Community getting involved in shaping rail projects

Community members are having their say in the identity of rail projects around Australasia.

In New Zealand, City Rail Link has announced that its tunnel boring machine (TBM) will be named after Dame Whina Cooper, who campaigned for social justice and land rights for Māori in New Zealand. Chief executive of City Rail Link Ltd Sean Sweeney welcomed the choice.

“We were looking for the name of a New Zealand woman who inspired – brave, compassionate and fearless – and all those outstanding leadership qualities are well and truly represented by the very remarkable Dame Whina Cooper.”

Dame Whina Cooper was one of three women who were shortlisted to inspire the name of the TBM and the final decision was made by a poll that attracted 3,500 votes. The two other women who were nominated were Margaret Bradshaw, an Antarctic scientist, and the world’s first elected openly transgender Mayor and Member of Parliament, Georgina Beyer.

“I am grateful to all New Zealanders for their support and their nominations and votes, particularly at a time when we were all grappling with a pandemic. I would also like to thank Dr Bradshaw and Ms Beyer for allowing their names to be considered for our TBM,” said Sweeney.

The TBM will arrive on site in October, and will be reassembled at the Link Alliance project site at Mt Eden. The TBM will excavate two 1.6km tunnels from Mt Eden to Aotea Station.

In Western Australia, over 2,400 community members were involved in the future of Cockburn Central Station Tower.

After the removal of the controversial Cockburn Faces artwork in October 2019, the Cockburn community was asked to select a new use of the tower. Options included a new artwork, clock, digital screen, or the return of the faces.

After a month-long survey, 43 per cent opted for a new piece of artwork, and 37 per cent preferred an analogue clock.

“The community has spoken and, with almost half of the votes going for new artwork, our attention will now turn towards selecting an appropriate piece for the tower,” said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.

The WA Public Transport Authority will release a tender for the new artwork for a local WA artist in the coming months. Jandakot MLA Yaz Mubarakai said the site is significant for the local community.

“Thousands of motorists and train commuters see the Cockburn Tower every day so it’s important they’ve been able to have their say and the most popular option has been selected.”

Growing a nation-building industry

Fourteen days into her tenure as CEO of the ARA, Rail Express sat down with Caroline Wilkie for an exclusive interview – her first major interview since taking over from incoming chairman, Danny Broad.

In her opening address to the Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) Light Rail 2020 conference, the new CEO of the ARA, Caroline Wilkie highlighted that the next 10 to 15 years would see the opening up of major opportunities across the rail sector.

In almost each major city in Australia, a new rail project will begin operating in this period. In Canberra, stage 2A of the light rail project is scheduled to open as early as 2023. In Melbourne, the Melbourne Metro tunnel is looking at completion in 2025. In Perth, the Metronet project’s components will start to come online from 2021. In Queensland, Cross River Rail is due to be completed in 2024, while on the Gold Coast, stage 3A of the Light Rail project could be up and running by 2023. Finally, in Sydney the next stage of the Sydney Metro is scheduled for opening in 2024.

While there will be many opportunities for ribbon cutting at each of these projects’ opening days, it will be ensuring that the continued benefit of each rail project extends from the construction into the operational phase that animates Wilkie as she makes her mark on the industry.

“Now is a good time to talk about what role rail will have into the future.”

Wilkie, who was for nine years the CEO of the Australian Airports Association (AAA), highlighted that she would be taking a collaborative approach to communicating these benefits and looking for future opportunities.

“If I’ve got to a media release or I’m banging on the door of a minister’s office, I certainly feel like I’ve not done the right thing,” said Wilkie.

To successfully advocate for an industry sector as the head of its representative association, Wilkie nominates three essential ingredients. Number one being research.

“Define the issue. A clear policy proposal backed by research should be the basis of your advocacy. If you can’t present the facts in a coherent narrative you’re not going to get very far.”

