Until recently the rail industry in Australia, particularly rail freight, was largely on the wane, unable to compete effectively with aggressive and well-funded road transport.
Now that has changed. Rail is undergoing a renaissance, with billions of government and private dollars invested in new lines and rolling stock, including heavy-haul rail and port infrastructure to service the resources boom
Furthermore, a transformation in rail ownership, operations and technology has brought efficiencies that have lifted rail’s standing among freight transport operators.
Large lumps of state government funding are also being invested in new and upgraded urban passenger rail services and in new technology to service population growth regions.
Rail’s revival and the many issues confronting the industry will be discussed at AusRAIL PLUS 2007, rail’s premier conference and exhibition, at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre, Darling Harbour, on 4-6 December.
It is an apt event not only for those directly involved in the rail industry, but also for those who work in industries that influence or are affected by rail’s growth.
This year’s conference and exhibition has more than 100 speakers, including 16 international guest speakers, and attendees from as far as North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.
Speakers will include John Watkins, NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Transport and Minister for Finance; Mike van de Worp, Manager Railroad Operations for BHP Billiton Iron Ore; Stephen Cantwell, Chief Operating Officer of Queensland Rail; and Tim Fischer, former Deputy Prime Minister and a champion of rail.
The exhibition in tandem with the conference will cover 9,600 sq m of floor space. There will be nine exhibition seminars run over the three days conducted by O’Donnell Griffin, Downer EDI Rail & EMD, LPA Group, Siemens, Thales and STRAIL.
AusRAIL PLUS will also provide for social and networking activities with cocktails on 4 December, the RTAA Yellow Tie dinner on 5 December and the AusRAIL PLUS 2007 Gala Dinner on 6 December.
David Marchant, CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, who will participate in the CEO’s Forum at AusRAIL PLUS says anyone with an interest in rail needs to be at the conference.
“There is much potential for rail to continue to expand, particularly as the big issues relating to real charges and responsibilities in road transport come under scrutiny over the next decade.
“These issues relate to the chain of responsibility, fatigue management, carbon taxes and fuel prices, congestion in the cities and the skill shortage.
“If rail can make itself flexible and innovative, and if rail operators challenge themselves with technology to be even more efficient in ‘above-rail’ operations that are part of the logistics chain, then over the next decade we can really make strides in this market.”
Marchant sees a big future also for passenger rail, particularly urban passenger rail as environmental issues come to the fore.
“Interstate rail is always going to be challenged by a very competitive airline industry and very competitive pricing. That will really test innovation and the ability for rail to compete.”
He also sees rail safety as a major issue to be tackled. “We’re working very hard with our operators to bring in technology and other means to test on safety and test on maintenance limits.
“But the big test over the next five or six years is how we move from traditional signaling to advanced train management, which will enable trains to operate more efficiently and safely while making productivity gains.”
Marchant says the contribution of delegates to the debates is important to the success of AusRAIL PLUS and the resolution of the challenges the industry faces.
“A good conference has good innovative speakers, as this conference does, but the questions, the interaction and the dialogue are equally important,” he says.
“The speakers get you thinking but the reality is the delegates’ challenging, questioning and thinking about the process is really what makes a conference.
“The big challenge is what we can do below rail and what we can do above rail to create a dynamic, fleet-footed industry that was thought to be old and dying.”
More information on AusRAIL PLUS 2007 is available from Informa Australia.