ARA launches groups for career development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rail R U OK?Day

Participation higher than ever in Rail R U OK?Day 2020

Rail R U OK?Day has been marked by rail organisations around Australia and New Zealand, with engagement reaching all-time highs.

On April 30, for the sixth year running, those within the rail industry reached out to their colleagues, co-workers, and friends to ask, “Are you ok?”

While traditional face-to-face get-togethers have been limited due to physical distancing measures in place to keep people safe due to coronavirus (COVID-19), numerous organisations still encouraged employees to pick up the phone or jump on a video call to check in on each other.

South Australian Public Transport Authority executive director, Anne Alford, said that Rail R U OK?Day in 2020 was the most significant yet.

“It’s now more important than ever that we promote a sense of community, reach out and ask our friends, family and workmates and ask, ‘Are you ok?” said Alford.

In Melbourne, Metro Trains driver Stephen King said that the simple action of asking a colleague how they are going can make a significant impact.

“To be able to just ask and check in on somebody to see how they’re going can make all the difference.”

Train drivers, station staff and the wider rail industry are often the first witnesses or respondents to traumatic incidents that occur on the rail network, leading to a focus on mental health within the industry.

“On any given day, at any given time, we’re prepared for any incident – whether it’s an accident or a trespasser. There are also things that happen away from the job that can affect us as drivers,” said King.

“There is a fair bit of stress and pressure that goes with the job for sure.”

In Queensland, Queensland Rail set a Wellbeing Conversation Challenge to encourage their team to check in on their workmates. Sydney Trains also encouraged employees to get involved in the conversation challenge.

“The virtual conversation challenge saw employees across Sydney Trains engage with each other by sharing videos and posts on our internal communication channels, and nominating others to take up the challenge,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

Roughly 3,500 Sydney Trains employees participated both at in-person, socially distanced events and virtual panel discussions and live streams.

KiwiRail similarly looked to virtual methods to get colleagues to check in on each other.

“As we continue to be in lockdown due to COVID-19, we used our staff closed FaceBook group to share the message. More than 1,600 staff belong to this group and use the page as a discussion and information sharing forum,” said KiwiRail group general manager human resources Andrew Norton.

Rail R U OK?Day is facilitated in collaboration between TrackSAFE and harm prevention charity R U OK?. Participation numbers are still being confirmed, but across Australia and New Zealand, over 75,000 people participated, surpassing previous years’ figures. Bob Herbert, chairman of TrackSAFE, said that each year leads to more ongoing conversations that last throughout the year.

“We keep hearing numerous anecdotal accounts whereby a rail employee has trusted their instinct and noticed the signs that someone near them has been struggling, and we’re thrilled to learn that they have started a conversation that has put that person on a whole new path.”

Katherine Newton, CEO of R U OK? Said that the event showed how the rail industry can work together to address challenges such as mental health and wellbeing.

“Our partnership with TrackSAFE is one R U OK? is extremely proud of and is a brilliant example of an entire industry being committed to the R U OK? Movement,” said Newton.

“Participation in Rail R U OK?Day has grown more than 800% since the inaugural event in 2015, as we see, rail employees from across Australia and New Zealand are transforming their workplaces into strong and resilient environments every day of the year.”

A resilient freight network is key in times of uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standalone energy recovery system installed in Hamburg

Alstom’s energy recovery system, Hesop, has begun commercial service in Hamburg, Germany.

Alstom worked with Hamburger Hochbahn AG, the operator of Hamburg’s underground system, to install the Hesop energy converters at a station on the U2 line.

The system captures 99 per cent of trains’ braking energy and then redirects that energy back into the electrical systems of the station and any excess energy goes into the wider grid. The system is designed to increase energy efficiency, and limit energy lost into heat.

“Hesop is one of our responses to operators’ need for increased energy efficiency. We are proud to have introduced the system to Germany. It is an important element of the clean, efficient public transportation of the future, offering unique economic and environmental benefits,” said Jörg Nikutta, managing director of Alstom in Germany and Austria.

Although adopted elsewhere, including on Sydney’s light rail line, the installation in Hamburg is the first time the Hesop system has been provided as a standalone product operating in full conversion mode. It is also the first time that such a system has been installed in Germany.

Manufactured at Alstom’s facilities in Belgium and designed in France, the Hesop system is a reversible power substation which can supply traction voltage to a network and recover braking energy from vehicles. 125 units have been installed around the world, reducing transit systems’ energy use, cutting costs in the number of substations needing to be installed along a route, and finding space efficiencies by reducing the amount of ventilation needed to remove excess heat from underground lines. In Milan, the system has enabled the recovery of more than 20 per cent of energy consumed, 2MWh per day. reducing carbon emissions by 171 tonnes.

Rail maintenance, upgrades getting ahead of schedule

Major rail projects are completing extra works while Australia and New Zealand are under lockdown measures.

In Sydney, a number of projects are taking advantage of lower commuter numbers and relaxed regulations around work hours to progress ahead of schedule.