The next step, highlighted Wilkie, was having a cohesive voice as an industry.

“The second thing is then having all the partners and stakeholders on board. There’s no point us advocating for an outcome on behalf of a third party if that third party isn’t saying the same thing,” said Wilkie.

This also extends to ensuring that the government department that she is working with is onboard to convince the key decision-maker.

“If you can’t get the department on your side – both at a state and federal level – they’re not going to write a favourable brief up to the minister,” said Wilkie, who has been closely involved with federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s office during her time at the AAA.

“The minister is going to have a million and one things on his plate and if I’m coming in and saying one thing and the department is saying something opposite, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

The final element is understanding but not playing the politics, said Wilkie.

“Playing a straight bat is really important. I know that there’s government and there’s opposition, but at the AAA I always made sure that we briefed both, to make sure that everyone is aware of our views. That has been the ARA’s history as well, and I intend to maintain that bi-partisan approach.

“I will never attack the government in the media, it’s making sure that those in the departments that we talk to, state or federal level, and the ministers, state or federal, know that we’re positive partners and that we really want to engage with them in a constructive fashion.”

EXPERIENCE IN MAKING THINGS HAPPEN
In her nine years at the AAA, Wilkie oversaw a number of initiatives, but in 2019 her efforts paid off in the form of an unprecedented $100 million fund for regional airports. The products of two years of lobbying, the funding vindicated Wilkie’s collaborative approach to advocacy.

“When we started the campaign, we knew it would take two years and we were right it took two years. We knew we were not going to get this budget cycle, but we could catch the next one if we do the right meetings, get the right messages out there, and generate the right noise and buzz.”

The effort was in the context of infrastructure being devolved to local councils, who were unable to pay for the upkeep of expensive and underutilised assets. Wilkie recalled that essential to the campaign’s ultimate success was the range of voices engaged in the campaign.

“One of the greatest things we did was actually getting our members to be advocates for us, talking to their local member about why it was important and getting that local member to talk to the Deputy Prime Minister.”

The program’s ultimate success drew on these insights while also being realistic about what could be achieved within that timeframe.

“Too often you see some people saying, ‘We want this and that.’ But to be successful, you need to understand to the perspective of the Government of the day and the circumstances in which it is operating. You need to be collegiate in understanding the department’s mandate and its context, ” said Wilkie. “For example, there’s no point going to the Commonwealth this year and asking for additional expenditure, because we’re in a difficult period with the bushfires and coronavirus, so we’re planning conversations for next year.”

However, Wilkie’s experience at the AAA also highlighted that just as much as getting government to fund something or take an action, effective industry leadership can be just as much about ensuring a change does not happen.

In 2012, a proposal was put forward for airports to cover the cost of the presence of Australian Federal Police (AFP) at the facilities.

“It was a classic case of lobbying against a bad policy,” said Wilkie. “Sometimes the greatest achievement is making something not happen.”

Framing the issue as one of national security, and therefore the responsibility of the federal government, and getting other stakeholders on board, was to ensure this extra cost was not imposed on airports.

“I think the greatest traction we got in that campaign was arguing that if you want to charge us for that, we want KPIs, we want to have a say over the resourcing,” said Wilkie. “If we’re paying for it, then we want a say and you can well imagine the AFP saying ‘Absolutely not, this is a national security issue.’ This, of course, was our whole argument in the first place. We were able to get a lot of people in the community on board for this particular campaign.”

In other areas, Wilkie has found the value of research in effecting change. In late 2019, the Productivity Commission finalised a report into the airport sector, which found that the current regulation of the sector was fit-for-purpose.

“We were engaging with the Productivity Commission on the facts because we took the view that as they are the greatest economic minds in the country, they will consider the case on its economic merits. That was probably the best example in my time at the AAA of fact-based research and making sure that you got all your members to really be focused on that fact-based research.”

