Meeting the growing demand for intermodal freight

CFCL Australia’s Matthew Roberts told Rail Express about the fleet lessor’s flexible approach, and how it’s responding to growing intermodal demand.

The growing volume of freight in Australia is presenting both challenges and opportunities for the rail sector. A 50 per cent increase in the decade to 2016 is putting pressure on intermodal, containerised freight, as rail is called upon to shuttle freight from ports to intermodal terminals.

In this context, logistics operators are looking to get more goods onto rail, and CFCL Australia (CFCLA) is able to provide a flexible solution, outlines Matthew Roberts, CFCLA rollingstock operations manager.

“Most of our wagon fleet is intermodal, and we hire out our wagons to all the rail operators, and some non-rail customers use them and engage other people to haul trains for them.”

CFCLA’s 1,700 wagons are supported by 78 locomotives. As a company with over two decades experience in Australia and deep roots in the home of rail freight Chicago, the integrated rail services provider is able to give peace of mind to operators and contractors.

“With our intermodal wagons we wet lease, which means we do all the maintenance,” said Roberts. “Like hiring a car, we do everything; the car is registered and we complete the servicing and repairs so all the customer needs to do is phone our 24-hour helpdesk to arrange workshop time that suits their schedule. When someone goes in and bids for a job, they don’t have to hold the wagons for 30 years, they’re only holding them for the period of the contract with their customer.”

The recent openings of intermodal terminals, particularly around the Sydney basin and further afield in NSW, have increased the need for CFCLA’s intermodal expertise.

“We have been contacted by a broad range of shippers and freight owners who are looking for assistance or advice on getting their freight between terminals, which is port to metro and regional terminals and return, there could even be regional-to-regional opportunities”, Roberts said.

When Inland Rail opens in 2025, Roberts also expects demand to increase. Of benefit would be open access terminals along the route.

“Inland rail will hopefully grow the pie by bringing new freight onto rail. The convenience of the Inland Rail line will encourage people who might currently ship by road to port to use rail instead,” he said.

IN-HOUSE CAPABILITIES
CFCLA plans to respond to increasing demand by growing its workshop productivity. Located in Goulburn, NSW and at Islington Railway Workshops in Kilburn, South Australia, the two workshops house the knowledge that CFCLA has built up over 22 years in the Australian rail industry.

“We’ve have locomotive overhaul facilities, so we can do any sort of service on a locomotive that we own. We own 78 locomotives ourselves and we also work on customer-owned locomotives and can complete a full overhaul should the customer desire,” said Roberts.

With freight movements and logistics networks functioning on tight time intervals and schedules, CFCLA enables an operator to keep its cargo moving.

“The idea is that customers passing our workshops can drop off and pick up locomotives with ease, so there’s no downtime,” said Roberts. “They can drop off a locomotive, leave it there for a couple of days for servicing, and take one of our locomotives straight out of the workshop and keep going.”

This kind of servicing and maintenance also lends itself to finding a smarter solution, based on knowledge of what factors are affecting the sector.

“The intermodal sector is picking up, but there’s presently a shortage of 40-foot wagons in the market,” said Roberts. “We’re looking at either modifying or building more 40-foot wagons. We’re looking at a program of cutting some 60-foot wagons into 40-foot wagons and that’s to allow for maximum container weight and not running with empty space on the train.”

By modifying 60-foot wagons to 40 feet, CFCLA is meeting the emerging needs of freight operators needing to fit more containers through congested terminals, such as Port Botany with limited rail infrastructure and minimising train lengths, which reduces costs in things such as access fees.

“On a 60-foot wagon you can put two heavy containers, but using up more train length to do it. We’re looking at how to get more 40-foot wagons into the market. They’re at a premium because the sidings at the port are fairly short and that’s a restricting factor; the time it takes to shunt at the ports as trains become longer,” said Roberts.

These kinds of modifications go some way to ensuring that rail can continue to move larger volumes of freight, even as port terminals are constrained in siding space.

“A lot of infrastructure owners seem to have built short sidings, around 600 metres long,” said Roberts. “The trains are getting longer and longer but the infrastructure at those places is not.”

Already, those freight operators that CFCLA is working with are putting in requests for CFCLA to provide more, shorter wagons, a service that CFCLA can offer because of the flexibility enabled by having its own workshops.

