DB Rail Academy brings 185 years of rail operations expertise to the training of rail staff.
The rail renaissance is clearly not a phenomenon that is confined to Australia and New Zealand. Globally, investment in rail is growing, with the sector tipped to continue to grow despite COVID-19 as governments look to environmentally friendly mobility infrastructure as a way to stimulate economies.
Major new rail projects are continuing in younger markets as well, with new tracks being laid in countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia where rail has previously not played a large role in moving people and goods.
Across many of these projects, experts from some of the more established and technically advanced railways have been brought in to advise and consult on the construction of new rail lines. Deutsche Bahn has drawn on 185 years of rail heritage in Germany, and with DB Engineering and Consulting GmbH (DB E&C), the expertise is compiled in order to advise rail engineers, rail operators and public entities around the world. However, Doreen Christmann, strategic business development manager for DB Rail Academy, Deutsche Bahn’s full-service training provider for the global rail and transport sector, pointed out that the job is not complete when the final sleeper is laid.
“If you want to implement a new railway line, you need to have qualified staff beforehand,” said Christmann.
Seeing that the need for well-trained and qualified staff was an ongoing exercise, DB E&C established the DB Rail Academy to provide ongoing training and education.
“We established the DB Rail Academy four years ago with a more strategic and comprehensive approach. To stay with the customer and to support and guide them through the whole process after the establishment of the project and once the operation had started,” said Christmann.
DB Rail Academy launched in 2016 with its first customer in Dubai, where the local Roads and Transport Authority is in the process of establishing new automated metro lines, a tram network, as well as buses and ferries.
“We began by supporting them in the establishment of their entire qualification system. One of the results is that they now have a training centre based on our recommendations,” said Christmann.
In addition to newly established transport authorities, the DB Rail Academy has also been embraced by transport operators in Latin America who are investing in renewing and expanding their rail networks. In other countries that have a longer history with rail, such as India and China, the company can provide training in upgrading to the latest systems and processes, highlighted Oliver Stoffel, business development manager at DB Rail Academy.
“We have larger countries, with a longer history of railways, that need assistance in terms of transition from older standards and technology to state-of-the-art technology,” he said. “Then we have countries which are already very professional in the rail industry, Singapore springs to mind, where it’s more about the exchange of experience and being a sparring partner to our customer and client.”
In Australia and New Zealand, DB Rail Academy can support new projects in geographies that have not been served by rail, or enable operators to migrate to new technologies as part of their revitalisation of rail services.
A NEW APPROACH TO TRAINING
While having the right skills to meet the rail investment boom is an issue that is facing Australia and New Zealand, there are issues with low numbers of drivers and staff that are already impacting existing networks.
Transport operators have often been caught short and have had to cancel train connections due to a lack of personnel. With a higher number of drivers, guards, and station staff rail operators can expand the number of services and compete with private freight operators who are also hiring from the same pool. Robert Wagner, regional director Australia for DB E&C noted that knowledge transfer needs to occur.
“The competencies are there and really focused in the experience of the older staff, but there’s no one that’s actually transferring this knowledge to younger people who can take over when these staff retire. This is something here on a broader scale, how do we train staff in general, not only train staff, but also train controllers and train attendees and others?”
When it comes to training the next generation of rail workers, DB has the advantage of knowledge and experience.
“Academic training or training from schools and universities is more theory, and what you miss is the real problem and realising in the day to day course of a business the operational issues that you only face if you’re working in this business,” said Christmann. “This covers not only the best practices but also the lessons learned along the way, what mistakes did we make, what we learnt out of it, and how can we improve?”
Currently, DB Rail Academy is in discussions with established training operators to bring its training methodology to Australia. Developed with the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, units within the DB Rail Academy are collaborative and interactive.
“It’s not the kind of learning where an expert is standing in front of a bunch of people. In our training courses it’s working together on issues, finding solutions together,” said Christmann. “We go into the depot or workshops or to the train control centres, talk to the people and really see how it is working.”
Locally, these methods have been applied in the delivery of new transport infrastructure such as the Canberra Light Rail. DB E&C was engaged for the project, and through DB Rail Academy, provided the training for the trainers of light rail drivers on the new network.
“We developed the curricula and the content so it can be taught, and we were present when the first driver trainers were trained, and then they trained a whole bunch of the drivers in Canberra on the system,” said Wagner.
This example illustrated how a rail project goes beyond the physical infrastructure required to get the system up and running.
“We as the consulting engineer, reviewed the works they had done outside on the line, the overhead catenary, the depot and so on, but also adding our knowledge in terms of well, what do we actually need to have enough train drivers available and suitably trained to the date of commencement of operations,” said Wagner.
Having this hands-on training and support ensured the system was a success from day one.