Harnessing the rail boom to improve safety outcomes

There is a concerted effort underway across the rail industry in Australia to leverage the current investment in the rail sector to improve safety outcomes.

Speakers at the 20th annual Rail Industry Safety & Standards Board (RISSB) Rail Safety Conference 2020 highlighted that with the many major projects occurring concurrently around Australia, there is the opportunity to reset and improve when it comes to safety.

John Langron, rail safety manager Sydney Metro outlined how this is happening in practice on Australia’s largest public transport project. With construction underway on the CBD and South West portion of the project, new safety practices and methods are being implemented and normalised to improve overall safety culture.

While Langron noted that on such a high visibility project there is an expectation that the project will provide safer outcomes, the size of the project is also an opportunity. In the construction phase, Sydney Metro has implemented processes that are “a step above a normal maintenance job” said Langron.

These include daily preliminary checks before starting work, including drug and alcohol testing and verification of workers’ qualifications.

On major worksites such as at Central Station, large concrete barriers have been erected to separate work sites and the live rail environment, which also reduce dust and noise pollution for passengers on the adjacent platforms.

Ways of working have shifted too. Sydney Metro has instituted a prohibition on lookout protection working and conducted on-track works under local possession authorities (LPA). Through forward planning and collaboration with Sydney Trains, this has ensured that works are done on time at a higher level of safety.

Changing safety culture however takes more that physical and administrative controls. As Langron pointed out, with a new project a new culture can be established with the formation of the organisation. There is an “Opportunity for creating the culture that Sydney Metro wants” said Langron.

The culture from the top then sets the standard for within the organisation and the principle contracts and rail transport operators that Sydney Metro interacts with. Having had this experience of working alongside Sydney Metro, Sydney Trains has now shifted to doing more routine maintenance tasks during night time when no trains are running, according to Langron.

Driving positive change: Rail recognised in Women in Industry Awards

The Women in Industry Awards celebrated the achievements from a number of industries, and Nadine Youssef’s work keeping Sydney Trains safe won particular recognition.

On August 24, the winners of the 2020 Women in Industry Awards were announced. The annual awards, co-presented by Rail Express, recognise excellence across heavy industry in Australia, including manufacturing, resources, waste and resource recovery, and transportation. This year saw a record number of nominees, and judges who were drawn from across the Australian industrial landscape commented on the calibre of nominations received.

Christine Gibbs-Stewart, CEO of Austmine and member of the judging panel, noted that nominees came from all stages of their careers.

“As I judge it was great to read each applicant’s inspirational story. From young women driving change to those more experienced who are running large businesses, the nominees this year should all be congratulated for their outstanding achievements,” she said.

One of the most nominated categories was the rising star of the year award. As such a competitive field, the number of nominations demonstrated the depth of talent that is coming into industry, said judge Hayley Rohrlach, AECOM senior civil engineer and national chair of the Women in Engineering Committee for Engineers Australia.

“The Rising Star of the Year award nominees were very impressive, and the industry as a whole has a lot to be excited for if that’s the level of young engineers, miners and scientists that are coming through the ranks.”

Winning this award was Alicia Heskett, of Shell Australia (QGC). The other finalists were 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, and Vera Milutinovic – Inenco. “I hope they can continue their advocacy and sharing their enjoyment for engineering and STEM as a whole into the community to continue to bring (or retain) female engineers into the profession,” said Rohrlach.

As rail continues to grow the participation and representation of women in the industry, judges commented that awards such as these serve as a way to encourage more women into traditionally male dominated industries, while also celebrating the successes of those who have made this their career. Melissa Donald, National Association of Women in Operations (NAWO) board member, noted the importance of the awards.

“By highlighting the achievements of the finalists and winners I hope we can inspire more women and men to pursue careers in operations and continue to drive better gender balance across all industries.”

Institute of Quarrying Australia chief executive Kylie Fahey shared these sentiments.

“The awards promote the contribution of women and support the broader agenda of diversity and inclusion. By highlighting and celebrating the contribution of women to the industry, we can encourage more women into careers, help increase representation in leadership roles and support change,” she said.

