the coming years. The working group will be looking at how we can collectively promote the industry as a great place to work. There is a real diversity of careers available in the industry and we need to make sure there are clear pathways to encourage the best and brightest to join us,” said Wilkie.

The Plan also sets out that the multiplicity of standards for infrastructure, rollingstock and components, safe work, and communications and control systems have presented a regulatory barrier to the rail industry. Addressing this will be one of the tasks of the working groups.

“The ARA also looks forward to engaging with the working groups on interoperability and harmonising national standards. Greater national consistency would allow us to get more value out of investment in rail and further streamline passenger and freight operations,” said Wilkie. “The calibre of industry representatives taking part in these groups really highlights how important the focus on these issues is.”

Procurement reform a vital step for economic recovery

ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie makes the case for procurement reform in rollingstock and signalling to assist infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy.

Governments in Australia have indicated that they will continue to fund committed infrastructure projects and have begun to bring projects forward to further stimulate the economy to support job growth and investment due to the impacts of COVID-19.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) commends this sensible approach. Infrastructure spending is in the long-term national interest, stimulating multiple parts of the economy, not just construction. Stimulating rail manufacturers and suppliers would be of immense benefit, particularly in regional Australia, where many are located.

However, there are other areas where governments could go further to identify and act on measures that could be introduced to support further cost savings and improve the delivery of new rail projects.

Reforms in the area of tendering and procurement would deliver better, faster, and cheaper projects in the rail sector. While this debate is not new within the infrastructure portfolio, the economic impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of pursuing efficiencies to ensure the rail infrastructure construction sector and rollingstock supply chain remain in a position to support the government’s infrastructure agenda and further stimulate the economy during
these difficult economic times.

Australia’s tendering practices are significantly costlier and more time consuming compared to international benchmarks. The tendering costs in Australia are estimated to be around 1-2 per cent of a project’s total cost, which are double the world benchmark of 0.5 per cent. Increased tender costs are immediately reflected in the project pricing, so reducing the costs of tendering should be important to all parties. High tender costs also increase the risk profile for tenderers and thereby tend to discourage participation.

The ARA proposes that significant benefits could be realised if improvements were made to current Australian industry procurement practices. Substantial improvements can be achieved through more streamlined and consistent tender processes that improve efficiencies for both suppliers and purchasers, from pre- qualification right through to contract award.

These changes would minimise the consumption of resources on redundant and non-productive outcomes, reduce procurement cycle times, further reducing costs and releasing industry capacity for delivery. Further, tendering on the basis of appropriate and more standardised contracting models and risk allocation frameworks for delivery will also reduce tender development and negotiation costs. Creating a consistent and well understood delivery environment will also lead to more successful project delivery outcomes.

The ARA commends the recent procurement-related initiative in NSW, embodied in the NSW government’s Action Plan: A 10-point commitment to the construction sector. The plan reduces the red tape for firms with a proven track record and supports streamlined prequalification schemes for contractors, tiered according to their size and capacity. It reviews existing pre-qualification schemes to ensure they focus on capacity and capability and do not impose unnecessary costs and administrative burdens on suppliers; and minimise the number of project-specific bidders that are required to generate and submit prior to the selection of a preferred tenderer.

The ARA believes that all states should adopt similar principles.

The benefits arising from any process optimisation and standardisation are multiplied when adopted across Australia’s procurement agencies. The ARA supports the convergence and the maximum practical standardisation of procurement practices on a national basis as an urgent and worthwhile objective.

Under the auspices of its Rail Industry Group, the ARA has convened an expert committee of suppliers, consultants, and other interested parties to make specific recommendations for improvement.

The Best Practice Guide to Rolling Stock and Signalling Tendering in the Australian Rail Industry analyses present deficiencies in current tendering frameworks that add unnecessary cost and complexity to already complex tender processes. It makes recommendations for improved practice by procuring agencies in eleven thematic areas.

The ARA has written to Transport and Infrastructure Council ministers with the Guide and is meeting officials to advocate for its implementation.

Procurement – similar to standards, specifications, and training – particularly in regard to rail systems, are areas where Australia has suffered due to its colonial legacy, with differing policy and arrangements in place throughout the six states acting as a deadweight against a national industry.

