Rail interoperability

Australia’s rail system has legacy issues to overcome. There is an opportunity through generational investments underway to make trains run more easily and safely with less environmental impact, while addressing skills shortages by creating nationally recognised credentials and attracting a more diverse workforce. Making the most of these opportunities will improve rail interoperability.

Rail interoperability framework

The NTC is progressing a rail interoperability framework through: 

  • an Interoperability Advisory Group (IAG) — government and industry working together to find solutions to improve rail productivity
  • a national map called the national network for interoperability identifying key interoperability interfaces 
  • a memorandum of cooperation between ministers and industry — to provide a basis for more formal coordination and adoption of a national view on interoperability to advance safety and productivity across rail networks for the collective good
  • future technologies forums — to learn from international developments in relation to interoperability and technology.

Memorandum of Cooperation

Australian governments and industry have signed a commitment to take a more national focus when making decisions on future rail investments.

The historic agreement will improve rail’s competitiveness, boost national productivity and improve connections between cities, regions and ports.

By agreeing to consider rail interoperability, transport ministers, industry builders, operators, and manufacturers will help to maximise the benefits from $155 billion of modernisation projects scheduled over the next 15 years.

The first signatories to the Memorandum of Cooperation include Australia’s Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King, Victorian Deputy Premier, Jacinta Allan, and the chair of the Australasian Railway Association, Danny Broad.

Improving national rail interoperability is one of the National Cabinet's eight priorities for collective action.

Read the media release from Australia's Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King.

Click here to read the Memorandum of Cooperation and see the list of signatories.

Improving rail interoperability through nationally recognised skills

Rail interoperability will rely on a labour force that has the right digital skills to operate new technologies.

The NTC will gather data and undertake analysis to understand what specific job-ready skills are needed and where, and the benefits of adopting national and international skills standards.

The data and supporting analysis aim to:

  • provide the national evidence base for States and Territories to target and prioritise future digital rail skills training and mutual recognition aligned with the pace of digital transformation in rail
  • enable States and Territories governments to plan, collectively share and accelerate access to consistent, portable, international level advanced digital rail skills across Australia.

Key issues

The NTC has identified the key issues facing Australia’s Rail Infrastructure Managers, rail operators and senior rail industry representatives in relation to rail interoperability. Three key themes emerged: 

  • a shortage of rail workers and lack of skill portability, 
  • the benefits and challenges associated with introducing new railway technologies such as new train control and signalling systems 
  • the need for consistent standards across the network to advance interoperability.

Challenges to be addressed

By addressing rail interoperability, we will tackle these challenges:

  • A lack of interoperability is compounding the rail skills shortage, with experienced people isolated to the geographic areas, draining talent pools and limiting workforce diversity. 
  • The use of multiple rail gauges, different signalling systems, rolling stock and safe working arrangements across Australia are a handbrake on the economy requiring costly workarounds.
  • Procurement of modern train control systems along the eastern seaboard over the next 5-10 years will need to work seamlessly with interface issues to be worked out.
  • The opt-in nature of agreed standards means there are many differences in how we run trains, manage crews and invest in new rolling stock that is impacting on national productivity and innovation.

Key facts

Current state of rail

Australia’s rail network has evolved from separate state-based networks and private systems. Different systems and rules were adopted to suit specific conditions and circumstances. 

Today Australia’s rail network includes:

  • 29 networks
  • 3 different railway gauges 
  • 11 separate signalling systems.

Skills and labour

  • Forecast labour shortage of 70,000 forecast in near term – digital skills as well as traditional.

Economic impact

  • The rail industry generates almost $30 billion in economic activity each year and supports 165,000 direct and indirect Australian jobs.

Government investment in rail construction and maintenance

  • $14.4 billion per year over the next five years
  • $155 billion over the next 15 years (BIS Oxford Rail Market Conditions Report for ARA). 

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