ARA warn rail project uncertainty and delays could lead to rail skills risk

The ARA have warned that delays to key rail projects could see NSW lose valuable rail skills as workers seek greater certainty in other states.

Australian rail workers helping to construct tunnel infrastructure.

Credit: @AustRail

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has warned delays to key rail projects could see NSW lose the skills needed to deliver the state’s megaprojects as industry workers seek greater certainty in other states.

A stop-start approach to already announced projects could put the skills and expertise available on continuing projects at risk. While the Infrastructure NSW State Infrastructure Strategy 2022-2042 confirmed the importance of sequencing major projects to support their successful delivery, the industry needed certainty to ensure it could meet the state’s investment programme.

“While sequencing projects to make the most of skills and resources is a sensible step, this does not mean we should be putting a stop to already announced projects,” Caroline Wilkie, Chief Executive Officer for ARA, said. “A lack of clarity on future projects could see the industry put its focus on states where there is more certainty and drain much needed skills from NSW projects already underway.”

The ARA believe that while the infrastructure sector was experiencing skills shortages, a strong and sustainable pipeline of work was key to attracting new people to the industry.

“We hear from rail industry workers time and again that they want certainty in their careers, and they want to know they can continue to work on exciting projects over time,” Wilkie continued. “When plans for future projects are unclear, it puts careers at risk and ultimately leads to more employees choosing other industries. Industry needs to be able to plan their workforce and retain their top people to ensure the success of major rail projects.”

The ARA believe a range of measures could help mitigate project delivery risks in the current climate. For example, the ARA have long advocated for a national approach to infrastructure project planning to ensure the industry had a clear visibility of the project pipeline and supported improved processes to enhance the coordination of major projects. More could also be done to improve procurement and planning processes to ensure industry could spend less time on bidding for projects and more time delivering them. However, while the pandemic had impacted international supply chains, the current pipeline of projects was positive for Australian suppliers.

“The current project pipeline is creating new opportunities for rail suppliers to build local capability and ensure we have a resilient supply chain for the future,” Wilkie concluded. “Ensuring certainty for all rail suppliers is absolutely essential to make the most of the current wave in investment.”

The ARA also welcomed Infrastructure NSW’s call for prioritised plans for asset and network improvements to ensure the continued strength of the existing infrastructure network.

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