ARA launches e-mentoring program

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) is launching a new e-mentoring program for the rail industry.

The program builds on other mentoring initiatives run by the ARA, including its Women in Rail Mentoring Program to provide connections and advice for rail professionals, said CEO of the ARA Caroline Wilkie.

“Mentoring is widely acknowledged as an effective professional development tool across the world.”

The e-mentoring program has been designed to specifically continue to forge relationships within the rail industry while many work from home or separate from their colleagues.

“The digital nature of the program is well suited to accommodate current distancing restrictions in place in Australia and New Zealand,” said Wilkie.

The program will run for six months, from July to December 2020 and is open to all employees of ARA member organisations. 40 mentoring pairs will be selected. Wilkie said that the program is designed to benefit the whole industry.

“The ARA program offers rail employees mentoring by senior rail professionals,” she said. “It is particularly useful for those working in small to medium enterprises who wound not ordinarily have the opportunity to partner with mentors from across the industry.”

Pairs will be selected by the ARA Rail e-Mentoring Committee to find the best alignment for participants.

A program information webinar will be held on May 1 and applications close on May 25.

“The program is a fantastic opportunity for those wanting to advance their career and learn from the best in the sector.”


ARA receives latest industry gender diversity figures

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie talks about how far gender diversity has come in the rail industry.

The ARA has just received the results of the 2018-19 Gender Diversity survey of the rail industry. The results are encouraging in that they show an improvement in gender diversity since the last survey, but that there is still more to do to meet national workforce averages.

The ARA last conducted this survey two years ago for the 2016-17 year. Survey data was collected at the organisational level to report on employees throughout rail and its supply chains. All information was de- identified with only high-level aggregated data made available.

The results show:

  • Women make up 27 per cent of the rail workforce, a 6 per cent improvement from 21 per cent reported in 2016-17;
  • Women hold 22 percent of managerial positions, up from 19 per cent in 2016-17 but substantially lower than the national workforce average of 39 per cent;
  • Women make up 21 percent of the full-time workforce – up from 18 per cent in 2016-17, but well below the national full-time workforce average of 38 per cent;
  • Women make up 60 per cent of the part- time workforce – up from 56 per cent in 2016-17 and substantially higher than the national average of 25 per cent;
  • Women make up 25 per cent of the casual workforce – well below the national average of 56 per cent;
  • Women made up 31 per cent of new appointments around the same level as in 2016-17; 28 per cent of all promotions, up from 20 per cent in 2016-17; and 25 per cent of resignations, down from 29 per cent in 2016-17.

From these figures we can conclude that improvements have been made in women’s level of participation in rail overall, in management and full-time work since the last survey, but still lags well below national averages on women’s employment in these categories.

The survey also asked about women’s representation on governing bodies.
Women made up on average 16 per cent respondents of governing bodies. Ten per cent of respondents indicated that they have set targets to increase women’s representation on their governing bodies.

A key issue then is what has caused these improvements.

Eight-six per cent of respondents have formal policies or strategies in place that specifically support gender diversity. Over half of all respondents have specific recruitment policies or strategies to improve the gender balance in their organisation.

Seventy-four per cent of respondents have formal policies for flexible working arrangements, and the availability of flexible workplace arrangements increased considerably for respondents in rail from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

Improving gender diversity in the rail workforce has been an increasing focus of rail companies in recent years. The reasons are varied. For some it is about recognising that it is the right thing to do, and that a workforce should represent the society in engages with, whilst to others is about improving organisational performance.

For many rail operators it is necessary to address the impacts of an ageing and male-dominated workforce in an era of skills shortages and for others it is about being perceived as an “employer of choice”, recruiting and retaining talented employees.

The significant growth that the Australian rail industry is now undergoing provides the perfect opportunity to advance this change, and companies are taking advantage.

In 2017, the ARA developed a Women in Rail Strategy in collaboration with member companies to support gender diversity in the industry. The strategy has four focus areas.