Wilkie sees reports such as the Value of Rail report, prepared for the ARA by Deloitte Access Economics as forming this evidence base for government decision-making, and is something that Wilkie will be looking to update further.

CONTRIBUTING TO THE GREATER GOOD
With these experiences under her belt, Wilkie is aware of the differences between the airport and rail sector, one that she describes as “issues rich”.

“After my first 14 days it’s pretty clear to me that there are distinct groups in the membership, and they each have their distinct issues. I think we can clearly advocate for each of the sectors’ needs without conflicting with someone else.”

Rather than seeing these different sectors as competing Wilkie highlighted that in coming together, the sectors can improve outcomes for the industry as a whole.

“With any membership organisation you go on the principle of ‘do no harm’, as in with any policy I don’t want to advance one member at the expense of another member. More broadly you want to do what’s best for the industry as a whole.”

Apart from her experience heading the AAA, Wilkie has a deep knowledge of the role of industry associations and peak organisations from prior roles at the Tourism and Transport Forum and the Financial Planning Association.

“I love working in industry associations. I enjoy the variety of the role as CEO and I love the advocating for the greater good,” she said.

“For all the work that I did at the AAA the thing that brought me the greatest joy was doing anything that helped people in regional communities, hence why I always say that getting that funding for regional communities is our proudest professional moment. It was a gut-wrenching decision to decide to leave but I had always looked very warmly on the ARA, I knew Danny Broad previously. I am excited about rail and I like the fact that it’s a nation-building industry. It still has that connection with the regions, and it’s obviously got a really exciting trajectory.”

Less than a month into the job, Wilkie is already looking at where rail can have a greater presence in the national conversation.

“We’re looking at doing refresh on some of our statistics; what is the value of rail and why is it important, particularly after the summer bushfires the issues of climate change and emissions are very much front and centre in the policy debate.”

As Europe increases its spending on rail to reduce the carbon footprint of mobility, Wilkie sees the ARA as having a role to play in setting the agenda for a decarbonised economy.

“That’s an area where rail has an amazing story to tell about what it can do, not only in metro areas in terms of increasing use of passenger transport, but even in regional areas, and particularly in terms of freight.”

In other areas, Wilkie is hoping to continue the work already being done by the ARA.

“The other area that’s a big focus for the ARA and which I will take the mantle up on, is about workforce development and skills development. I think that promoting rail employment as something that’s not old fashioned, but modern and dynamic is important. The many environmental benefits of our industry lends itself to being promoted as a green alternative to enriching life. That modern perception will actually greatly impact making it an employer of choice and making younger people decide to work in rail.”

In these areas, Wilkie has been doing her own, firsthand research.

“I grew up in the Hills district in Sydney and now we have the North West Metro. Over Christmas I took my son on it, just to go and ride it, because it was extraordinary. Having grown up in Castle Hill, the best you could hope for was an occasional bus down to Parramatta. So for kids, the new Metro has opened up travel, and allowed people to engage with the city. With developments like that you’re seeing people have a legitimate choice and that’s the difference.”

NEXT STEPS
Wilkie, who describes herself as “conservative” in her approach to association budgeting, stresses that the current ARA team and structure is key to the ongoing success of the association.

“Listening is going to be key in this period and then we’ll go to the ARA Board with a rough plan of how we can service the needs of the distinct groups within the rail industry. Then can we ask for each of these issues what do we need to do? Do we start from basics, is it a research project, do we need to do a submission to government?”

More broadly, Wilkie notes that the role of the industry association is to find areas that can benefit the sector as a whole.

“I think for a body like the ARA, it’s not necessarily about advocating for build more, I see a role for us in trying to move the industry to do better and more with what we have. So, what are the vagaries of the national system that aren’t working for us as an industry, and where can we see productivity improvements? It’s not particularly sexy. I don’t know that anyone can cut a ribbon around it, but when you look at the productivity for the sector, that’s where we as the ARA can actually add the greatest value.

