Can the industry deliver the current rail pipeline?

by Phil Kajewski, Managing Director Infrastructure Australia Pacific, Arcadis

It’s no secret that there has been a significant lack of investment in rail for decades. Our nation’s love affair with roads, while important in the greater transport mix, has not created a balanced transport network. This is now changing.

Driven by New South Wales and Victoria (with Queensland and Western Australia set to follow soon), the current investment in rail is unprecedented over the past 80 years.

Taking lessons from leading global cities, Sydney and Melbourne are now making strong investments in developing Metro Rail systems to help them deal with growth, congestion, reliance on roads and the coinciding challenges of urban renewal and urbanisation.

Our major cities are also investing in freight networks, which might not be exciting for the average voter but is critical to efficient mobility in our economy.

While this is great news for our major cities – the engine room of our economy – it also comes with unique challenges.

The scale of this investment is absolutely needed to ensure the resilience and competitiveness of our cities, however, there is a significant challenge to be overcome for successful delivery – the local industry does not have the capacity and capability to deliver the planned investment.

Due to our nation’s sustained investment in roads, the capacity and capability is there for road projects, however, we are looking to do new things with Metros and integrated rail networks, so the issues of capability and particularly capacity to deliver must be acknowledged and addressed.

Since these Metro projects have in the past been a once in several generations investment in our cities, we simply haven’t built up a sustained rail industry capable of delivering multiple major rail infrastructure projects at the one time.

So, how do we manage this?

Firstly, the public and private sectors must acknowledge the capacity and capability challenges and commit to growing the local skill base.

As leaders in the industry, we all have a role to play in creating training programs, developing our teams, exposing them to global best practice, sharing insights and ultimately investing in a future rail skills system for Australia.

We simply cannot continue to hire and find people from the current talent pool for the long term, we must invest and we must draw on global experience.

This issue can also be addressed by public and private sector taking a broader view of Australia’s skill base.

Too much reliance on demonstrated rail experience and track record will most likely see us overlook a significant amount of good talent from other sectors and not be helpful in getting the job done.

Secondly, the global community will be critical to Australia’s success.

Looking at global best practice, European cities are leaders in Metro systems and their workforce is incredibly skilled and incredibly experienced.

This knowledge must be brought to Australia and shared with our local teams.

In practical terms, this can be managed with short and long-term secondments with the goal of delivery and education. Large numbers are not needed.

The difference can often be made with a few key individuals providing their personal experience and the linkages they have back to their highly skilled teams in Europe.

This will create a truly globally skilled community – it’s easy to forget just how isolated we are in Australia compared to our European colleagues, who can easily draw on best practice from neighbouring countries.

Now, it certainly isn’t doom and gloom. We have one of the most mature highways industries in the world, so we are certainly skilled and able to deliver complex transport networks.

What we must do though is acknowledge our skills gap, invest in local talent, think more broadly about how to use the talent we have, and tap into global networks.

The success of our current, and hopefully continued, rail investment relies on this approach.

Conquering this challenge will deliver highly successful metro rail projects for our largest cities that start to transform the way we travel and how we view mobility.

It will ensure we leave a legacy of iconic mobility infrastructure that are valued and continue to shape our cities for decades to come, and an industry that has the capability and capacity to deliver sustained investment in a balanced transport investment portfolio.

This partner content is brought to you by Arcadis. For more information, visit www.arcadis.com/en/global/.  

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