The first is related to the attraction and promotion of women in rail. Under the premise that “You can’t be what you can’t see,” during 2019 ARA gathered and publicised on our social media channels a number of empowering stories of how women and men working in our industry promote gender diversity in their spheres of influence.

The second is improved networks. The ARA has been hosting a number of Women in Rail lunches to member companies and their employees, offering opportunities to hear from experts and industry leaders while offering networking opportunities. These have been well attended and offered women new networks.

The third focus area is retention. The link between the mentoring programs and staff retention has been well established. In 2019, ARA piloted a Women in Rail Mentoring Program, offering mentoring and leadership support to over 40 women working throughout the industry and around the country. The program review received extremely positive feedback, and the program is being held again this year.

The final area was National Benchmarking. The ARA conducted a gender diversity survey in 2016-17 to collate diversity data to provide a greater understanding of the nature of gender diversity in rail.

A full report and summary Report Card is available at

Many rail organisations are at different stages along the diversity and inclusion journey, and while much of the responsibility and initiatives are at an employer level, the ARA is seeking to support its members where it can provide value at a whole of industry level.

The ARA will take the results of the survey and engage with member companies to inform the next iteration of its strategy.

Proportion of women in rail growing: ARA Survey

More women than ever are participating in the rail industry, survey results released today show.

The Australasian Rail Association’s (ARA) 2018-2019 Gender Diversity Survey has recorded a six per cent improvement in the percentage of women in the rail workforce. Women now make up 27 per cent of the rail industry workforce. 22 per cent of management roles are now held by women, a 3 per cent increase.

Announcing the results, ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie said that while the figures are positive, there is more that can be done.

“While it is great to see these improvements across the industry, women’s participation in rail remains below the national average and shows there is still more work to do.”

The sector also saw a dramatic jump in the number of organisations that have employer funded paid parental leave, rising from 16 per cent in 2016-2017 to 62 per cent in 2018-2019.

The survey builds upon the ARA’s Women in Rail Strategy, which was launched in 2017. The Strategy focuses on attraction and promotion, improved networks, retention, and national benchmarking to encourage gender diversity in the rail industry.

The survey has highlighted organisations within the rail industry that are making a concerted effort to have a gender diverse workforce. 86 per cent of organisations have formal policies or strategies to support gender diversity, and over half have specific recruitment policies or strategies to improve gender balance. Furthermore, three quarters had policies in support of flexible work arrangements in place.

“We have seen a really strong push to attract more women to the industry and retain those already in the industry since our last survey and expect to see further improvements on these outcomes in the near future,” said Wilkie.

The survey included responses from 42 organisations working in the rail industry, which combined represent over 50,000 employees.

The sector with the highest proportion of women were consultants, with 38 per cent. Consultants also had the highest proportion of respondents with gender diversity policies or strategies, with 100 per cent of respondents reporting a policy or sector.

Women made up a lower proportion of non-manger roles such as clerical and administrative roles, and sales roles in the 2018-2019 survey, however the proportion of women in technicians and trade and labourers roles rose. There were jumps in the proportion of women in key management personnel, other executives/general managers, and senior managers.


Industry seeks clarity on status of rail freight

The Australian rail sector is calling for a clear statement from governments that rail freight is an “essential service” and can continue to operate despite coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdowns.

“With state borders around the country closing, rail freight is more important than ever. It needs to be clear that essential services such as rail freight movements can continue during this time,” said CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), Caroline Wilkie.

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) also reiterated the need for governments to take a definitive position on the status of rail freight.

“It would be helpful if governments at all levels reinforced this point in their communications and made it clear that freight operations will not be impeded by border closures,” said ALC CEO, Kirk Coningham.

The statement follows border closures in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory and shutdowns of “non-essential services” in NSW and Victoria.

In some cases, the demand for rail freight is increasing, as Matthew Roberts, rollingstock operations manager at CFCL Australia (CFCLA) highlighted.