States, territories, and the federal government have demonstrated their ability to work collaboratively on issues of national significance where there is clear benefit to doing so during this pandemic. This cooperative model should be utilised for other key matters where federation has imposed challenges for industries, where significant savings can be achieved through harmonisation such as rail industry procurement.

Rail industry ready to lead recovery

If the current project pipeline is maintained, rail could lead Australia’s economic recovery after the shocks of coronavirus (COVID-19), the results of a survey of the rail industry show.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has released the results of a survey of its members which has highlighted that major players in the rail sector are looking to local manufacturers and producers to strengthen their supply chains.

The turn to local suppliers comes after the rail industry identified the biggest impact of COVID-19 as being constraints on international shipment of goods.

ARA chief executive officer Caroline Wilkie said that the survey results highlight an opportunity for Australia.

“Many businesses are looking to change their supply chains in the future and this presents a real opportunity for Australian manufacturers and suppliers.”

In a sign of positivity for the sector, the survey respondents said that most of the negative impacts of COVID-19 such as deferred investment, workforce expansion, or capital expenditure would only be in the short to medium term.

“A third of respondents could be back to full capacity within a month of the return to normal operations if the policy settings and project pipeline is right,” said Wilkie.

“Suppliers and contractors stand ready to bounce back quickly to support the recovery.”

Wilkie said that while the survey results were promising for local suppliers, government action could be the make or break factor. A firm commitment to the current infrastructure supply chain and additional stimulus measures would enable the rail industry to work with local suppliers.

“This is the perfect time for governments to streamline procurement processes and boost local content policies to support the generation of new jobs in the rail supply chain,” said Wilkie.

The insights from the ARA survey come after a number of bodies have highlighted the importance of infrastructure spending to lead Australia out of the COVID-19 crisis. On May 20, Engineers Australia released a nine-point plan, with point number one being “Keep the focus on infrastructure projects”.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia noted that the $60 billion difference between the estimated and actual cost of JobKeeper could be directed into productivity-boosting infrastructure.

“Now the federal government has additional balance sheet capacity it should look to investments that can deliver the most bang for stimulus buck,” said CEO Adrian Dwyer.

“Infrastructure investment supported the national economy before COVID-19 and it’s the right policy tool to support our way out of this crisis.”

Federal govt gets behind rail as solution to Australian urbanisation

The federal government has supported a report that encourages the prioritisation of freight by rail and faster rail connections within and between cities and regions.

The Building Up & Moving Out report, released in 2018 by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities makes a number of recommendations relating to rail transport. Specifically, the report recommends that the federal government develop a fast rail or high-speed rail network between urban centres, create a more sustainable public transport network, and prioritise a national freight network with a focus on the movement of freight by rail.

In its response to the report, published in May 2020, the Australian government agreed in principle to the rail-related recommendations. The government highlighted its 20-Year Faster Rail Plan and the establishment of the National Faster Rail Agency as working towards connecting communities with rail.

In responding to the report’s recommendations on freight, the government highlighted the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, as well as the government’s investment in Inland Rail.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie welcomed the government’s response, highlighting the recognition of the value of Australia’s rail network.

“We have seen during this current pandemic how important our freight networks are and rail is a crucial part of that,” said Wilkie.

“It is good to see the inquiry’s emphasis on rail and we support the recommendation to separate freight and passenger movements where possible to make our rail networks the most efficient they can be.

Wilkie also noted the government’s stated commitment to connect Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane with their satellite cities in the next 20 years.

“The Government’s response recognises that faster rail will make it easier for people living in regional centres to connect to work and other opportunities in their capital city,” said Wilkie.

ARA calls for tender changes to maximise benefit of rail

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has called for an update of tendering procedures around Australia to accelerate job-creating rail projects.

Releasing a new tendering framework, the ARA included 21 recommendations to improve the procurement process for rollingstock and signalling equipment.

ARA CEO, Caroline Wilkie said that implementing these recommendations would extend the benefits of rail infrastructure and supply contracts.

“Australian tendering costs are higher than global benchmarks and that makes it harder to get projects out of the planning phase into delivery,” said Wilkie.

“As governments look to bring on new projects to speed our post-pandemic economic recovery, simple and fast tendering processes will be needed to get people quickly back to work.”

