Like many boys, I grew up wanting to be a train driver. More than that, I wanted to run the railways! I know this because I have a scrapbook my mum kept throughout my school years. In 1981, the year we left England, I list my ambitions as engine driver and Chairman of British Rail. The following year, our first in Brisbane, it says Commissioner for Railways for Queensland! Some 30 years on, I have finally achieved my dream, thanks to Queensland Rail CEO Paul Scurrah inviting me to spend a morning with him.
We start at Toowong station. As we go down to the platform, Paul makes a point of holding the hand-rail. Safety is the number one priority, he says, and the CEO must lead by example. I hold every handrail I see for the rest of the day! The 8.35am train is so full that Paul Scurrah and I are pressed against the doors. A passenger relishes the opportunity to tell the CEO that it’s like this every day. He seems impressed that Paul is seeing and experiencing it himself.
We alight at Bowen Hills and attend a meeting about the morning peak. There were 11 delays out of 135 services, considered a good start to the day. It’s suggested the method of recording delays needs a rethink. If trains are 15 minutes apart and 15 minutes late, a passenger might not realise they are on a late service. Journey delays, rather than train delays, might be more accurate.
At Mayne, huge artwork stickers – each the size of a carriage – are being applied to the side of a Tilt Train. And you think covering school books is a challenge! If it helps, they too struggle with bubbles and creases!
Soon Paul Scurrah and I are in the CEO’s 15th floor Ann Street office being briefed on the Sunlander-14 project. By 2014, the Cairns Tilt Train will have business seats (airlinestyle flat-beds) and first class cabins (with double beds and en-suites). The corridor windows in these first class cabins will switch from clear to frosted with the touch of a button. Assurances are still being sought that in the event of a power failure, windows will not revert to clear and expose couples “trying to join the metre-high club”. I’m starting to get a sense of the sheer size of Paul Scurrah’s job and the range of issues a CEO has to be across.
Next, a briefing about new measures to prevent level crossing injuries. There’s been a 10 per cent increase in pedestrian nearmisses. New pedestrian gates will be rolled out at key stations, starting with Geebung. Innovative ways of preventing vehicle incidents will be trialled, including runwaystyle lighting in the road and “pinball-machine flippers” instead of traditional boom gates which are “designed to stop horses not cars”.
Channel Nine has been given an exclusive story about anti-rock-throwing fences being installed on the Gold Coast. Paul Scurrah and his media advisers discuss the message they want to get across, that there hasn’t been a death yet but the next rock thrown could be the one. We head to Central Station for the interview.
At Central, I meet two of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen. Sitting in a small room, side by side, with a microphone each and several CCTV screens in front of them, they make all the platform announcements for Central, Roma Street and Fortitude Valley stations! I notice several massive ceiling fans above the platforms. They’re brand new and ready for summer. Paul Scurrah jokes he hopes the hotel above doesn’t take off when they’re turned on.
We catch a train to Roma Street, where I’m shown security footage being analysed and compiled for the police and courts. A former forensics officer, now with Queensland Rail, describes how tough it is watching fatalities over and over from several camera angles. When a recording has sound, it’s worse. He says you have to tell yourself the death has already occurred and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
Finally, over lunch, I meet the man behind @QueenslandRail on Twitter. No wonder Nathan Scholz is invited to address conferences on how companies can embrace social media. No-one does Twitter better. He is responsive, informative and personal. Indeed, that night, whilst I’m flicking through photos and showing my 11-year-old son Jack my Queensland Rail name-tag, it’s a tweet from @QueenslandRail that provides the perfect end to my day: “Spencer Howson, it was our pleasure to help you fulfill your childhood dream”.