It’s raining gold in rail. Projects are falling out of the sky, we have the Metro Tunnel, Airport link, Ballarat duplication, proposed electrification to Wallan, and the suburban rail loop on the cards and only 29 of the now 75 grade separations completed. It appears that our industry has a lot to look forward to. All these initiatives are great for our industry with much needed investment after decades of stagnation. But I can’t help but ask the question, who will do the work?
The Victorian rail industry has traditionally expanded and contracted very slowly and there is a definitive finite number of members who have the skills to deliver these projects. These skills have been developed over decades of working in the industry, often through sheer experience.
You don’t have to look further then the Murray Basin project to see what happens when you undertake a project with no clue as to what you are doing. A company with minimal rail experience entering into a joint venture with a company with less rail experience was never going to end well. Employing a largely fly in fly out Labour Hire based workforce who didn’t have the competencies initially to as much as work on the regional network, on downright dangerous rosters, delivering a dead set shambles of a project that doesn’t achieve what it set out to achieve in the first place, blowing out initial costs, and ultimately wasting tax payers money. Not a lot of upside to that.
Experience is a dear teacher someone important once said and the Murray Basin project should teach the State Government and the operators a valuable lesson. In order to deliver these projects in the manner they were intended and have a positive effect on the network and make good use of tax payer money, there must be a plan.
For one, tendering panels need to look past price, a big factor in the Basin debacle, but more importantly there needs to be co-operation between contractors and if needed, intervention by the State Government to ensure continuity between projects. Giving members the opportunity to go from job to job developing their skills to be a much needed asset to the industry as the network expands is crucial.
If this means a project must be delayed in order to maintain continuity, surely that is a small price to pay to deliver a project that actually works, and skills that will serve the industry for decades to come.
Safety matters. Everyone deserves to return home safe.