David Bainbridge

President – RTAA

From Small Beginnings – the Story Continues to Grow

The RTAA was formed in 1973 after the First International Rail Sleeper Conference was held in Sydney. This conference was the catalyst for the establishment of the Rail Sleeper Association which became the Rail Track and Sleeper Association in 1979. Following further organisational changes in 1983, the association became known by its current name - the Rail Track Association Australia (RTAA).

The RTAA held thirteen successful rail conferences between 1973 and 2001 at three-year intervals.  These conferences were held in major locations in Australia and New Zealand and were well supported by the rail industry.  They included guest speakers from Australia and overseas, providing a high standard of technical papers and information to rail professionals.

Between conferences, and during the years 1979 to 1995, the Rail Track Journal was published by the RTAA. Its objective was to maintain a communication link between members.  In 1996 this role was assumed byTrack & Signal Magazine, with endorsement by the RTAA.  The RTAA continues to provide technical and editorial assistance to the publication while also regularly contributing articles.

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The Yellow Tie Dinner and AusRAIL Conferences

The inaugural RTAA Yellow Tie Dinner was launched at the 1981 Rail Conference, when guests were presented with a selection of coloured ties and scarves representing a rail theme.  The yellow ties became the most highly sought and the name stuck. The Yellow Tie Dinner was born.

In 2001, the RTAA took a new direction and secured an agreement with the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) that resulted in AusRAIL.  For the first time, all five major Australian rail industry groups joined forces to present the highly successful AusRAIL PLUS 2003 Conference in Sydney. (The ‘five’ were ARA, RTAA, ARIC (now known as RISEG), IRSE and RTSA).  

Since then, AusRAIL PLUS Conferences are held every other year, alternating with the AusRAIL Conferences.  The RTAA continues to maintain a prominent role, hosting a technical stream during the conference as well as one of the most popular social events on the Australian rail calendar - the Yellow Tie Dinner.

RTAA Field Days Event

While all of these changes were positive, the RTAA was still searching to clearly articulate and distinguish its purpose within the rail industry. A key challenge was ensuring the services provided to the membership were meaningful and good value for money.  There was a strongly held view that, while the AusRAIL conference provided a meeting place for executives, professionals and lobbyists, the thousands of blue-collar railway workers also needed an event specifically targeted to meet their needs. It was also acknowledged that site-based rail workforces should be publicly recognised as valued contributors to the industry. Added to these imperatives, an event was needed for rail workers to engage in industry advances, learn about new technology, while also being able to meet rail executives that they did not often see on track.

As a result, the RTAA's Field Days event was established in 2006. While based on the International Exhibition for Track Technology held in Münster, Germany, RTAA’s event has a distinctly Australian flavour. 

The fifth event was held this year with more participants than ever, including international delegates.

Frank Franklyn Young Rail Specialist Award

In 2008, the RTAA awarded its first Frank Franklyn Young Rail Specialist Award. The award seeks to encourage, reward and promote young achievers within the rail infrastructure industry by facilitating their travel to an international rail event.  This prestigious award is presented at the gala dinner at AusRAIL.

New Directions with an Eye on the Past

In 2010, David Bainbridge was elected President of the RTAA, heralding a transformational rethink in the RTAA’s direction and approach.   For the first time, a membership satisfaction survey was undertaken and the results were used as the basis of a three-year strategic plan, currently being implemented.

The key focus has been to deliver a more member-focussed approach. This includes targeting a membership base that is spread across Australia, and providing services accordingly, rather than being a Sydney-centric organisation. 

The results are impressive and there has been a 50% growth in memberships over the past three years. The RTAA has also modernised its image with a new logo and website representing this shift. There are many more achievements, with much work still to be done. The second membership survey will reveal the extent of progress, areas requiring continued focus and new challenges.

Importantly, the RTAA will continue to encourage both individuals and corporate organisations to take up membership and play an active part in the industry.

The Future – What’s Next?

There are a number of key areas where the RTAA can add value to benefit the rail industry as a whole. These include:

While this may not come easy to many (older) rail colleagues, it is an essential part of communicating rail-messages to peers, stakeholders and decision-makers. This will help secure the future of the rail industry in years to come.

A Final (Personal) Note

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