“Awards are an important way for industries to acknowledge and celebrate innovation, ideas and change that are fostered through the involvement of individuals at all levels and through the diversity in teams. The applications demonstrate this and hopefully encourage other women to put their ideas forward and continue to strive for positive change.”

Nadine Youssef’s work within Sydney Trains was highlighted when she won the Safety Advocacy Award.

“THE WORK WE DO MATTERS”
Every day, Nadine Youssef plays a vital part in ensuring that over 1.3 million people who use the Sydney Trains network daily get to their destination safely. Her work in this field was this year recognised with receiving the Safety Advocacy Award.

Youssef highlighted that working for a large and varied organisation such as Sydney Trains has allowed her to grow her career.

“It promotes a culture of quality customer service while expecting the highest standards of ethical behaviour from all its employees. It strives for a culture of integrity and professionalism and innovative thinking. With customer service and safety always at the heart of what we do, there is an enormous variety
of interesting, challenging and rewarding opportunities across a range of professions,” Youssef said.

Since 2018, as the associate director of the Electrical Distribution Unit, Youssef has been the custodian of the Electrical Network Management Plan and the Electrical Network Safety Rules (ENSR). Youssef began and led the redesign of the ENSR to meet industry best practice standards and promote organisational continuous improvement.

Significant infrastructure upgrades such as the introduction of Sydney Metro increased the demand for electrical work and resources, in addition, Sydney Trains’ management of substation access permits limited efficiency. Parallel with redesigning the ENSR, Youssef was an integral member in implementing a pop-up electrical learning centre to overcome the shortage of accredited electrical personnel and provide a safe location to train staff away from the hazards of the live environment.

Receiving the award, Youssef noted that the recognition extends to a support network of colleagues, family and friends.

“This recognition is motivating and humbling and a reminder that the work we
do everyday matters. However, I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for my incredible mentors, colleagues, family and friends, so this nomination is equally extended to them.”

The importance of a supportive work environment is one that Youssef noted.

“In my office and in my field, I am surrounded daily by intelligent, strong and talented people and following this experience I will continue to lean in and lift up those around me and am inspired to find ways to pay back and recognise the work of others.”

While the finalists and winners of the Women in Industry awards were not able to meet at the usual awards ceremony, a virtual network has sprung up, and has encouraged Youssef to share her experience with others.

“I am glad to have a new network of women who I can collaborate with as I continue on my professional journey. Being named a finalist and winner of such an award is a professional and personal achievement that carries with it great responsibility. This experience compels me to continue to share my story and knowledge with even more women looking to grow in my industry.”

As Youssef looks to promote a cohesive approach to public planning and integrated services, she is encouraging others within industry to think about where they want their career to take them.

“It is important to establish a strong, productive working relationship with your colleagues and peers and to take responsibility for your own career path. Don’t be afraid to try your hand at different things in your organisation and then only you will be able to decide your future career path. Lastly, never stop learning and developing yourself regardless of your age. In this ever-changing world it is becoming more and more important to be able to change and adapt with it.”

For Youssef herself, who has progressed to an executive role within Sydney Trains, she is only just getting started.

“I truly feel that my biggest achievement is yet to come. I am proud of my career to date and the impact that I have been fortunate to make, but I am always looking to achieve more tomorrow than I did today and am constantly striving to improve myself and the organisation I work for.”

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

Waratah

New Waratah Series 2 train in service 3 months ahead of schedule

The first of a second order of Waratah Series 2 trains has entered service this week, three months ahead of schedule.

The train is one of 17 Waratah Series 2 trains that will begin operating on the Sydney network as part of the second delivery. The rest are expected to commence service later in 2020 and early 2021, said Minister for Transport Andrew Constance.

“It is exciting to see this train on the tracks three months ahead of schedule, after it was one of 17 fast tracked for delivery at the start of 2019,” said Constance.

“The remainder of the trains will be delivered by the end of this year and will be rolled out progressively after testing.”