In the framework, the ARA’s recommendations include changes to market sounding and pre-project engagement, a one-time national pre-qualification scheme, a simplified probity management process, clear requirements at the point of early contractor involvement, a harmonisation of specifications, and a cost recovery process for rollingstock design.

“Small measures like a one-time-only pre-qualification process and standardised templates, terms and conditions would make a big difference and reduce costs for both government and the private sector,” said Wilkie.

The ARA commended the NSW Government Action Plan, which it said set the standard for procurement and should be the benchmark for other states.

“A nationally consistent procurement process would cut red tape and focus tender discussions on the all-important project outcomes,” said Wilkie.

Today, Australian tendering costs are approximately 1-2 per cent of a project’s total cost, well over the international benchmark of 0.5 per cent. Bringing Australia into line with other countries would allow for reduced project pricing as well as improving participation by reducing the risk profile for tenderers.

“It is important tender processes are fit for purpose and resourced to succeed so projects can move from planning to delivery as soon as possible,” said Wilkie.

In a speech to the shadow cabinet on May 11, federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s call for more local content in rollingstock. Albanese said that trains should be built in Australia, and pointed to examples in Queensland, Victoria, and WA.

Wilkie noted that well-managed procurement processes can create employment in Australia.

“Now more than ever we need government and industry working together to get projects up and running to deliver jobs for all Australians.”

Growing a nation-building industry

Fourteen days into her tenure as CEO of the ARA, Rail Express sat down with Caroline Wilkie for an exclusive interview – her first major interview since taking over from incoming chairman, Danny Broad.

In her opening address to the Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) Light Rail 2020 conference, the new CEO of the ARA, Caroline Wilkie highlighted that the next 10 to 15 years would see the opening up of major opportunities across the rail sector.

In almost each major city in Australia, a new rail project will begin operating in this period. In Canberra, stage 2A of the light rail project is scheduled to open as early as 2023. In Melbourne, the Melbourne Metro tunnel is looking at completion in 2025. In Perth, the Metronet project’s components will start to come online from 2021. In Queensland, Cross River Rail is due to be completed in 2024, while on the Gold Coast, stage 3A of the Light Rail project could be up and running by 2023. Finally, in Sydney the next stage of the Sydney Metro is scheduled for opening in 2024.

While there will be many opportunities for ribbon cutting at each of these projects’ opening days, it will be ensuring that the continued benefit of each rail project extends from the construction into the operational phase that animates Wilkie as she makes her mark on the industry.

“Now is a good time to talk about what role rail will have into the future.”

Wilkie, who was for nine years the CEO of the Australian Airports Association (AAA), highlighted that she would be taking a collaborative approach to communicating these benefits and looking for future opportunities.

“If I’ve got to a media release or I’m banging on the door of a minister’s office, I certainly feel like I’ve not done the right thing,” said Wilkie.

To successfully advocate for an industry sector as the head of its representative association, Wilkie nominates three essential ingredients. Number one being research.

“Define the issue. A clear policy proposal backed by research should be the basis of your advocacy. If you can’t present the facts in a coherent narrative you’re not going to get very far.”

The next step, highlighted Wilkie, was having a cohesive voice as an industry.

“The second thing is then having all the partners and stakeholders on board. There’s no point us advocating for an outcome on behalf of a third party if that third party isn’t saying the same thing,” said Wilkie.

This also extends to ensuring that the government department that she is working with is onboard to convince the key decision-maker.

“If you can’t get the department on your side – both at a state and federal level – they’re not going to write a favourable brief up to the minister,” said Wilkie, who has been closely involved with federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s office during her time at the AAA.

“The minister is going to have a million and one things on his plate and if I’m coming in and saying one thing and the department is saying something opposite, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

The final element is understanding but not playing the politics, said Wilkie.

“Playing a straight bat is really important. I know that there’s government and there’s opposition, but at the AAA I always made sure that we briefed both, to make sure that everyone is aware of our views. That has been the ARA’s history as well, and I intend to maintain that bi-partisan approach.

“I will never attack the government in the media, it’s making sure that those in the departments that we talk to, state or federal level, and the ministers, state or federal, know that we’re positive partners and that we really want to engage with them in a constructive fashion.”

