Rail Infrastructure Boom – getting skills on track

Australia is in the middle of a rail infrastructure boom with multi billion-dollar projects around the country to help manage our growing population, meet our national freight challenge and get Australians home sooner and safer. This boom is leading to enormous job opportunities and makes skills development a priority for the industry. In response, the Rail Industry Reference Committee has commenced a project to review and update rail infrastructure qualifications and skills standards.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) estimates over $100 billion will be spent in the next 10 to 15 years on rail infrastructure projects. These will include Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the Inland Rail, Sydney and Melbourne Metros level-crossing replacements, Metronet projects in Perth, Rail Capacity Enhancement in the Pilbara, rail extensions in South Australia, and light rail projects in many capital cities.

This renaissance in rail is being driven by Australia’s growing population — estimated to be 30.5 million by 2031 — and a national freight challenge. In the 2017‒18 budget, the Australian Government established the National Rail Program, which will invest in passenger rail networks in our big cities, and between our cities and their surrounding regional centres. The 10-year program is designed to help make our cities more liveable and efficient as they grow, reduce the burden on our roads, provide more reliable transport networks and support efforts to decentralise the economy.

According to the National Transport Commission, the domestic freight task increased by 50 per cent in the 10 years to 2016 and is forecast to grow another 26 per cent by 2026. Rail freight provides a cost-effective, safe and environmentally sound solution for reducing congestion from heavy vehicles on urban, regional and interstate roads. In addition, as part of the supply chain, rail will need to play a greater role in meeting Australia’s freight task and to maintain the nation’s international competitiveness.

The employment and training opportunities created by all these projects was highlighted at the ARA’s Rail Careers Week from 17 to 21 June. Explaining that the aim of the week was to encourage people of all ages and experiences to consider working in the industry, ARA CEO Danny Broad said, ’there is no better time to join [the rail industry] and learn new skills’.

With the volume of infrastructure projects across Australia in both civil construction and rail, there will be direct competition between these sectors for appropriately skilled workers. The Rail industry wants to ensure that the current TLI (Rail) Transport and Logistics Training Package infrastructure qualifications and associated Units of Competency meet the skills needs of industry to achieve a safe and successful outcome for the rail infrastructure projects.

The Rail Infrastructure Skills project will review seven specific qualifications and associated Units of Competency, with a view to reducing duplication and removing superfluous qualifications as well as identifying skills gaps. Each qualification and associated Units of Competency will be revised to ensure alignment with the specific infrastructure skill requirements at various operator levels. The revision will incorporate technologies used in building rail infrastructure and automation used in track infrastructure installation and maintenance. This project will ensure that the qualifications cover the specific skills identified from entry level through to higher-level technical skills, whilst ensuring that the safety aspects for all operations, including accessing the rail corridor, are up to date.

The new TLI Rail Training Package will be the vehicle for new entrants wanting to take advantage of this rail infrastructure boom, whilst providing a pathway for existing infrastructure workers to advance through the ranks.

A Technical Advisory Committee made up of subject matter experts is being established to provide technical input into the review and development work.

Read more about the Rail Infrastructure Skills project here.