The investment in new rollingstock is part of the NSW government’s More Trains More Services program. The program also covers upgrades to signalling, the installation of new train control systems, traffic managements systems, and infrastructure improvements.

The $4.3 billion investment will increase the capacity of the current Sydney network to allow for further growth in passenger demand as seen over the past years, said Constance.

“We have seen rapid growth in the number of train journeys over the past few years, which is why it is so important that we invest in new trains and new infrastructure right across our rail network.”

Sydney Trains acting chief executive Suzanne Holden said the new trains would feature similar passenger-focused upgrades as those in the first delivery.

“They’ll feature air conditioning with advanced temperature control, high definition customer information screens, internal and external CCTV, as well as priority seating, wheelchair spaces and hearing aid loops,” she said.

The new trains will operate on the T2 Inner West & Leppington, T3 Bankstown, and T8 Airport & South lines.

The rest of the fleet will be delivered before the end of 2020. Once in Australia the trains will undergo testing and commissioning.

Women

Women in Industry winners announced

On Monday, August 24, the winners of the Women in Industry awards for 2020 were announced.

Judge Melissa Donald, board member of the National Association of Women in Operations said that the quality of nominations made judging difficult.

“The calibre of nominees was so impressive, with a range of experience and backgrounds, which made judging challenging. Congratulations to the winners, whose achievements can inspire more women and men to pursue careers in operations and continue to drive better gender balance across all industries.”

The winners of each category are:

Social Leader of the Year – Jackie Lewis-Gray – BAE Systems Australia

Rising Star of the Year, sponsored by Atlas Copco – Alicia Heskett – Shell Australia (QGC)

Business Development Success of the Year – Rachael Ashfield – ifm efector

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

Safety Advocacy Award, sponsored by BOC ltd – Nadine Youssef – Sydney Trains

Mentor of the Year – Dayle Stevens – AGL Energy

Excellence in Manufacturing – Rochelle Avinu – Leica Biosystems

Excellence in Mining – Sarah Withell – Whitehaven Coal Limited

Excellence in Engineering, sponsored by BAE Systems Australia – Elizabeth Taylor – RedR International

Excellence in Transport – Melissa Strong – Lindsay Australia Limited

Hayley Rohrlach, 2020 chair of the National Committee for Women in Engineering said that the awards should serve as encouragement for all to continue to grow the industries they work in.

“I hope they can continue their advocacy and sharing their enjoyment for engineering and STEM as a whole into the community to continue to bring (or retain) female engineers into the profession.”

TMS supplier selected for Digital Systems program

Siemens has been announced as the successful tenderer for the supply of a new Traffic Management System (TMS) for Sydney Trains.

The TMS is part of Transport for NSW’s Digital Systems program, which involves the replacement of traditional signalling with European Train Control System (ETCS) level 2 in-cab signalling. The program also involves the implementation of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) to assist drivers to provide reduced and more consistent journey times.

The $80 million TMS will continually monitor the position of all trains, to ensure trains run as scheduled and to assist with responses if incidents do occur.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that the TMS would improve the Sydney Trains network.

“This is an important step in the process of upgrading our network with internationally proven technology that boosts safety, capacity, reliability and enhances the customer experience,” said Constance.

“Sydney’s heavy rail network is the backbone of our public transport system and it’s crucial we have the latest systems and technology available to serve our customers well into the future.”

The TMS will be operated from the Rail Operations Centre (ROC) in Alexandria, and integrate with other operational systems used by Sydney Trains.

The first deployment of Digital Systems will be on the T4 line from Sutherland to Cronulla and Bondi Junction to Redfern. The deployment of the system to other parts of the network is currently being planned.

Once the system is fully rolled out across the Sydney network in the 2030s, Digital Systems will allow for greater utilisation of the rail network, more reliable services, reduced journey times, and enhanced real-time information.