EXPERIENCE IN MAKING THINGS HAPPEN
In her nine years at the AAA, Wilkie oversaw a number of initiatives, but in 2019 her efforts paid off in the form of an unprecedented $100 million fund for regional airports. The products of two years of lobbying, the funding vindicated Wilkie’s collaborative approach to advocacy.

“When we started the campaign, we knew it would take two years and we were right it took two years. We knew we were not going to get this budget cycle, but we could catch the next one if we do the right meetings, get the right messages out there, and generate the right noise and buzz.”

The effort was in the context of infrastructure being devolved to local councils, who were unable to pay for the upkeep of expensive and underutilised assets. Wilkie recalled that essential to the campaign’s ultimate success was the range of voices engaged in the campaign.

“One of the greatest things we did was actually getting our members to be advocates for us, talking to their local member about why it was important and getting that local member to talk to the Deputy Prime Minister.”

The program’s ultimate success drew on these insights while also being realistic about what could be achieved within that timeframe.

“Too often you see some people saying, ‘We want this and that.’ But to be successful, you need to understand to the perspective of the Government of the day and the circumstances in which it is operating. You need to be collegiate in understanding the department’s mandate and its context, ” said Wilkie. “For example, there’s no point going to the Commonwealth this year and asking for additional expenditure, because we’re in a difficult period with the bushfires and coronavirus, so we’re planning conversations for next year.”

However, Wilkie’s experience at the AAA also highlighted that just as much as getting government to fund something or take an action, effective industry leadership can be just as much about ensuring a change does not happen.

In 2012, a proposal was put forward for airports to cover the cost of the presence of Australian Federal Police (AFP) at the facilities.

“It was a classic case of lobbying against a bad policy,” said Wilkie. “Sometimes the greatest achievement is making something not happen.”

Framing the issue as one of national security, and therefore the responsibility of the federal government, and getting other stakeholders on board, was to ensure this extra cost was not imposed on airports.

“I think the greatest traction we got in that campaign was arguing that if you want to charge us for that, we want KPIs, we want to have a say over the resourcing,” said Wilkie. “If we’re paying for it, then we want a say and you can well imagine the AFP saying ‘Absolutely not, this is a national security issue.’ This, of course, was our whole argument in the first place. We were able to get a lot of people in the community on board for this particular campaign.”

In other areas, Wilkie has found the value of research in effecting change. In late 2019, the Productivity Commission finalised a report into the airport sector, which found that the current regulation of the sector was fit-for-purpose.

“We were engaging with the Productivity Commission on the facts because we took the view that as they are the greatest economic minds in the country, they will consider the case on its economic merits. That was probably the best example in my time at the AAA of fact-based research and making sure that you got all your members to really be focused on that fact-based research.”

Wilkie sees reports such as the Value of Rail report, prepared for the ARA by Deloitte Access Economics as forming this evidence base for government decision-making, and is something that Wilkie will be looking to update further.

CONTRIBUTING TO THE GREATER GOOD
With these experiences under her belt, Wilkie is aware of the differences between the airport and rail sector, one that she describes as “issues rich”.

“After my first 14 days it’s pretty clear to me that there are distinct groups in the membership, and they each have their distinct issues. I think we can clearly advocate for each of the sectors’ needs without conflicting with someone else.”

Rather than seeing these different sectors as competing Wilkie highlighted that in coming together, the sectors can improve outcomes for the industry as a whole.

“With any membership organisation you go on the principle of ‘do no harm’, as in with any policy I don’t want to advance one member at the expense of another member. More broadly you want to do what’s best for the industry as a whole.”

Apart from her experience heading the AAA, Wilkie has a deep knowledge of the role of industry associations and peak organisations from prior roles at the Tourism and Transport Forum and the Financial Planning Association.

“I love working in industry associations. I enjoy the variety of the role as CEO and I love the advocating for the greater good,” she said.

“For all the work that I did at the AAA the thing that brought me the greatest joy was doing anything that helped people in regional communities, hence why I always say that getting that funding for regional communities is our proudest professional moment. It was a gut-wrenching decision to decide to leave but I had always looked very warmly on the ARA, I knew Danny Broad previously. I am excited about rail and I like the fact that it’s a nation-building industry. It still has that connection with the regions, and it’s obviously got a really exciting trajectory.”