“That really comes back to what the role of the association is about, bringing together the voices of the sector, and putting their issues front and centre with the decision makers.

“As a collective voice, we can achieve things for industry.”

Air France pushed to cut flights where high speed rail operates

Air France must limit domestic flights between cities connected by rail in less than 2 and a half hours, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

The decision is part of the French government’s €7 billion ($11.8bn) bailout package for Air France and is the furthest governments have gone yet to encourage the shift from air travel to rail.

Air France can still fly customers on these shorter domestic routes if they are connecting to an international flight, however with major flight hubs such as Charles De Gaulle already having high-speed rail access, there may be even more incentive to choose rail over air.

Le Maire’s decision to make state aid conditional on limiting domestic flights is part of the government’s push to make the airline more environmentally friendly. In addition to cutting short-haul routes, the airline will have to reduce CO2 emissions by passenger and kilometre by 50 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030.

“This new and drastic condition will lead us to review mobility on French territory,” said Le Maire to French reporters. “As soon as there is a rail alternative to domestic flights with a duration of less than 2:30, these domestic flights will have to be drastically reduced and limited simply to transfers to a hub.”

Once implemented, domestic flights between Pairs and cities such as Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux, and Lyon would be cut and train patronage increase.

“The plane should no longer be a means of making transport in 1 hour or 1 hour 15 minutes which could be done at a lower cost of CO2 by train in 2 hours or 2 hours and 30 minutes,” said Le Maire.

French state-owned railway company SNCF, which operates the TGV service, has also been in talks with the French government about a bailout, with losses reportedly reaching €2bn ($3.37bn).

digital rail

The digital rail revolution

As one of the leading providers of digital technology in the digital rail sector, Mark Coxon of Alstom explains what changes rail can expect to see in its digital future.

Since the beginning of the modern era, rail has been closely connected to each major industrial innovation. Initially, in the first industrial revolution, the use of steam to textile mills was almost as iconic as the steam-powered train engine, which became the symbol of increased productivity and modernisation during the 19th century.

In the next era, the adoption of hydrocarbons as a source for fuel also enabled the diesel train, able to haul large loads for transcontinental journeys. Simultaneously, widespread electrification and the urbanisation of worldwide populations saw the adoption of electric, underground metro services that have kept crowded cities moving. Now, as the information revolution looks to set to be the next defining wave of innovation, train technology is leading the way in innovation.

Alstom is one of the early adopters of the digital wave in rail, and indeed has become one of the drivers. The significance of this shift is not lost on Mark Coxon, managing director of Alstom Australian and New Zealand.

“Digital Railways doesn’t have quite the romantic ring of the great train services of the past – the Orient Express, the Canadian Pacific or the Trans-Siberian. But digital is the next big wave in the railway sector, and train users can look forward to higher service standards, more timely information and even better ticket pricing,” he said.

The two primary technologies that have come to define digital rail are digital train control and digital signalling. Although there is an array of other technologies, according to Coxon, these tools will have a fundamental impact on the evolution of rail during the current industrial revolution.

“Digital signalling and digital technologies in general will have a huge influence on the evolution of rail services. They are just the latest developments in an industry that has a great track record (pun intended) of technological innovation. From steam to diesel to electric power, the railroad’s evolving technologies have unleashed economic potential and social mobility wherever the rails were laid.”

Indeed, the new technologies exist in order to improve the usefulness of rail networks, rather than being a cosmetic add on.

“Today we are entering an age where digitalisation allows operators to have real- time information on train movements and analyse overall performance – ultimately reducing costs by streamlining processes and improving efficiency and reliability,” Coxon said.

UNLOCKING THE URBAN
For many cities, including Australia’s urban centres, the efficiencies promised by digital rail could not come soon enough. Traditional signalling systems have reached the end of their useful life, while patronage continues to increase. Additionally, building new rail lines through cities is often not an option, and tunnelling underneath poses significant cost challenges. This has put pressure on existing technology, said Coxon.