Conversations

“A conversation can change a life”

With Rail Safety Week recently celebrated around Australia and New Zealand for the 15th year running, messages of rail safety flooded inboxes, intranets, and social media, demonstrating the rail sector’s wholehearted embrace of such an initiative. Leaders at the highest levels joined the conversations with video messages, including Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack and state transport ministers, while organisations engaged the services of community figures, such as local rapper Lisi, who spread the message on behalf of Queensland Rail.

A similar expression can be seen on Rail R U OK?Day, which reached the highest number of people ever despite COVID-19 in 2020, its sixth year in a row. While messages around physical safety, mental health, and wellbeing are common now, it is important to note how far the industry has come. As Mostapha Kourouche, health advisor at Sydney Trains noted, things looked a bit different only a few years ago.

“Six years ago we got involved with Rail R U OK?Day. It was a great initiative, launched by TrackSAFE with a number of different rail organisations, but I felt that our initial presence just didn’t seem like it was hitting the mark. It was very corporate; it was very executive, and it didn’t really hit our front-line employees like it probably should.”

Sydney Trains, with a staff of over 10,000 people, is an extremely diverse organisation, and combined with NSW Trains stretches from the South Coast, to the Hunter and beyond the Blue Mountains. Having 17 years of experience within such a broad environment, Kourouche reached out to the R U OK? organisation to see how the initiative could be evolved.

“I wanted see what we could do, and ask, ‘This is what I’m thinking, do you think it can work?’ We collaborated with the team at R U OK? and our very first big Rail R U OK?Day came in 2016 when we had an event at Central station and we drew about 1,000 people across the business to that event. We had an all-day barbeque, we had our whole executive leadership team there, we had the R U OK? team turn up as well and have conversations with people and say, ‘G’day’.”

Beyond the day itself, Kourouche has become a Workplace Champion for R U OK? at Sydney Trains. In such a highly distributed organisation, looking to methods beyond a traditional sausage sizzle has enabled all members of the organisation to get involved.

“We have an internal social media that we use, so we encourage people to share their stories and experiences and fill it with colours of yellow. We encourage different sites to host local events as they know what their people are like.”

In addition to these bottom-up initiatives, senior executives at Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW have been able to share their stories with staff, something that Kourouche sees as vital to getting all individuals to start having conversations with each other. Over the years, these programs have grown Rail R U OK?Day within Sydney Trains to encompass the entire organisation.

“Last year we had events up as far as Narrabri and down in the Southern Highlands, the South Coast, and the Blue Mountains,” said Kourouche. “We’re reaching the whole of our network and people are taking on the message and really encouraging people to talk.”

In a recent Rail R U OK?Day tour of the Sydney network, Kourouche had one interaction that drove home how important these conversations can be. Pulling into a station, a staff member there asked what Kourouche was doing. Kourouche described the aim of Rail R U OK?Day which prompted the staff member to ask, “What if I’m not ok?”

Kourouche explained that he was there to have a chat and see how he and the wider Sydney Trains support network could help.

“He said, ‘Well I’m not ok. I’ve got so many things going on in my life, my mum is struggling with mental illness, she hasn’t been receiving the support that she needs. I’m a shift worker, I’m not speaking to my brother and sister, I’ve got to manage my family and try to look after my kids and not talking to my brother and sister doesn’t help me with looking out for my mum.’”

Kourouche put the staff member on to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which can provide counselling and support for Sydney Trains staff, but then Kourouche noticed the man looking at the bright yellow question mark that Kourouche was holding.

“He said, ‘What’s this yellow thing that you’re holding?’ and I said, ‘It’s Quentin the conversations starter.’ and he said, ‘Oh ok, what do you do?’ I said, ‘You give it a shake, like a Magic 8-Ball and it’ll give you a challenge to do and you take on that challenge and you have a week to do it.’”

The staff member’s challenge was to say thank you to someone’s who’s made a difference in your life. The staff member then turned to Kourouche and said, “Thank you”.

“I said ‘That’s really kind, but, mate, this is the first time that I’ve ever spoken to you and we’ve probably have an interaction of five or seven minutes.’ He said, ‘You’ve taken the time and stopped and spoken to me and I just want to say thanks for doing that.’”

