A Victorian train.

The Federal Government has appointed a Rail Manufacturing Advocate and Chair to lead a new council tasked with streamlining practices and driving growth in the rail industry.

The announcement follows research funded by the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) released by the Federal Government in 2022, which showed that a coordinated national approach to rail procurement and manufacturing would have saved $1.85 billion over the past ten years.

Separate ARA research also confirmed the current uncoordinated approach to type approval processes by procurers is costing the rail industry $230 million per year.

The Rail Industry Innovation Council will be chaired by Jacqui Walters, who has also been appointed as the Advocate.

Ms Walters has worked across Federal, State and Territory Governments, including as former Chair of the Citytrain Response Unit, where she oversaw the transformation of public transport in Queensland.

Ms Walters’s experience in the transport sector is complemented by her background in renewable energy and venture capital funding.

The National Rail Manufacturing Advocate will help improve coordination of state and territory procurement of rail rolling stock, to build a more sustainable and competitive rail manufacturing industry. 

Eight leading experts have also been appointed to the Rail Industry Innovation Council:

  • Danny Broad (Chair, Australasian Railway Association),
  • The Hon Rachel Nolan (former Queensland Transport Minister),
  • Ravi Ravitharan (Professor, Monash University Institute of Railway Technology),
  • Katarzyna Stapleton (CEO, Queensland Rail),
  • Glenn Thompson (Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union),
  • Vicki Brown (University of Technology, Sydney)
  • Graham Bentley (Aurecon)
  • Samantha McWilliam (WSP)

The appointments are critical to the success of the Government’s National Rail Manufacturing Plan which will help ensure more high quality, low emissions passenger trains are manufactured in Australia.

As part of the plan, the government expects to deliver the National Rail Procurement and Manufacturing Strategy by the end of the year. 

Cooperation is key 

ARA CEO, Caroline Wilkie, said the ARA has worked closely with the Office of National Rail Industry Coordination (ONRIC) since it was formed in 2022, advocating for better harmonisation across jurisdictions.

“It is encouraging to see the Federal Government act on the decades-long lack of harmonisation across the country’s rail networks that has hampered competitiveness, significantly increasing costs and constraining investment,” Ms Wilkie said.

“The industry urgently needs a centralised approach to procurement to drive productivity and innovation if we are to meet the challenge of a $154 billion pipeline over the next 15 years.

“The current state-based local content policies are akin to operating in different countries and have led to duplication of facilities and made it hard for some organisations to bid for key contracts.

“A transparent, long-term and coordinated strategy will be critical to support a sustainable industry and enable increased investment through certainty.”

ARA Chair, Danny Broad, who was appointed as a Council member, said the announcement is the first step towards developing safe, sustainable rail and will foster research and development to boost capabilities in the sector.

“This plan will support more trains being built here in Australia and create local, skilled manufacturing jobs,” Mr Broad said.

“It will improve government supply and export opportunities for local businesses and improve competitiveness overall.

“The ARA looks forward to the delivery of the National Rail Manufacturing Plan to support industry productivity and facilitate opportunities for Australian manufacturers.”

The rail rolling stock manufacturing and repair industry has a revenue of just over $2.4 billion and a direct value-added of $515 million.

The ONRIC is leading a national approach to deliver the Federal Government’s $14.2 million National Rail Manufacturing Plan.

The office is tasked with working closely with State and Territory Governments, manufacturers, industry peak bodies, unions and research organisations to implement the plan.

The future of rail manufacturing

Federal Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Trade, Tim Ayres, announced the appointment of the Council members on 28 June at Maryborough Railway Station in Queensland.

“Australians can build the trains of the future for Australia and the world,” Mr Ayres said. 

“When state governments procure passenger rail projects offshore it costs thousands of good jobs in the regions and undermines Australia’s manufacturing capability. 

“The Federal Government is determined to support Australia’s capability and create good manufacturing jobs in our regions and outer suburbs.

“I look forward to working with Jacqui Walters and Council members to implement the Government’s vision of supporting more skilled manufacturing jobs and ensuring more of our rail passenger fleets are built in Australia. 

“As Advocate, she will work with state and territory governments and stakeholders to pursue an improved national approach that provides increased opportunities for local businesses and creates more local jobs, particularly in regional Australia.”

Ms Walters said she was honoured to be appointed the National Rail Manufacturing Advocate to assist in the implementation of the government’s National Rail Manufacturing Plan.

“I will work closely with the Rail Industry Innovation Council and Assistant Minister Ayres to increase opportunities for local businesses and create more local, good quality jobs,” Ms Walters said. 

“I strongly believe there is a future for Australia to become a high-value manufacturing nation.”

“Working together we have the opportunity to improve competitiveness, innovation, and growth within the rail manufacturing industry.”

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