Why celebrating diversity and emerging rail specialists matters

Now is the time for the rail industry to embrace diversity and new ways of finding solutions, write Thomas Kerr, RTAA president, and Laurena Basutu, RTAA marketing manager.

The world has changed dramatically. For the rail industry, the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed how we work and communicate with others to deliver the services and infrastructure that our community needs.

Although challenging, COVID-19 has created an opportunity for the industry to creatively tackle another key challenge – meeting the significant demand generated by the pipeline of projects in Australasia. Specifically, ensuring that the rail industry workforce has the capacity and capability required.

This challenge presents us with an opportunity to enhance the diversity of the industry workforce by tapping into the broader ecosystem of talent from other industries such as the airline and hospitality sectors, while also celebrating and nurturing the talents of emerging rail professionals. Their creativity and innovation will build the industry’s resilience and capacity now and into the future.

The Rail Track Association Australia (RTAA) Emerging Rail Specialist Award and Diversity Award has gone some way to meeting this challenge by inspiring individuals and companies to rise to the significant talent constraints we face. Ultimately, encouraging, celebrating, and building the capacity of emerging rail specialists will help us retain the knowledge and foster the innovation required to ensure the success and sustainability of our industry.

James Donovan defines excellence as “a willingness to not accept the status quo. Trying to address existing problems in everyday tasks with a novel approach and being willing to consider a different way of doing things to achieve a better result.”

Donovan, a systems interface engineer for MTR Australia, was nominated for the RTAA Emerging rail specialist award by his then employer Metro Trains Melbourne for his work on a project to automate the isolation and earthing of the overhead wiring system. The benefits included significantly faster and safer track access both for maintenance and incident response.

Attending InnoTrans 2018 was a “gunzel’s dream” for Donovan. “I came away with many new rail friends, and a greater appreciation of how rail works outside of Australia. The rail industry in Australia (and across the rest of the world) heavily relies on the import of specific products from other countries, which is a long and expensive process. All of these organisations are seeing unprecedented orders, as the global push on rail continues. It was valuable to understand the challenges these international organisations face, to better inform the implications any impact to their business may have on our local business.”

The best advice Donovan can offer other emerging rail specialists is “grab any opportunity that comes your way. Both personal and professional development comes from new opportunities and experiences. Even if you have difficulty, there are so many helpful and knowledgeable people within the industry that would be keen to provide their insight.”

If you know a talented emerging rail specialist who has demonstrated innovation and creativity in their field, nominate them for the RTAA Emerging Rail Specialist award: www. rtaa.org.au/services/emerging-rail-specialist- award.html. The winner will receive up to $10,000 to attend an international transport conference of their choice. Entries close June 26, 2020.

During this time, things many not be exactly business as usual as we adapt to different ways of connecting. It is important for us at the RTAA to keep in touch. Let us know the best way to connect to help you connect with others by completing this simple four question survey: www.surveymonkey.com/r/KYCMVD6.

For more information on the RTAA contact: businessmanager@rtaa.org.au or follow RTAA on Twitter: @RailTAA, LinkedIn: @Rail Track Association Australia – RTAA, and Facebook: @RailTAA.

Australasian rail events updates

After a national cabinet meeting on March 17, the Australian Commonwealth and state and territory governments announced restrictions on indoor gatherings of greater than 100 people from Wednesday, March 18. In New Zealand, the government has banned indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

Although these bans do not apply to essential activities and schools, universities, workplaces, supermarkets, or public transport, they have impacted upon industry gatherings. As a resource for the industry, Rail Express will provide up-to-date information on rail industry events which have been impacted.