A week later Kourouche was travelling past this station and saw the staff member. Getting out of the train, the staff member said, “I owe you a coffee”. Since the last conversation, the staff member had spoken with the EAP, they got a plan in place for his mum, taking stress off him, and allowing the relationship with his siblings to start to be patched up.

“I meant it when I said thanks,” the staff member told Kourouche, “because this is going to make a big difference to me and my family.”

Although just one conversation, the experience reinforced to Kourouche the power that being open and speaking with colleagues can have.

“I just truly believe that the message is one that works and that conversations do change lives.”

According to a Sydney Trains spokesperson, the success of initiatives such as Rail R U OK?Day depends upon the help of ambassadors such as Mostapha and is one of a number of initiatives to support employee health and wellbeing.

“We have a range of initiatives to support the health and wellbeing of our employees. These measures include: a Mental Health Program for frontline leaders to better identify and support employees who may require help, Mental Health Awareness Sessions with psychologists, Resilience Programs, Mental Health First Aid, a Train Crew Peer Support program, network-wide R U OK?Day and Rail R U OK?Day events, and our free and confidential Employee Assistance Program delivered by qualified clinicians.”

Although many industries have issues when it comes to mental health awareness and accident prevention, the scale of change in the rail industry is one that Kourouche is happy to see.

“I certainly can see that there has been a shift and a change. Although we’re still predominantly male, our average age is about 47 or 48 and the service life of our staff is around about 14 years. If you’ve got people who’ve been in and around the organisation for quite some time, it’s very hard to change your way of thinking. But, if we’re able to embed this into the organisation and have people recognise that it’s ok to have conversations and it’s ok to not be ok and ask for help if you need it, that really makes a significant difference.”

Canberra COVID

“People need to travel”

In one of the most disruptive events to occur since World War Two, transport leaders around Australia highlight the role that rail has played in getting Australia through COVID-19.

On Friday, March 13, thousands of spectators were queueing outside the gates to the Formula One Grand Prix in Albert Park, Melbourne. The late summer sun was beat down on the spectators as they waited for two hours to find out whether they would be let in. Finally, organisers confirmed that the event could not go ahead because of the fear of an outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). Extra trams were rapidly mobilised, and the crowds were herded onto public transport to take them back home, via the Melbourne CBD.

At the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) offices on Exhibition Street, director-general Corey Hannett was assessing the options for the state’s $70 billion of under- construction transport infrastructure spread across 119 major road and rail projects.

“I must admit, when the pandemic turned up in March, I think there were doubts that industry could work,” Hannett told Rail Express.

“At that time, we were looking right around the world at what was going on, and it was very clear that lots of countries were actually closing down.”

Indeed, other countries had entirely ceased all construction activity, except for projects specifically related to the COVID-19 response. In Ireland, almost €20bn ($32.57bn) worth of construction activity creased by March 28.

Unlike countries in Europe and Asia, at the time, the impact in Australia was relatively limited, with only 156 cases when Albert Park closed its gates. In Italy, deaths were already in the thousands.

“At the time, we really hadn’t had that massive impact from the COVID-19 infections that the rest of the world was experiencing, but it was fair to say we were very concerned that we had to make sure that we did things in a way that protected the workforce and the community,” said Hannett.

Across all of its sites, the MTIA and its delivery contractors put in place procedures to reduce the change of an outbreak at a construction site. Workers had to be spaced more the 1.5m apart, personal protective equipment was required, and extra hygiene measures were put in place. MTIA’s own staff moved to working from home and staggered shifts were enforced on work sites.

“Staggering when people start and finish toolbox meetings in the crib shed, getting extra crib sheds, getting extra cleaning in those crib sheds, getting an extra cleaning program of work across the whole sites,” lists Hannett.

All in all, roughly 18,000 people are employed to build road and rail projects under the MTIA umbrella across Melbourne and in regional Victoria. As of the end of June, there have been no significant disruptions to any of the construction programmes.

“I’m quite pleased to say so far so good, but we can only be as good as we are today and we need to keep that vigilance up and keep a heightened focus on making sure that we comply with the relevant rules to keep the community the workforce and ourselves safe.”