“Our assets and maintenance workshops are running as normal ensuring the servicing, maintenance and continuation of rebuilds of rollingstock for rail operators and other rail freight shippers continues. The CFCLA leasing business is also working with customers to increase the supply of locomotives and wagons in service in some areas.”

However, as supermarkets, pharmacies, and other retail stores remain open, rail freight is required to keep supply chains moving.

“ALC’s conversations with governments and regulators at federal and state/territory level have been focussed on ensuring freight and logistics across all transport modes remain classified as an essential service. So far, that advice is being accepted, and as a result, our supply chains are continuing to function,” said Coningham.

To date, freight is yet to be told to reduce services.

“The COVID-19 situation is unlike anything we have faced, but rail freight is providing the backbone to our nation’s supply chain during these challenging times. Our members are keeping freight moving, ensuring that essential goods such as canned food, toilet paper and cleaning products continue to get to where they need to be,” said Wilkie.

Transport for NSW secretary, Rodd Staples, said that the agency will work to ensure freight continues in NSW.

“A key part of our role is ensuring goods and services are able to get to where they are needed most, including supermarkets. The team is continuing to work closely with the freight industry to ensure we don’t see any barriers emerge in critical supply chains, across roads, ports and rail.”

While curfews have been lifted for road freight to supply supermarkets and stores that have had to deal with panic buying, curfews still apply to rail freight movements. Additionally, as passenger demand drops, there is the potential for increased freight movements.

“We appreciate the need to keep critical passenger train services moving in our cities but if we see a reduction in passenger services on metropolitan networks, rail freight access should be increased to these networks to facilitate the transport of essential goods. This could include modifications to current curfews to increase frequency and availability of freight services,” said Wilkie.

Coningham also highlighted that the seamless movement of goods is critical at this time.

“Our supply chains cannot afford to have rail freight being delayed at check points for hours if we want to keep essential goods flowing. The health and welfare of Australian communities needs to be our priority – and in order to ensure it,  we have to keep food, clothing and medicines moving to the places they need to go.”

Rail freight operators are ensuring that they are able to provide a safe and reliable service to customers by increasing cleaning procedures.

“To mitigate the potential person to person contamination risk, workshop crews are being split into small teams and working hours are staggered with crews running two shifts instead of the normal day shift reducing person to person contact as far as possible. Cleaning of workshops has increased each day and between shifts and importantly cleaning locomotive cabs has been stepped up further as they pass through for servicing,” said Roberts.

“CFCLA is taking seriously the supply of goods and services necessary to the freight sector with the health and wellbeing of all Australians being paramount.”

ARA represents rail in Productivity Commission Inquiry on National Transport Regulatory Reform

In her column, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie highlights that in current reform discussions the establishment of a national rail safety regulator was a step in the right direction, but there is more work to be done.

The Productivity Commission is undertaking an inquiry into National Transport Regulatory Reform, the reform that established national regulators and national laws for rail, heavy vehicles, and maritime.

Many would be aware that the ARA was a strong advocate for the establishment of a National Rail Safety Regulator. So much so, that the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) recently acknowledged previous ARA CEO, the late Bryan Nye OAM, as both the “agitator” and “architect” of achieving a National Rail Safety Regulator in Australia.

Recognising the significance of the inquiry, the ARA has been deeply engaged in the Commission’s process.

The inquiry terms of reference direct the Commission to investigate the economic benefits that have been achieved through the national transport reforms, to examine the implementation of the three national regulators and identify scope for further reforms.

To appropriately respond to the terms of reference, the ARA initially ran four member workshops around the country, engaging industry safety and regulation representatives to ensure a detailed first submission was provided to the Commission in mid-2019, outlining the industry’s experiences to date and highlighting further reform opportunities that will benefit rail. Following the release of the Commissions’ substantial draft report, the ARA provided a second submission with further member input, supporting many of the draft recommendations put forward by the Commission but questioning the Commissions’ view that road and rail freight are not substitutes and seeking clarity around the funding arrangements for the three national regulators.