In Parramatta, work on the light rail project is running seven days a week after the NSW government introduced changes to legislation to expand standard construction hours on weekends and public holidays. Works are being conducted from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 7am to 6pm on Church St, and from 7am to 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

According to a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson, all works are being done to minimise the impact on the local community.

“All reasonable measures to reduce noise impacts will continue to be implemented, including using the quietest equipment possible, placing machinery and vehicles as far away from properties as possible, conducting high noise generating activities during weekdays where possible, and implementing respite periods as required.”

In Parramatta, disruption is being minimised by scheduling utility works in non-peak periods, using sound blankets, directing lighting towers, and turning off equipment when not in use.

With the Sydney CBD experiencing extremely low traffic volumes during the lockdown period, work on the Sydney Metro City & Southwest has been able to increase. Lane closures previously only possible on weekends have been implemented on weekdays and extended work hours are in place at Central Station.

In Chullora, the construction of the new Digital Systems facility has extended hours over one weekend and will use extra hours where necessary.

Elsewhere in NSW work hours on the New Intercity Fleet maintenance facility have been extended to 7am to 6pm, seven days a week. Extended working hours are also being looked at for station accessibility upgrades at Fairy Meadow, Mittagong, Hawkesbury River, Wyee, and Waratah.

“All community members and stakeholders are thanked for their patience as work continues on important transport infrastructure across NSW,” said the TfNSW spokesperson.

Across the Tasman, KiwiRail has been conducting a significant maintenance program on the Auckland network. Lower commuter numbers during lockdown have allowed KiwiRail to lay over four kilometres of new rail on the Eastern line, said KiwiRail chief operating officer, Todd Moyle.

“We are able to use this time to carry out a great deal of work in a short timeframe. Normally this work would need to be completed during weekends across several months.”

Works will continue until Monday, April 27 and include replacement of worn rail between Glen Innes and Sylvia Park. The Eastern line not only serves commuters but freight rail services from the Port of Auckland.

“We’ve worked closely with Auckland Transport to arrange for this work to be done now so there will be a more reliable network for commuters once COVID-19 levels fall and businesses reopen,” said Moyle.

The slowdown in traffic on the commuter network allows a rare opportunity for continuous track work that would normally be done at weekends or overnight to minimise disruption.

“We’re doing this work now, while we have the opportunity, to avoid future disruptions to commuters and to ensure they get a great service once they return to work,” said Moyle.

Physical distancing measures are in place at all work sites.

Daytime freight services are being rerouted via Newmarket while commuter services are replaced by buses.

Summer events show need for resilience focus

Kirk Coningham, CEO of the Australian Logistics Council, outlines how the effects of this summer will continue to be felt in the freight rail sector.

It is reasonable to say that many Australians have experienced a challenging beginning to 2020, and the flow-on effects are likely to affect our industry in a variety of ways over the months ahead.

The bushfires that burned through vast swathes of the continent had a devastating impact on families, local communities, and businesses. The immediate scale of the tragedy is recorded in lives and homes lost and understandably, that is where the initial focus of recovery efforts has been.

Yet in some respects, that is only the beginning of the story. With the fires now extinguished and the immediate physical threat having passed, it is becoming apparent that recovery efforts – and the cost of those efforts – will be significant.

These costs will include significant repairs that will have to be undertaken to repair damaged transport infrastructure.

Throughout the early weeks of this year, ALC has been participating in regular industry discussions convened by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, which are focused on providing industry advice and assistance to the federal government in shaping its recovery response to the fire crisis.

What was already a difficult beginning to 2020 is now being further compounded by the challenges associated with the coronavirus.

As in the case of the fires, the initial focus is on protecting lives through containment and quarantine efforts. Yet, as with the fires, once the immediate threat is contained, there will be significant economic effects to consider.

Australia’s freight rail sector plays a crucial role in getting imported freight
to customers, as well as transporting Australian products to the point of export. The disruptive effects of an episode like the coronavirus have obvious flow-on effects across the whole supply chain – and these will need to be managed effectively and responsibly.

Over recent weeks, experts have warned that the ongoing restrictions on the movement of goods and people in China – our largest trading partner – are likely to adversely impact Australia’s agricultural exports. The effects are also being felt in other export sectors, including minerals and resources.

On the other side of the coin, restrictions on the departure of vessels from China means those importing goods to Australia – and road transport businesses which supply them – are also likely to feel a slowdown.

Improving the resilience of Australia’s supply chains to withstand the effects of natural disasters and international events was clearly identified in the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy released last year.

It was a theme echoed in the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List released by Infrastructure Australia in February. The updated list placed a renewed emphasis on enhancing the capacity of national infrastructure to cope with disruptive events – whether they be as a result of natural disasters or through other unexpected events such, as global epidemics or terrorism.

The early part of 2020 was a powerful demonstration of why our governments must join with industry in acting more urgently to address that challenge.

NZ Greens propose electrification, fast regional rail

The New Zealand Greens have put forward the construction of fast inter-city rail links as a way to stimulate New Zealand’s economy.

Currently under stage 4 restrictions, economic activity in New Zealand has almost been shut down, but the country is looking to come out of its self-imposed hibernation by the end of April.