Hannett notes that while there has been a small loss in efficiency, the building program is continuing apace.

“In general, the program is in pretty good shape considering the pandemic which was forced upon us in March this year,” he said.

“I can’t imagine what the situation would be today if we had not had our 18,000 plus people not working.”

KEEPING THE COUNTRY MOVING
Canberrans had barely gotten the smell of bushfires out of their hair, clothing, and homes by the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After a torrid summer, Canberrans were using the newly commissioned light rail more than ever, which, according to ACT Transport Minister Chris Steel, led to an unexpected windfall.

“Thankfully in February this year, just prior to the pandemic starting, we actually increased the frequency of light rail to help manage the crowding that we had seen because we had so many people wanting to use light rail in Canberra.”

Frequency in the peaks was increased, and the peak period was stretched to 9.30am in the morning and 6.30pm in the evening. This extra capacity meant that the light rail could keep running and ensure that those workers who did need to travel were able to get to their jobs and people were able to access essential services during the lockdown.

To ensure the service was safe, a rapid program of adaptation was rolled out.

“We stepped up hygiene measures across public transport, including light rail, and one of the measures on light rail was to have automatic opening of the doors which wasn’t always the case on light rail,” said Steel.

Across the network, an extra 1,300 hours of cleaning was being conducted per week, and regular cleaners were assisted by over 30 workers hired by Transport Canberra who were stood down from their roles in the wider transport industry.

In Canberra and across Australia, most transport authorities are still encouraging passengers to travel outside of peak periods to avoid crowding. At the same time, Steel and others are concerned that road congestion is rising faster than public transport levels with the ACT at 85 per cent of pre-COVID traffic levels but public transport at less than half.

“We don’t want to see congestion reach even higher levels than it was before the pandemic because people are not using public transport, so we do need to encourage people back at an appropriate time,” said Steel.

“We’ve had for now several months the national cabinet and state premiers and chief ministers very clearly indicate to the community that they should avoid public transport during peak times and that is still the message.

“We also need to have an equally strong message at the appropriate time to welcome people back onto public transport – come and use it, it’s good for our community, it’s good for your health, it reduces congestion and all of the benefits that it provides.”

In Sydney, Howard Collins, chief operations officer for Transport for NSW and former chief executive of Sydney Trains cannot see a future where a return to public transport does not occur in some form.

“I just look at the maths and say we’re currently carrying 600,000 journeys across the transport network, about 350,000 people every day at the moment, compared with 1.3 million on rail before COVID. Where are those people – even if half of them come back – where are they going to go? I can’t imagine them all cycling down George Street. I can’t imagine we’ll get the cars moving more than about 5km/h if they all jumped in their cars. So, rail will have to take on that capacity, but it may be in a different context in terms of how we operate our train service.”

Prior to COVID-19, capacity on Sydney Trains was almost reaching breaking point, particularly in the peaks. With a 73 per cent drop in patronage, Collins is looking at the recovery from COVID-19 as a potential for change in the way the network operates.

“I think patronage will change, permanently. COVID-19, at the end of the day is an issue that has come along that has been really tragic and has been challenging, but it may well be a warning for things happening in the future. So, things have to change but I do believe that public transport and particularly rail is going to still have a major role.”

Collins is sceptical that there will be a wholescale shift to alternative working arrangements, such as working from home.

“Many people have said ‘Oh I’ll never going to be going to office anymore. I’m going to be working from home and I’ll be doing it in a café or bar or whatever it is.’ I do think there’s this human nature of getting together and while we all say we’re coping with Teams and remote working there will be a resurgence of people wanting to cluster and get together, whether that’s socially or for work reasons no matter how good our Zoom or Teams structure is. People will be back, but it will be different.”

During the lockdown, Sydney Trains has increased services during the peak to cope with demand, as well as run extra light rail services. With an unclear future still ahead, to many, what this has demonstrated is the need for flexibility in time-tabling and capacity.