In early February, ARA chair Danny Broad, general manager Emma Woods, and public affairs and government relations manager Mal Larsen appeared before the Commission at a hearing in Canberra to discuss the National Transport Regulatory Reforms, the Commissions’ draft report and the ARA’s submissions.

The ARA highlighted the social benefits of passenger and freight rail as quantified by Deloitte in the ARA commissioned Value of Rail Report.

Turning to the reform that has been achieved, the ARA acknowledged that the establishment of a National Rail Safety Regulator has led to some improvements, most notably, the establishment of a single accreditation process for cross-jurisdictional operators. However, reinforcing the position put forward in each of the ARA submissions, the ARA stressed that more is needed to allow the regulatory reform benefits to be fully realised for industry.

The ARA went on to highlight three key issues in response to the Commission’s draft report:

  1. Support to address Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) derogations but concern that the industry has been through this process recently without a national outcome;
  2. The Report’s claims that road and rail freight cannot be substitutes, and the Report’s disproportionate focus on further road productivity and road access reforms, without addressing long standing discrepancies in regulation and access charging that give road freight an unfair advantage over rail freight. The ARA believes this is a detrimental outcome for our national freight task that will make it more challenging for rail to compete in the freight market; and
  3. Clarity around government funding of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), and ONRSR.

The ARA tabled its support for the Commission’s recommendation that the National Transport Commission (NTC) undertake a review of the derogations from the RSNL but highlighted that while there are more than 80 derogations to the RSNL, the three priority derogations that will provide the greatest benefits for industry if rectified are:

1. A nationally consistent, risk-based approach to drug and alcohol management;

2. A nationally consistent, risk-based approach to fatigue management; and

3. The removal of the mirror law legislation in WA.

Noting that ONRSR recently completed reviews into drug and alcohol management and fatigue, both of which were resource- intensive for ONRSR and industry alike, and did not achieve national consistency because the current structure permits state governments to maintain their own arrangements, the ARA supported recommendations for the NTC to review derogations but expressed concerns as to whether this will achieve regulatory consistency.

Before delving into the Commissions’ draft report claims that road and rail freight cannot be substitutes, the ARA was overt to state that it does not perpetuate the old-style road versus rail debate but rather, must take a national approach with all modes working together to deliver an integrated freight market. The ARA then cited several examples where road and rail are clear substitutes, such as Inland Rail project, where the ARTC business cases forecasts two million tonnes of agriculture will switch from road to rail and that 200,000 trucks will be taken off roads per annum from 2050; the Darwin to Adelaide rail link which now has 90 per cent of the market share of freight movements; the Melbourne to Perth and Sydney to Perth rail links which both have 80 per cent of the freight market and the Moorebank Intermodal terminal which will provide a direct link to the interstate freight network and Port Botany and once at full operation, will have the capacity to shuttle more than one million shipping containers annually between Port Botany and Moorebank by rail taking about 3,000 heavy truck movements off Sydney’s road network every day.

Drawing on these examples, the ARA asserted that road and rail freight are proven substitutes on many routes and trades and should be subject to equal treatment in terms of access pricing and the role of productivity in safety regulation.

The ARA also spoke on the issue of fatigue management, productivity opportunities for rail freight, the need to ensure the Australian Transport Safety Bureau provides value by improving the timeliness of its reports, and how to improve interface agreements.

The Productivity Commission will finalise its report to deliver to government by April 2020.


Rail industry continuing during COVID-19

While the rail industry is still coming to terms with what impact COVID-19 will have on the sector, the industry’s peak body, the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has been ensuring that it continues to act as a collaborative voice for the industry.

At a federal government level, ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie has been part of the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure transport industry teleconference, and is providing a voice for the rail industry at senior governmental levels.

For the industry itself, the ARA has held passenger transport and freight industry teleconferences to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on these sectors. The discussions enabled members to share learnings from direct operator experience.

Further meetings are planned for the Rail Industry Group and Rail Contractors Group.

