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Driving efficiently, driving safely

By Pacific National
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Rail is one area where safety and efficiency are coming together.

Effective train driver management has to focus on two different but interconnected goals if it is going to be successful and deliver the productivity improvements that Australia’s economy needs.

The first is driving efficiently – making sure that those in rail jobs are doing so in a way that minimises fuel consumption and operational overheads. The second is equally important and involves prioritising driver safety so that accidents are kept to a minimum.

[Driver safety] requires supervisors to invest time and resources into improving overall performance.

For this reason, the two are both incredibly valuable for those in transport and logistics jobs to focus on, as well as their managers and supervisors who are overseeing their performance. What’s more, they are both areas where even small improvements can have a significant impact on overall performance.

The growing demand for energy efficiency

According to the Department of Industry and Science’s Office of the Chief Economist, rail transport is rapidly growing and demanding more energy as a result. The latest figures have revealed that energy use in rail transport has expanded at an average of 4.4 per cent annually over the last 10 years, second only to air transport.

While this reflects how popular rail is for transport and logistics, it also underscores how important it is to operate more efficiently. Industry growth will have to outpace escalating energy demands to prevent overheads from increasing.

Achieving this will be possible partially through upgrading equipment, with new technology able to harness the energy created by braking and applying it to other purposes, as seen in this video from Siemens:

However, it also falls on drivers to operate in an efficient manner, and requires supervisors to invest time and resources into improving overall performance.

Operating more efficiently has a clear link to the amount of energy being used in an operation and a business’s overheads more generally. However, it is only one side of a better heavy rail service – the other side involves addressing safety hazards that continue to affect the country’s transport workers.

What are the biggest safety hazards on Australia’s rail network?

Transport remains one of the most dangerous industries, despite Safe Work Australia recording a considerable improvement over recent years in the injury rate for these businesses. Ensuring this rate continues to drop further can only be achieved if businesses, managers and workers all continue to make safety a priority.

The most recent analysis from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has revealed a number of key risks that exist on Australia’s rail network that still need to be addressed, in particular when maintenance is being conducted. Among the leading issues here are:

  • Protection types being insufficient or incorrect
  • Protection location being incorrectly positioned
  • Protections being incorrectly removed
  • Worksite location being incorrectly identified.

While this focus was specifically aimed at maintenance crews repairing the rail network, it is equally important for anyone working around heavy rail, in environments such as a port or freight depot, for example.

Another major issue is that safety and performance are seen as incompatible – an assumption that simply isn’t true. In fact, we are now seeing that it is possible to prioritise both safety and efficiency in order to boost the performance of Australia’s rail infrastructure. Pacific National’s recent trial of train driver performance is just one example of an initiative that is bridging this gap.

Safe work practices are helping companies to become more productive.Safe work practices are helping companies to become more productive.

Pacific National’s train driver performance trial

As part of Pacific National’s commitment to safer, more efficient rail freight transport, we have recently trialled an innovative program to improve the performance of our train drivers, while also keeping them safe.

“I’ve seen improvements in my train handling, that’s the biggest thing I’ve seen so far”

This trial began on June 1 2015 at Antiene and Mudgee and lasted a full three months. In that time, it led to 300 separate engagements between train crews and their supervisors, giving some insight into just how broad this process has been.

The results speak for themselves. Across these two depots, we have recorded improvements of over 50 per cent across a number of key metrics. Throttle sweeping, mainline speeding, minimum brake applications and dynamic brake setups all saw improvement following the trial.

“I’ve seen improvements in my train handling, that’s the biggest thing I’ve seen so far, and my attitude towards my driving has changed for the better,” explained one of our drivers who took part.

Looking to the future of safety and efficiency

Following the success of this trial, Pacific National is now expanding the initiative to other locations, including Gunnedah and Werris Creek, with another trial planned for Gracemere in Queensland from February 2016. This will give us an even greater insight into how our own processes can be improved to keep drivers safe and ensure the rail network operating efficiently.

Safety and efficiency are both areas that require constant attention and careful planning to ensure supply chain technology is operating properly and meeting the needs of Australia’s economy. It’s only through trials and innovation that we are able to realise these incremental performance improvements.