Event  Original date  New date  Organiser  More info 
ALC Forum 2020  March 17-19, 2020  Cancelled Australian Logistics Council  https://web.cvent.com/event/ed5c1f27-aa13-4add-b70a-c07b9ad3b23b/summary 


RTAA/RTSA Annual Dinner  March 26, 2020  Tbc  RTAA, RTSA  http://www.rtaa.org.au/services/annual-dinner-2020.html 


RISSB Rail Safety Conference  March 31 – April 1, 2020  27-28 October, 2020  RISSB  https://www.rissb.com.au/events/rissb-rail-safety-conference-2020/ 


MEGAtrans  April 1-3, 2020  April 2021  Prime Creative Media  https://www.bulkhandlingexpo.com.au/ 


BULK2020  April 1-3, 2020  April 2021  Prime Creative Media  https://www.bulkhandlingexpo.com.au/ 


CORE2020  May 11-13, 2020  June 21 – 23, 2021  RTSA  https://www.rtsa.com.au/ 


Australasian Industry Awards and Gala Dinner  July 2, 2020  November 19, 2020  Australasian Railway Association  https://railindustryawards.com.au/ 


Inland Rail  September 9-10, 2020  5-6 May, 2021  Australasian Railway Association, Australian Logistics Council  https://ara.net.au/events-and-networking/inland-rail-conference 
InnoTrans  September 22-25  27-30 April, 2021 Messe Berlin  https://www.innotrans.com/ 

The following events have been cancelled:Australasian Railway Association events

  • Diversity in Rail Lunch – 19 March, Sydney
  • Understanding Rail Course – 21 and 22 April, Melbourne
  • Rail Industry Networking Dinner- 6 May, Perth
  • Women in Rail Lunch – 20 May, Melbourne
  • Insight into Rollingstock Engineering Course – 28 and 29 May, Sydney
  • Insight into Track Engineering Course – 3 June, Brisbane
  • Insight into Rollingstock Engineering Course – 4 and 5 June, Brisbane
  • Rail Accessibility Forum- 23 June, Brisbane
  • Future Leaders’ Workshop – 30 June, Melbourne
  • The Dare to Lead courses – Sydney and Melbourne

Wearing a commitment to safety

In its column, the RTAA outlines its current initiatives in rail track innovation and safety.

Welcome to 2020! Last year ended on a high note with the AusRAIL Plus Conference and Exhibition in Sydney attracting over 7,500 visitors and delegates. The RTAA held its own technical stream as part of the AusRail program with a strong line up of excellent presentations on track construction and operation, asset maintenance, turnout, safety, and rail head management.

The RTAA Yellow Tie Dinner was the highlight of the conference with a record attendance of over 1,350 guests. A new addition this year was the silent auction of the RTAA One Less Dress. This one-of-a-kind dress was made by Erika Barnes from over 50 yellow silk ties for the rail safety cause with proceeds from the auction donated directly to the TrackSAFE Foundation. Gary Davey of JMD Railtech Group provided the winning bid.

The One Less Dress was officially unveiled at JMDR’s Sydney Office on 13 February 2020.

The new decade promises to be a big one for the Australian rail industry. This year the RTAA has returned with new vigour and enthusiasm for the year ahead and is focused on working collaboratively with public and private entities as well as other technical societies to make rail more inclusive for everyone, grow our national footprint, promote knowledge sharing, foster collaboration, and be sustainable.

To support this focus, we have elected a new and diverse leadership team comprised of amazing men and women working in rail

  • Thomas Kerr – president
  • Jonathan Barnes – vice president
  • Orla O’Sullivan – vice president
  • Kieran Navin – treasurer
  • Abbie Thomas – secretary
  • Laurena Basutu – marketing manager

We’ve planned some great events and initiatives for this year.

Nominations for the Emerging Rail Specialist Award are now open. This award has evolved from the Frank Franklyn Young Rail Specialist Award, which was first established in 2008 in honour of the great Francis Gustave Franklyn who passed that year. Francis was the chief civil engineer in NSW for eight years through the 1980s, was the RTAA vice president, and is an Honorary Life Member of the RTAA. The new award has developed out of a need to be more modern and relevant to today’s audience and environment. It recognises and encourages the contribution of emerging rail specialists in the early stages of their career within the rail industry and attempts to be more inclusive by not making age a limiting factor. The winner of the Emerging Rail Specialist Award will be presented at the Australasian Rail Industry Awards (ARIA) on 19 November 2020 in Melbourne.

For more information on RTAA activities, events and initiatives in 2020 contact: businessmanager@rtaa.org.au or follow the RTAA on social media Twitter: @RailTAA , LinkedIn: @Rail Track Association Australia – RTAA and Facebook: @RailTAA.