“We’ve been working with Crawfords Freight Lines and they have a demand for more 40-foot wagons, and also Bowmans Rail in South Australia, they’ve got a demand for more 40-foot wagons,” highlighted Roberts. “They can still carry the freight on longer wagons, but you can’t put a third maximum loaded container on the wagon making the train longer.”

Work for both of these clients will be handled by CFCLA itself.

“Our own workshops will do the work, our own workshops will make the modifications,” said Roberts.

SAFETY AND COMPLIANCE: THE BACKBONE TO INTERMODAL FREIGHT
To continue to responsively meet the demand of rail operators, CFCLA sees an ever-growing need for workshop capabilities.

“We’ll have to look at expansion of the workshop sector. If the sector grows, we grow with it, so we will have more intermodal wagons for the increasing traffic,” said Roberts.

CFCLA’s workshop staff will bring to intermodal wagons their expertise in a variety of rail operations, highlighted Roberts.

“We do all types of rail maintenance work; whether it’s rail equipment that is used out on the line for track maintenance, or passenger cars for the Ghan and Indian Pacific, including wagons and locomotives.”

Beyond the range of jobs able to be completed, what distinguishes CFCLA’s workshops is the intensive safety and compliance regime that is applied from the shop floor up to senior management.

“On the subject of safety, it goes without saying there is no compromise as without doubt rail is a risk management business,” said Roberts.

“We have a very strong safety management system with the regulator, the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator. They visit and audit us three times a year or more. Customers can come to us, knowing that the regulator visits, checks what we’re doing, visits the workshops, and comes into the office and looks at all our records. We need to demonstrate we are competent at what we do.

“Where it does count for maintenance is the shop floor. The guys on the shop floor have access to the documentation because there is quite a bit of documentation on how to change a wheel, how to measure a wheel even, so that everything is recorded and completed properly.”

Implementing these standards is an experienced and specialised workforce, many of whom come to CFCLA with a background in rail, and if not are trained by CFCLA to become part of what Roberts described as a “family”.

“We try and treat everyone like we would our own family, so our CEO knows people on the shop floor by name and they know her. We talk to each other.”

In sum, noted Roberts, “what we really do is simple – we have workshops wagons and locomotives – we just try and do that well”.

Stellar third year for Future Leaders program

A modern approach to safety during the first and last mile and navigating public transport through the language barrier were just two of the difficult problems tackled by teams during the ARA’s third annual Future Leaders program.

AusRAIL PLUS 2019 helped bring to a close the latest iteration of the Australasian Railway Association’s Future Leaders program, which graduated a cohort of 33 young professionals from seven different Australian states and territories and New Zealand in 2019.

Future Leaders is one of the ARA’s key initiatives in response to the ongoing skills crisis threatening the rail sector’s potential. “Within the rail industry there is such a demand for resources and skills due to the major investment by governments right across Australia and New Zealand in new rail infrastructure,” ARA chief executive officer Danny Broad said when discussing the program in its third year.

To address this, the program aims to build a network of future leaders and provide a two-way exchange between future and current leaders in the rail industry. This higher level of engagement with the next generation of leaders is aimed at retaining them within the sector as they progress through their careers.

The program is delivered in part by Dr Polly McGee, an author and professional training expert who has worked with the ARA since the inception of Future Leaders in 2017.

“We’ve heard a lot throughout AusRAIL about people, and people being the centre of everything we do as a sector. Leading them, inspiring them, and understanding them is key,” McGee told the AusRAIL 2019 audience.

McGee explained the process of the Future Leaders program, which is split into three parts.

“In the first part, we really want the participants to look at themselves,” McGee explained. “Who are they in the mix? What do they bring to their leadership? And what do they need to have as part of their own development to be able to really effectively lead other people, and lead them from any part of the operation.”

This first stage was delivered during a three-day workshop in July. Starting with a Myers-Briggs test, participants learned more about themselves and their personality traits. After an open discussion of some of the wicked challenges facing rail, and drawing on the Myers-Briggs results, six diverse project groups were established to get to work solving them.

“The first phase of the program really helped us look within and see where our strengths were, and maybe where they were not – and how we as leaders can adjust to better manage and work with others based on that knowledge,” participant Shakira Rawat told Rail Express.

“They specifically put us together into groups because we were very different personalities,” fellow participant Tahni Littlejohn added. “Different minds working together with different strengths – you get the best of everything.”