“Railways have been part of the urban landscape for so long that networks in many countries have become extremely dense, especially on commuter lines in major cities, making it difficult and costly to implement major upgrading projects. Instead, the kind of improvements in efficiency that digital technology excels at can have massive operational impacts.”

Digital rail can also extend to find connections with other forms of transport, across heavy rail, metro, light rail and also bus and micro-mobility networks. Finding these efficiencies in the digital ecosystem can deliver major benefits to transport and city planners.

“Digital technologies hold out the promise of true transport integration, linking main-line rail services with other urban transportation modes, enhancing efficiency and passenger convenience,” said Coxon. “The introduction of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Intelligent Transport Systems and open- data/open-source transport applications are transforming urban transportation, optimising the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.”

Within the railways themselves, the enhanced data and feedback gathered by digital sensors form a connected railway that can reduce costs and improve service delivery.

“New transport data collection technologies are also being deployed to provide information about delays, downtime, and predictive maintenance which could lead to huge improvements in service standards, safety, and unlocking the potential of railways. Passengers will also be able to make real-time decisions about their journeys based on the features that matter most to them such as reliability, safety, travel time, and cost,” said Coxon.

In addition, as governments and individuals increasingly identify a project’s sustainability as a key factor, adopting the digitalisation
of railways can enable railway operators to reduce energy usage, improving air quality, while also delivering a seamless experience for the commuter.

“Enhanced safety, predictive maintenance, and automated driverless operation are all part of rail’s future,” said Coxon.

PUTTING THE PASSENGER FIRST
Perhaps an even more fundamental shift will be occurring in the way that passengers interact with transport. Currently divided into discrete journeys often limited by transport mode, a connected digital railway can enable the rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Via data-enabled apps, commuters can move through transit modes made as one seamless trip, with real- time information to smoothen the transition.

“From the passenger’s perspective, access through online apps to real-time information on travel times, potential service interruptions, ticket prices, seating arrangements and even on the least crowded places to wait on a station platform, will enhance convenience and reduce the stress of travel,” said Coxon.

Reducing disruptions also enables transit time to fit into the other rhythms of daily life, with enhanced services available onboard.

“Railways today offer a connected service all along the passenger journey with on-board Wi-Fi for internet and entertainment options. Passengers are able to experience these services using their own mobile devices –laptops, tablets and smartphones,” said Coxon. “This approach to train connectivity can unquestionably deliver a significantly improved passenger experience.”

These developments occur as part of a strategy of putting the individual first, rather than forcing the individual to comply with the requirements of the service.

SEIZING THE DIGITAL FUTURE
However, just as digital rail offers solutions, there are challenges too, as Coxon acknowledges.

“The path to digitalisation will not, of course, be entirely smooth.”

The benefits of digital rail require collaboration and coordination between companies, agencies, and organisations that have up until now existed in their own silos, with limited interaction. In addition, the skills and knowledge that is required to build and run a digital rail system is quite different to those needed in an analogue rail environment, although Coxon notes that these changes could have their own benefits.

“Despite the challenges, the railway sector’s move to digitalisation is clearly unstoppable. Digital technology in the railway sector will see a shift from the traditional emphasis on heavy engineering, to software and data handling skills. In the future, once the hardware is installed, upgrading a signalling system will no longer require hundreds of workers out on the tracks; it might be more like upgrading the software on your phone.”

Getting to this digitally enabled future may require some difficult transitioning, however through collaborating across industry lines, returns can be found.

“Rail operators should take this digitalisation opportunity to integrate different mobility options into their existing offering and consequently focus on value creation through innovation,” said Coxon.

“Without a doubt, it is the quiet efficiency of digital technology that will take rail systems and their passengers into a new age of rail travel that is safer, more convenient and comfortable, more economical, and more climate-friendly.”

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.