Back on track: Why James Brierley came back to Rail First and is here to stay
For James Brierley, every day at Rail First brings something different. Our Rollingstock Engineer follows the tracks to repair and maintain our fleet of wagons and locos, and he loves that Rail First offers him so many hands-on learning experiences. James has a thirst for knowledge, and views each new challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow.
All hands on deck
As a graduated Engineer, James didn’t know what track his career would take. He joined the rail industry in 2011 with a clean slate, and his passion for learning has allowed him to grow his expertise in a variety of areas, including operations, supply, passenger rail, and manufacturing. James has learned a lot about himself, too, and it’s this knowledge that has allowed him to realise that his true place is at Rail First.
“Something I’ve learned is that I prefer those hands-on opportunities that you don’t get at other organisations. Most engineers sit at a desk for too long without getting any touch time on locos and wagons. But here, it’s the other way around. We’re encouraged to have as much interaction and involvement as we want.”
With more than 10 years of experience in the rail industry, James still finds something new to learn every day at Rail First. Our diverse set of rollingstock, wagons and locos continually present new opportunities for hands-on learning.
“There are opportunities here that don’t exist in other organisations. When I was looking at other jobs, it was clear they didn’t have the same diversity of work that we do here. It’s never dull or boring – there are always new learning opportunities.”
James holds the valuable perspective that each new experience brings an opportunity to learn and gain knowledge, which contributes to improving our processes and making things easier down the track. Our Rollingstock Engineer sees this eagerness to learn reflected in his team.
“I see the guys on the shop floor and they’re just so keen to learn, which is really encouraged and nurtured by the more senior team members. Nothing’s stopping them from going from the shop floor to a team leader and onto a supervisor – just as long as they have that enthusiasm for their job and are willing to get their hands on the wagons and locos.”
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Following the tracks
James is based in our North Sydney office, but frequently takes advantage of our flexible work-from-home options. He also enjoys the opportunities to travel. One day, James could be in Goulburn, the next in chilly Port Kembla, as he follows our fleet and tends to any issues that arise on the tracks.
“Based on my experience with other companies in the rail industry, that’s pretty unique to Rail First. I like going out in the field much more than just sitting at a desk. Obviously, you still have desk work, but it’s nice that more of your time is spent on site, fixing issues and fighting fires.”
With the amount of “fighting fires” James does each day, it’s easy to confuse his job as an engineer with that of a firefighter! But he loves the challenge and satisfaction he feels from solving complex problems.
“Fighting a different fire every day isn’t a bad thing. It’s challenging, but every problem is unique, so there’s a lot of excitement, too. It’s a constant race to get on top of the issues and keep the wagons and locos running, which keeps the customers happy, so it’s all rewarding at the end of the day.”
James feels proud to have accomplished great things throughout his career with Rail First. A wagon modification project in 2020, which involved re-registering a large portion of Rail First’s wagon fleet, was certainly a huge achievement. But it was his role in recommencing domestic wagon manufacturing in Adelaide in 2021 that is James’s proudest moment, and he credits the whole team for this feat.
“There were over 200 people in Adelaide who worked their butts off to get our fleet of wagons built, which was a massive company-wide achievement. I think we all felt a shared sense of pride in bringing wagon manufacturing back home to Australia.”
Finding a way home
James has tried his hand at many different areas of the rail industry. He got his foot in the door in 2011, working as a component supplier for nine years before wanting to become more involved in rail operations. When offered an opportunity to join Rail First in 2019, he jumped at it, and enjoyed getting hands-on experience with our industry-leading fleet of wagons and locos.
James briefly left us to try out a role in passenger rail, but he found that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. He missed the freedom, support and challenges offered to him at Rail First.
“I just feel that Rail First is in a much stronger position than other companies in the industry,” says James. “They’re far more supportive and are actively working to help their employees. And it was only once I’d seen what it was like in other areas of the industry that I realised how much I valued that.”
James returned to a company with a new name, new owners, and a new direction. He’s glad he found his way back home. We are, too.
“I decided to come back because I could see the new management team were really serious about trying to improve the operations of the company. They have decades worth of experience, and they’re engineers as well, so it’s easy for me as an engineer to talk to them. I’m really inspired by them, because even though they’ve worked their way up to the top, they still want to keep learning about what happens on the ground level. That’s real leadership, in my eyes.”
With Rail First’s dedicated team, challenging work, and supportive company culture, James feels very settled in his role, and has no desire to leave any time soon. He’s quietly hoping Rail First will expand into Queensland because he’d love to work in warmer weather, particularly after his crisp 5° morning in Port Kembla. But for now, the challenge of fighting fires keeps him warm, and James wouldn’t have it any other way.