The Future Leaders got together again in September for their second workshop, which kicked off with alumni from past Future Leaders program during a speed networking breakfast.

“One thing that’s really beautiful to see, now that we have these three cohorts graduated, is that the alumni group has become really strong,” McGee said. “Now they’re starting to reach out and support each other, it’s becoming an ecosystem of leadership.”

Following the alumni networking was a tour of Yarra Trams’ Tram Hub and Metro Trains Melbourne’s Metrol facility, a Port of Melbourne boat tour, and a series of major project briefings.

The second workshop also included a certified Dare to Lead training program, developed by bestselling author Dr Brené Brown.

“This program is so essential in the current environment we’re in,” McGee, a certified Dare to Lead facilitator, explained. “What it does
is ask leaders, ‘How do we train you to lead from courage and vulnerability?’ Courage and vulnerability are the two things that are going to be able to take us forward as a sector.

“I’ve never met anyone in rail who said they were in the sector for the brand-new Tesla and the giant house. They’re here because of rail’s legacy, and they come because it’s important to them, so they need to be able to express themselves and be who they are in their roles. The Dare to Lead program gives them those tools, and it puts them in a place of deep discomfort from which they can really learn.”

“The key takeaway for me from Dare to Lead was understanding yourself and having a belief in yourself,” Shez Islam, a senior project manager at VicTrack, told Rail Express. “During the project our group had a number of times where we doubted ourselves, and what we could do. But the self-belief that we had kept us going towards a great result. It was a lifelong lesson that we’ll take with us throughout our careers and in our everyday life.”

“The program is actually quite challenging,” Kelly Iverach, an associate director for workforce planning, train crewing and support at Sydney Trains added. “It asks you to dig quite deep and consider why you are responding to certain situations in a particular way; digging down to find what’s at the core of why we find things challenging, and that’s a different journey for everyone.”

The third workshop occurred the day before AusRAIL PLUS on December 2. The six project teams, having worked together throughout the year, pitched solutions to their chosen wicked problems to a panel of ARA Board members.

“We ask the teams to look at some of the wicked problems of rail, and come up with some really innovative, able-to-be-commercialised ideas, that they can pitch to our panel of experts on the final day of the program, before they graduate,” McGee explained. “We ask them to do something meaningful and real – and the six projects that we had this year were nothing short of extraordinary.”

Helping teams throughout their project were mentors – senior leaders selected from around the rail sector. One such mentor, Robert Angus, technical director for Infrastructure Projects at Aurecon, said the Future Leaders program was helping make the rail industry a better one.

“My focus was helping the team channel and focus some of their ideas and provide helpful guidance and an independent view where I could,” he said. “But ultimately it’s great to see young future leaders across the industry collaborate together towards a common cause.”

SAFEMILE
The winning pitch, voted for by attendees and announced at the AusRAIL Gala Dinner, was SafeMILE, an app concept developed by Matt Green, Tahni Littlejohn, Thomas Pulsford, Shakira Rawat and James Shaw.

The basic premise behind SafeMILE is to use a peer-to-peer ride sharing model to help individuals find companions or groups to travel with.

“Our project matters because we are aiming to transform the first and last mile into the SafeMILE,” Littlejohn said during the team’s presentation. “As a lot of work is being done to make transport journeys safer, the first and last mile remains a wicked problem – one our group has tried to address.”

While relevant to all users of public transport, the SafeMILE team opted to target university students, given they are often financially restricted, and travelling late at night. One study reviewed by the group showed 79 per cent of surveyed female students had experienced harassment, groping or stalking on public transport in the last three years. Another found 90 per cent of female students surveyed in Sydney were not comfortable walking home at night.

The SafeMILE team’s own survey found 80 per cent of respondents had felt unsafe on public transport, and more than 50 per cent said they felt unsafe specifically during the first or last mile of their journey.

Their solution is a peer-to-peer ride sharing application for smartphone users. Using Google Maps data and public transport operational data, the app aims to plan journeys and connect users, providing key in-journey safety features.

When a user selects a journey, they are informed whether there are any other app users taking that same journey. They can then request to join that person – or group, if one is already established – on that journey.

Users can opt for varying levels of anonymity, but are assigned a rating, and can view each other’s level of verification: bronze is a simple email verification, silver is an account connected with a university email address or at least two social media platforms, and gold is an account which has provided police clearance.