Less than a month into the job, Wilkie is already looking at where rail can have a greater presence in the national conversation.

“We’re looking at doing refresh on some of our statistics; what is the value of rail and why is it important, particularly after the summer bushfires the issues of climate change and emissions are very much front and centre in the policy debate.”

As Europe increases its spending on rail to reduce the carbon footprint of mobility, Wilkie sees the ARA as having a role to play in setting the agenda for a decarbonised economy.

“That’s an area where rail has an amazing story to tell about what it can do, not only in metro areas in terms of increasing use of passenger transport, but even in regional areas, and particularly in terms of freight.”

In other areas, Wilkie is hoping to continue the work already being done by the ARA.

“The other area that’s a big focus for the ARA and which I will take the mantle up on, is about workforce development and skills development. I think that promoting rail employment as something that’s not old fashioned, but modern and dynamic is important. The many environmental benefits of our industry lends itself to being promoted as a green alternative to enriching life. That modern perception will actually greatly impact making it an employer of choice and making younger people decide to work in rail.”

In these areas, Wilkie has been doing her own, firsthand research.

“I grew up in the Hills district in Sydney and now we have the North West Metro. Over Christmas I took my son on it, just to go and ride it, because it was extraordinary. Having grown up in Castle Hill, the best you could hope for was an occasional bus down to Parramatta. So for kids, the new Metro has opened up travel, and allowed people to engage with the city. With developments like that you’re seeing people have a legitimate choice and that’s the difference.”

NEXT STEPS
Wilkie, who describes herself as “conservative” in her approach to association budgeting, stresses that the current ARA team and structure is key to the ongoing success of the association.

“Listening is going to be key in this period and then we’ll go to the ARA Board with a rough plan of how we can service the needs of the distinct groups within the rail industry. Then can we ask for each of these issues what do we need to do? Do we start from basics, is it a research project, do we need to do a submission to government?”

More broadly, Wilkie notes that the role of the industry association is to find areas that can benefit the sector as a whole.

“I think for a body like the ARA, it’s not necessarily about advocating for build more, I see a role for us in trying to move the industry to do better and more with what we have. So, what are the vagaries of the national system that aren’t working for us as an industry, and where can we see productivity improvements? It’s not particularly sexy. I don’t know that anyone can cut a ribbon around it, but when you look at the productivity for the sector, that’s where we as the ARA can actually add the greatest value.

“That really comes back to what the role of the association is about, bringing together the voices of the sector, and putting their issues front and centre with the decision makers.

“As a collective voice, we can achieve things for industry.”

ARA launches groups for career development

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has created two LinkedIn groups to support women and young people in the industry.

The groups will create a space for discussion and career development, as part of the associations efforts to support women and young people working in rail.

As many workplaces have shifted to working from home and interactions online are becoming the norm, ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie said that discussions should continue, even when they are not face-to-face.

“With so many of us spending more time working away from the office, this is the ideal opportunity to build your social networks and be part of the discussion on the future of our industry.”

The groups are also open to those supporting and mentoring women and young peoples’ careers in rail.

“Our Women in Rail Network will bring together the many people in our industry that are championing diversity and supporting rich and rewarding careers for women in rail,” said Wilkie.

“I look forward to seeing past participants of the ARA Women in Rail Mentoring Program joining the network as we provide a space for conversation with those both old and new to the industry.”

For young rail professionals, many of whom will be the ones carrying out the expected infrastructure stimulus spending that will follow the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the space will provide a peer-support network as well as advice from those who have been in the industry already.

“The Young Rail Professionals Network will bring together the next generation of leaders in rail as we prepare for a new wave of investment in the industry over the next decade,” said Wilkie.

“Recruiters and managers will be encouraged to share their insights on building a successful career in rail to support young professionals as they chart their own path in the industry.”

The groups are open to ARA members, and will include case studies, news, and opportunities for collaboration, as well as personal stories and discussion.

“This is the ideal opportunity for our members to lead the conversation on issues that are important to them and help us shape the future of our industry in the process,” said Wilkie.

A resilient freight network is key in times of uncertainty

In her column, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association Caroline Wilkie highlights that Australia’s rail freight network is facing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic but its importance now is greater than ever.