To get the economy back up and running the NZ Greens are looking at electrification and improvements to regional rail.

Although the fourth largest party in the New Zealand parliament, the Greens have supported the leading Labour Party with confidence and supply. Green Party Transport Spokesperson Julie Anne Genter is Associate minister of Health and Transport in the current government.

The proposal of works includes connecting Auckland with Hamilton, Tauranga, and Whangearei, Wellington with Masterton, Palmerston North and Whanganui, and Christchurch with Rangiora, Ashburton and Timaru.

Currently, train services between Auckland and Wellington are partially electrified, while rail services out of Christchurch are hauled by diesel locomotives. Green Party Co-leader and Climate Change spokesperson James Shaw said the project would tackle the twin issues of economic growth and cutting emissions.

“The large intercity rail project proposed will provide meaningful work whilst driving us towards a sustainable, green, zero carbon future.

“Building rail creates more jobs than building motorways and helps us tackle climate change at the same time.”

The party has broken up the proposal into two stages. The first stage would involve electrification and improvements to existing track to allow for speeds of up to 110km/h. The second stage would include building new higher-speed track for tilt trains capable of travelling up to 160km/h and bypasses to create more direct routes. The party estimates that the cost of the program would be NZ$9 billion ($8.6bn) over 10 years.

Genter said that the investment would tie together metropolitan centres and the regions.

“We’re proposing a nation-wide intercity rapid rail programme that would bring our provincial centres and biggest cities closer together through fast, electric passenger rail. This will create real alternatives to driving or flying for people who want to travel around the country for work, to see their family and friends, or for domestic tourism.”

New stabling yard opens on Geelong line

The Wyndham Vale stabling yard has now opened.

The yard, located north of Wyndham Vale station, will provide more flexibility for trains on the Geelong line serving the Victorian regional network.

A day 10 works program of testing and commissioning was carried out in the leadup to the opening, which involved driver training for familiarisation with the new infrastructure.

The stabling yard can hold six V/Locity trains at a time and also includes staff amenities, security, and utilities.

With further works being carried out to expand the capacity of regional rail in Victoria, particularly along the Melbourne-Geelong corridor, there is room for the yard to expand when needed.

The construction of the site involved the use of sustainable materials. Recycled plastic sleepers, recycled plastic asphalt and recycled glass sand were all used to build the facility.

International bodies urge continuity in public transport

An international group of transport organisations have issued a statement urging that public transport services must run despite coronavirus (COVID-19) mitigation measures.

The group includes the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), the International Union of Railways (UIC), United Cities and Local Governments, and the International Transport Workers Federation.

In the statement, the group calls for continuity in public transport, particularly so that key workers can keep getting to and from work.

“Ensuring continuity of public transport and local mobility services is essential for society and the economy. This will ensure that the health crisis does not turn into a social one.”

The statement identifies measures that need to be taken to ensure that services continue, including the provision and supply of protective equipment for transport staff and operators. This will ensure the health and safety of staff and passengers.

The statement notes that in some cities, patronage has dropped by 90 per cent, and this can have a devastating impact on operators which rely on passenger revenues.

The authors call upon governments to rapidly adopt measures including financial support which supports the preservation of jobs and the industries which supply the transport networks.

Some best practice measures outlined in the statement include providing accurate and up to date information, conduct regular deep cleaning and disinfection, adapting service levels to passenger demand while ensuring continuity, and providing dedicated services for healthcare personnel. The implementation of these measures is of benefit not only to the networks themselves, write the authors.

“Bearing in mind that passenger transport systems are vital to the regular functioning of the economy, these measures would not just support the sector in question but the whole of society.”

Increased appetite for air to rail switch

If concerns around climate change were not enough, modelling by Swiss bank UBS is showing that more people will be looking to switch from air to train travel in Europe following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The report, released by UBS Evidence Lab, highlights that a number of air routes within the EU are at risk of losing passengers to rail. Those most at risk include routes from Berlin to Frankfurt and Munich, London to Paris and Edinburgh, and Madrid to Barcelona.

While most of the routes most affected are relatively short, the report notes that travellers are having an increasingly higher tolerance to longer rail journeys, which could be taken faster by plane in the same corridor.

“Data from a UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1,000 people in four European countries and China suggests leisure travellers would tolerate 5-6 hours on a train, and EU business travellers up to four hours vs the general consensus of 2-3 hours.”

The report notes that service and frequency are drivers for demand for longer train journeys, and that competition among operators can often encourage improvements in these areas.

The report links the growing appetite for rail to current concerns about COVID-19, as well as wider demands for net-zero carbon by 2050.

“The Covid-19 outbreak is showing industrialised countries not only what clean air means and how to cope without travelling, but also how a cleaner environment and healthier populations cope better with diseases.”

While the report authors note that some low-carbon investments may be diverted to support the transport and travel industries, countries will continue to push towards net zero by 2050, while consumers will continue to look for travel options that take the least time. Increased funding to meet these twin demands will grow the market for European high-speed rail and associated supplies of rollingstock, signalling, controls, and brakes.

Source : UBS Evidence Lab