Rail Supply, Research & Development

Manufacturing in rail needs to seize opportunity of current pipeline: report

Australia has the opportunity to harness the current project pipeline to improve rail manufacturing productivity, a new report has found.

The report, Finding the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry, authored by L.E.K. Consulting on behalf of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), highlights that rail innovation needs to be a national priority, and not fragmented between different state-based policies.

Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, said that the current investment in rail plus the renewed federal focus on manufacturing meant that the conditions were right for a rail manufacturing resurgence.

“The rail industry is expected to invest $155 billion in the next 15 years and we have to make that investment count,” Wilkie said.

“The world-first introduction of autonomous trains in the Pilbara region is just one example that shows Australia has the capability to lead the way on rail innovation.

“But the policy settings must be right to support innovation and technology adoption across the industry at a whole.”

Wilkie said that despite Australia having a large market for rail and the required network size, differing policies on local content in various states meant that the local manufacturing industry would struggle to compete.

“The international experience has shown that where governments lead a focus on rail innovation, private investment follows,” she said.

“We have the projects in the pipeline and we have the network scale to make rail innovation a real success.

“All we need now is for a true national focus to bring government and industry together to make the most of this opportunity.”

With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC earlier in 2020, the Australian rail industry has lacked government funding for innovation specific to rail. The report found that Australia was also falling behind in comparison to other countries, with only one per cent of the world’s rail patents in 2019 coming from Australia.

In a report released at the beginning of this week, the Rail Manufacturing CRC reviewed projects that it had completed and highlighted the potential for further innovation.

“Australia’s research sector is world class and there exist many opportunities for the rail sector to utilise Australia’s R&D capabilities. With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, there will be a need for both government and industry to consider new models to support ongoing innovation,” said Stuart Thomson, CEO of the Rail Manufacturing CRC.

The report highlights four ongoing challenges for the rail industry. These include the need for national harmonisation, industry co-investment in R&D, the support for a culture of innovation, and the need to secure future funding for rail R&D.

“There exist significant opportunities for the sector to increase local manufacturing, develop supply chains and to train and educate a highly skilled workforce, however Government intervention and support will be required,” the report highlights.

Wilkie said that the industry was at a critical juncture.

“We run the real risk of being saddled with an inefficient, outdated rail network if we don’t support greater innovation and technology adoption to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australian rail users.”

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