Along with its basic purpose, the app also features journey sharing, GPS location, a duress alarm, and an incident reporting service.

The journey sharing feature allows the user to notify people within their ‘circle of trust’ (e.g. family, close friends) the details of their journey, and GPS then keeps those people up to date with the user’s location throughout their journey. The SafeMILE team has also suggested this feature could be linked up with university security, if applicable.

“In cases of duress, there’s a button within the app and on your smart watch, if you have one. Or you can also click your power or volume up button four times, and this will send an alert to your circle of trust, as well as campus security, or to public transport security, depending on your location,” Shaw, a senior systems engineer with Calibre, explained during the pitch.

“Separately the incident reporting feature allows users to report areas or sections of their trip where they witnessed threatening behaviour or felt unsafe, and this information can then be shared with other users of the app so they can make informed decisions about their journeys home that night.”

Littlejohn added: “That data can also then be used by public transport users or universities to target unsafe hotspots, and focus their resources most appropriately to address them.”

The SafeMILE team was at AusRAIL pitching for a $250,000 investment, which they believed would help them deliver a user-ready app, and invest in targeted advertising to help develop a starting user base. Revenue would come from in-app advertising.

TRANSPORT ASSIST AUSTRALIA
The second-placed pitch, also presented to the wider AusRAIL audience, targeted improved customer satisfaction, reliability, and levels of engagement on public transport for non- English speaking residents and tourists. It was presented by Transport Assist Australia, a team of Daniel Adams, Aaron Hargraves, Shez Islam, Kelly Iverach, Tristan Smith and Luke Stevenson.

Using Bluetooth beacon technology, an app would help users navigate stations and concourses in their native tongue. Beacons would be set up around a station and used to trigger alerts via the app on the user’s phone.

One example would be a welcoming beacon, which would provide key information and options as the user approached the station itself. Another would be a safety beacon, which would ensure users are alerted that they are in or near an unsafe location, e.g. beyond the yellow line while waiting on the platform.

“We spoke with both transport operators and effective users, and 96 per cent of those users said they would use an application like this while on transport here in Australia. 88 per cent of operators agreed this would improve ticketing and 100 per cent agreed it would improve wayfinding,” Hargraves, an infrastructure response team leader at Metro Trains, outlined.

Hargraves explained when you combine the 800,000 Australian residents who speak little to no English, with the 13 per cent of the average eight million annual tourists visiting Australia who are in the same boat, there is certainly a substantial target audience for this product.

Under the team’s business model, $176,000 would be spent in year one to develop Southern Cross station as a pilot site for the program. $155,000 would be spent in each of years 2-5 to expand the program to the full City Circle – 30 stations – and develop interstate opportunities. $72,000 would then be spent in years 6-10 to maintain the City Circle systems and expand into other sectors and outside of Australia.

HEADING INTO 2020
The ARA has announced plans for the 2020 edition of Future Leaders. Nominations will open in mid-March, ahead of a trio of planned workshops:

  • Workshop 1: Tuesday 30 June – Thursday 2 July in Melbourne;
  • Workshop 2: Tuesday 1 – Thursday 3 Sept in Sydney; and
  • Workshop 3: Monday 30 Nov (AusRAIL 1 and 2 Dec) in Adelaide.

2019 ARA FUTURE LEADERS GROUP PROJECTS:

WINNER: SafeMILE:
Transforming the first and last mile into the SafeMILE – Allowing commuters to connect and engage within their level of comfort to travel the first and last mile to help them feel safer.

RUNNER UP: Transport Assist Australia:
A multi-lingual application to make navigating Australian railways simple and efficient for everyone.

  • Re-Rail Your Career: A social media campaign targeted at people who believed that their skills and experience cannot be easily transferred to the rail industry.
  • TIES – Tertiary Institution Engagement Strategy: Connecting students to the industry through rail course content.
  • oneTrack: Across the Australian rail market there is a distinct opportunity for the introduction of a centralised rail safe-working tool. oneTrack would act as a “one-stop-shop” for location based safe-working and operational information regardless of network owner/operator.
  • Momentum Materials Management: A tool to provide inter-organisational visibility of stock levels of key railway materials and share/purchase stock of standard items in order to keep the rail industry moving.

Find out more on the ARA’s website: ara.net.au/ future-leaders-program