“We certainly need greater flexibility and if you look at Sydney Metro, boy they can switch on and off a flattening peak or an increased fleet just by the press of a button, and the trains pop out of their depot without any care or concern,” said Collins.

“But we know that people still need to travel within certain times. If tradies still sign on as they do every day in Sydney at 7 o’clock then we’re still going to get that massive tradie peak. If schools still operate in the time scale that tends to suit both their parents and teachers, you’re not going to see the flattening of the peak. We will certainly see others spreading the load – particularly office workers – but I think it’s going to be more resistant to change than perhaps some of the theorists believe when it comes to peak services.”

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Many have noted that COVID-19 is two crises. First, the health pandemic, and second, the economic crisis caused by the shutdown of businesses and the restrictions on movement and gathering. While testing, contact tracing, and medical care can limit the first crisis, there is more debate over how to grapple with the second.

Infrastructure spending has emerged as one way that governments are dealing with the economic crisis. Rail is one area of infrastructure that has been targeted with spending. Already, in Sydney, Metro Greater West, now known as Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport has had funding committed by both state and federal governments, to begin construction before the end of 2020. Approvals for Inland Rail have been fast- tracked. In Victoria, the Level Crossings Removal Project is ramping up and extra money is being spent on regional track and repairs to stations.

While some have argued that smaller infrastructure projects provide more benefits, according to Hannett, all projects should be seen as helping the wider economy.

“A project creates jobs, it boosts the economy, and it also has a significant economic benefit. The fact is. big or small. they do create jobs they do create economic benefit.”

Shadow Infrastructure Minister Catherine King highlighted that now is the time to invest in nation-building infrastructure.

“I think that one of the things that coronavirus crisis has shown us is that while we’ve had infrastructure projects and rail projects, we’ve sort of lacked any large scale, iconic infrastructure transport project,” she told Rail Express.

In May, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese reaffirmed the Labor Party’s commitment to high speed rail from Melbourne to Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra. According to King, such a project goes well beyond reducing congestion on the air route between Melbourne and Sydney.

“One is the investment potential that it has, but also the nation building potential that it has, in terms of developing a much stronger sense of regional and decentralised regional towns from Melbourne from Sydney, all the way up to Brisbane, and the capacity and possibility of that as we grow as a nation.”

While COVID-19 has been a tragic event, the rail industry is beginning to emerge with a renewed focus on flexibility in operations and the nation-shaping role that rail infrastructure can have.

Face masks strongly encouraged on NSW public transport

Face masks are now encouraged for passengers on NSW public transport.

The change to strongly encouraging mask wearing came on Sunday, August 2, with NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant recommending masks be worn in indoor settings where physical distancing is hard to maintain, such as on public transport.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that physical distancing is still the main goal.

“People should continue to maintain their physical distance – it is our most effective weapon. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t maintain your physical distance you should wear a mask,” she said.

“It is critical the community understands masks should be used in conjunction with other measures, and not as a standalone measure.”

People are still advised not to travel on public transport if they are sick and to maintain good hygiene.

While masks will not be enforced on public transport, Transport for NSW is strongly recommending passengers wear masks.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson also said that updated mask guidelines have been issued for staff.

“Transport for NSW has made face masks available for customer facing frontline staff and is strongly recommending these masks are used at work.”

While masks were made mandatory in Melbourne on July 22, no other Australian jurisdiction has enforced a similar measure. Social distancing is also not mandatory on public transport in NSW, however heavily encouraged and promoted through the “no dot, no spot” campaign.

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie said that the rail industry thanked those who were wearing masks.

“Wearing a mask helps save lives and keeps our rail workers safe as well,” she said.

“We welcome the public support for those on the front line as they keep working to support the rest of us.”

Passenger volumes on NSW public transport were beginning to increase in May and June. Sydney Trains recorded a low of six million trips in April, while June recording 13,754,000 trips. Since the start of July, however, trips on the entire NSW public transport network have begun to decline again, by around 9 per cent.

Prior to COVID-19, in June 2019 32 million trips were taken on the Sydney Trains network.