All ARA working group and committee meetings will continue, however via video-conferencing, with details sent to members.

While face-to-face meetings are temporarily on hiatus, the ARA is coordinating a webinar program, and asking for contribution from members for topics and speakers. The webinars will cover new redevelopments and host debates on pressing topics.

The ARA has communicated that passenger rail operators are experiencing significant reductions in patronage as well as social distancing between customers on networks in Australia and New Zealand. Services have not been reduced, however.

For freight, contractor, and supply chain operators, challenging conditions are being reported, and some stimulus measures may be available.

For freight operators, the Australian Logistics Council has been working with the federal and state governments to ease conditions for logistics operators. NSW, Queensland, and South Australia have announced lifted restrictions for freight movements to allow for supermarkets to restock. These allowances may ease some pressure on logistics companies working further up the supply chain.

“The most pressing challenge for logistics companies at present is getting stock into stores quickly enough to satisfy extraordinarily heightened levels of consumer demand. The existence of curfews that prohibit deliveries during certain hours are a barrier to addressing that challenge,” said ALC CEO Kirk Coningham.

“Australia’s freight and logistics sector is working around-the-clock to deal with the enormous challenges presented by COVID-19 and it is important our governments provide practical support to help the industry’s efforts to support local communities.”

Bumper year for ARA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rail projects identified as priority for investment

An unprecedented demand for infrastructure has led to a major rail project being added to the Infrastructure Australia Priority List.

Often described as a catalyst for investment, the independent infrastructure body’s Priority List now includes Sydney-Canberra rail connectivity and capacity.

The project joins other high priority rail projects such as Sydney Metro: City and Southwest, priority projects such as Inland Rail and the Beerburrum to Nambour rail upgrade.

Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A has graduated from Priority Initiative to priority project, reflecting the project’s move towards construction.

The report identifies the need for continued investment in rail infrastructure, said Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO, Caroline Wilkie.

“The ARA supports the record investment being made by State and Commonwealth Governments into rail.  This report highlights the benefits of continuing that investment and that the current levels of infrastructure investment need to be the new norm.”

High priority initiatives include the Network Optimisation Program for rail, corridor preservation for East Coast High Speed Rail, Sydney Metro West, Port Botany freight rail duplication, corridor preservation for Western Sydney airport and freight rail connections, and a number of other projects around the country.

Adding Sydney-Canberra rail connectivity to the priority list will go towards making rail competitive with other passenger modes, said Wilkie.

“The ARA supports the record investment being made by State and Commonwealth Governments into rail.  This report highlights the benefits of continuing that investment and that the current levels of infrastructure investment need to be the new norm.”

While the projects range from identifying a business case to projects in the process of construction, Infrastructure Australia chief executive Romily Madew highlighted that the nation had a great demand for infrastructure.

“Compounding issues of unprecedented infrastructure demand, severe drought and other environmental changes, require a focus on our resilience strategies and a consensus on where to invest now for our nation’s future prosperity,” she said.

The total infrastructure pipeline is worth over $58 billion, and the Australian Logistics Council welcomed the focus on rail infrastructure in the 2020 list.

“Infrastructure Australia’s rigorous, independent assessment process means governments, investors and the wider community can have confidence that investing in the projects and initiatives contained on the list will address genuine economic and social needs,” said Australian Logistics Council CEO, Kirk Coningham.

“The National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, first included on the list in 2016, is an obvious example. ALC is pleased the Strategy remains as a High Priority Initiative on this year’s list, with a renewed focus underscoring the importance of its implementation phase.”

For freight rail operators, the focus on expanding port capacities down the east coast could create greater demand for containerised freight movements and intermodal terminals, said Port of Newcastle CEO, Craig Carmody.

“While IA correctly notes that no Australian port can accommodate the larger, more energy-efficient ships carrying more than 14,000 TEUs, it is also critical to examine the constraints to existing road and rail infrastructure in handling the nation’s current and future trade volumes,” he said.