Australia’s population is forecast to double by 2070, reaching almost 45 million people. This growing population requires an increased allocation of goods, adding pressure on our existing freight networks to deliver. According to the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, Australia’s freight task is expected to grow by over 35 per cent between 2018 and 2040, an increase of 270 billion tonnes, bringing the total volume moved to just over 1,000 billion tonne-kilometres.

The role of rail freight is critical in meeting this future demand and maintaining our international competitiveness. The Value of Rail study commissioned by ARA in 2017 highlights that a one per cent improvement in freight productivity could generate $8-20 billion in savings to the national economy over 20 years. Rail freight provides a cost-effective, safe and environmentally sound solution for reducing congestion from heavy vehicles on urban, regional, and interstate roads. Just one freight train alone can take 110 trucks off our already congested roads and rail is up to nine times safer than road freight. In light of these significant benefits, the ARA is working with governments and industry on behalf of our members to get more freight on to rail, and to improve the efficiency and productivity of Australia’s rail freight supply chains. Achieving modal shift to rail is critical to increasing economic growth, improving the liveability of our cities and supporting regional communities.

Delivery of the Inland Rail project is an important step in achieving this. This nation building project will see a 1,700km freight rail line directly connecting Melbourne and Brisbane, via Toowoomba, Parkes, and Albury. The route will utilise approximately 1,100 km of upgraded existing track and 600 km of new track in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. Most importantly though, it will bypass the heavily congested Sydney network and bring rail freight travel times between Melbourne and Brisbane down from 33 hours to less than 24 hours. This is a game changer and will make rail freight much more competitive over long haulage routes.

In a period of economic uncertainty, the Inland Rail project is bringing a much needed boost to the economy. Construction is already underway on the Parkes to Narromine project and planning is well advanced on a number of other sections. Approximately $747m has already been spent, with much of this spend being injected into rural communities.

Inland Rail has been in the public domain for over fifteen years. It is also one of the most heavily studied projects in recent Australian history, having been through an extensive consultation, planning, route analysis, engineering and costing process.

We are aware of issues that have been raised in relation to flooding of the Condamine crossing in Queensland.

Without a doubt, the project is receiving the best possible expert advice and can manage these issues using tested and proven mitigation measures. These issues need to be worked through carefully and collaboratively, but they should not delay the delivery of the project.

The delivery of Inland Rail is a start, but more must be done. Investment in rail freight delivers enormous benefits in the long term. Improved supply chain connectivity and productivity benefits the economy and the environment and helps provide resilience in the face of emergencies like to COVID-19 pandemic.

The current crisis has just reinforced the importance of a highly productive and efficient supply chain. This unprecedented event has challenged our supply chain like never before, but our rail freight members continue to ensure that essential goods such as canned food, toilet paper, and cleaning products are moving across the country and to customers.

When state border crossing restrictions came into force in later March, the ARA wrote to state and the Commonwealth transport minsters to ensure rail freight was considered an essential service and exempt from border restrictions.

However, the stark difference between road and rail freight regulation is never more apparent than it is during times like these. Regulation by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has a focus on both safety and productivity, whereas the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR’s) remit is purely safety-related.

The ARA have long held the view that we must take a national approach with all modes working together to deliver an integrated freight market. However, this approach can only work if all modes operate from a level playing field with equal treatment in terms of access pricing, government policies, and the role of productivity in regulation.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, trucks were able to have curfews lifted to extend delivery windows in NSW and Queensland. However, due to the nature of our infrastructure and the shared tracks of passenger and rail networks, our industry does not have the same flexibility. As a result, we must look for other solutions to improve the productivity of rail freight.

Rail freight operators are committed to the highest levels of safety compliance but are routinely challenged by Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) derogations that exist, most notably the differing fatigue management requirements in NSW and Queensland, and the different drug and alcohol management requirements in NSW.

As I outlined in my March 2020 article, these inconsistent, state-based regulatory requirements go against the objective of national regulation and add costs to rail freight without any proven safety benefit. The ARA believes that multiple layers of often conflicting regulation impacts rail freight productivity.

A modern, risk-based approach to rail safety that focuses on productivity will improve our supply chain resilience and unlock significant economic and environmental benefits for the whole country.