Thursday, January 14, 2010

Australian rail ‘catches the eye’ of UK companies

The Federal Government’s unprecedented investment in Australian rail has aroused international commercial interest in the industry, opening up plenty of businesses opportunities for UK companies, according to British consul-general Stuart Gill.

Revealing that UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) – the business development arm of the British Government – has specialists engaged in a broad scoping mission of the Australian rail industry to ensure they are feeding into all the opportunities within our rail sector here, Gill said that Australia’s huge infrastructure and stimulus packages have “caught the eye” of UKTI.
“Australia's continuing outstanding economic track record has raised its profile as a destination for UK companies ... ” Gill said.

“Rail is an important part of the broader economic relationship between the UK and Australia..
“We are two economies who are going through, and have been going through the GFC. At the beginning of last financial year we were expecting a tough time in trade and investment but actually we’ve never been busier. Most of our staff in Australia at the UKTI who do work for British companies who want to export to Australia and Australian companies who want to export to the UK have been going gang busters.

“On the export front, the exchange rate has helped but that’s not the whole story, Australia has dodged the recessionary bullet and that’s a sign of real strength …

Gill said that UK companies can offer real expertise in the rail industry and in turn, their investment in the Australian economy can mean more jobs, better rail facilities for Australians, and the opportunity for UK and Australian rail companies to build lasting partnerships.
With climate change one of the biggest single issues facing the world today and Australia focused on finding solutions to environmental and congestion problems, Gill believes that rail and urban transport systems will continue to play a vital role in these challenges.

“The UK is at the forefront of groundbreaking developments in sustainable rail,” he said.
“For example, Bombardier manufactures one in every five rail vehicles worldwide. The UK company's twin commitments to continuous improvement and sustainability are reflected in its product portfolio. "Bombardier's new Green trains, the next generation TURBOSTAR fleet are notably environmentally friendly, lighter, with reduced CO2 emissions and lower fuel consumption and made from over 90 per cent recyclable material.”

With Australia’s urban population predicted to rise significantly over the coming decades, and at the same time, freight transport expected to double by 2020, Gill said the UK was also keen to take advantage of opportunities in both of these areas.

“Rail in Australia has long played a secondary role to road, so we’re excited to see that rail is now remerging as a vital mode of transport,” he said.

The recent AusRAIL PLUS conference held in Adelaide gave UKTI the chance to meet key powerbrokers and leaders in the rail industry and explore opportunities in what it sees as a "rapidly developing" market for rail.

The 14 diverse companies in the UKTI group reported a range of successes, and intend to encourage yet more businesses in the UK to consider Australia as a prime market in these times of financial uncertainty.

Leading Yorkshire-based rail safety company Zonegreen joined forces with Andrew Engineering, an Australian agent at the AusRAIL PLUS exhibition.

“This is an exciting time for the Australian rail industry and there is huge interest in Zonegreen's products. There's significant potential for improved safety and efficiency within Australia's growing number of traincare depots, and we are now well placed to assist in that process,” Zonegreen's technical director, Christian Fletcher said.

Another UK company, LPA Group, a specialist provider of electro-mechanical, lighting and electronic solutions into the rail industry told Rail Express that attending the conference had opened up potential commercial opportunities.

Sales director Paul Curtis said the Australian rail industry was small in comparison to the UK, and because of this, Australian manufacturing companies did not always have enough demand to specialise wholly in rail. Curtis felt there were ample opportunity for companies such as LPA Group to offer the experience and expertise that may be lacking here.

While the majority of Australian rail companies are profitable enterprises trading in highly competitive domestic and international markets, the Australian rail market has been described by industry commentators as “being subject to seasonal fluctuations and generally very small in the global heavy engineering manufacturing industry”.

Issues such as low levels of productivity, declining research and development and emerging skill shortages have the potential to crucially affect competitiveness and require attention.
If Australian rail is to safeguard its future development, increasing international commercial interest could prove valuable.

Direct link to the Rail Express article here.
Image courtesy of UKTI.

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