Keeping Australia Moving: How Rail First’s wagon manufacture project is helping to drive the future of rail in Australia

Something that makes Rail First so exciting to work for is the variety of paths you can choose to go down. Whether you’re interested in operations, asset management, or wagon maintenance and building, there’s a place for you at Rail First. Wagon manufacturing has come and gone from the company over the years, but it’s here to stay, and it’s an incredibly exciting and unique opportunity for those interested in the rail industry.

Proudly Australian Made

Along with being the largest lessor of rail rollingstock and a trusted service provider of all rail assets, Rail First is deeply proud to be the only domestic producer of Australian owned and manufactured wagons. It has been a long journey to land this project back on home soil. Rail First originally manufactured wagons for many years, however the global financial crisis in 2008 meant this was no longer viable. It was always something the team was adamant on returning, and in 2021, this dream was made into a reality.

Our team worked incredibly hard to not only bring domestic manufacturing back, but also to attain licensing for the official Australian Made® logo for our CQPY 40ft Intermodal Wagons. Our Chief Operations Officer Peter Lanyi spoke about what this certification means to the team:

“There’s a tremendous sense of pride that we’re the only domestic manufacturer of this type of wagon. We have full control over the quality of work, which is something we don’t get when we’re relying on a third party to manufacture them for us.”

Rail First also possesses complete intellectual property rights and owns multiple wagon types and designs, including the “workhorse” intermodal fleet. Having full quality control is a huge advantage for Rail First. And for the ground team that works on the wagons at every step of their production, finally seeing them hit the tracks is extremely gratifying.

“Those who are building these wagons get a real satisfaction out of seeing new wagons pass by them on the highway. Seeing the Rail First logo on them, and thinking, ‘I helped build that,’ really rings home for a lot of people,” Peter says.

Islington Maintenance Facility’s General Manager Paul Morris echoes Peter’s comments about the significance of this project for the company.

“The opportunity to work on an Australian-made wagon doesn’t exist anywhere else in Australia. It’s definitely an opportunity that those in the rail industry would be very interested in. We’ve found it’s created a great level of engagement in our current work force as well.”

This engagement couldn’t be expressed better than in the words of Rollingstock Engineer James Brierley. He credits this project as the proudest moment of his career with Rail First, but says they couldn’t have done it without the whole team being on board.

“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.”

All aboard

Rail First has gone all in on wagon manufacturing, and is committed to engaging with key suppliers to ensure this venture is here to stay.

“It’s a significant investment for the company,” Paul says. “We’re currently manufacturing 100 wagons, and we’ve just been approved to build another 50, so ensuring our team is able to build these quickly enough to meet our budgeted price while not forgoing on quality is definitely a challenge we’ve had to work hard to overcome.”

Manufacturing this many wagons takes a lot of hands, which is why along with upskilling our current workforce, Rail First is looking for new employees who want to get involved in an exciting, long-term project. Prestige aside, Paul believes this is one experience that those interested in rail won’t want to miss.

“Rail First is a great place to work, everyone’s sociable and amenable, and everyone is treated the same, no matter your role. I’ve found that those who do come on board tend to stay long term, because they become engaged with our team and embrace the work that we do.”

Peter agrees that with the commitment of a great team, wagon manufacturing will only continue to grow at Rail First.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we have the potential to grow further, but that doesn’t happen overnight. We’re growing based on the fact that we have a quality, reliable fleet. As our name and slogan would imply, we’re a trusted partner for reliable assets. That’s the foundation in our minds for growing the business further.”

This means growth for Rail First, as well as the wide range of customers who rely on quality wagons and locos for the success of their own businesses.

“We have a real appreciation for the needs of our customers,” Peter says proudly. “It’s not just about us getting locos turned around quickly, but recognising that our customers need it because they’re counting on it, and their customers are counting on it. The box of cereal you buy at Woolworths may well have gotten there on a train, and if a wagon or loco isn’t made available to transport goods like that, it ultimately trickles down and has that broader effect.”

Domestic wagon manufacturing keeps Australia moving, and Rail First is the only place where you can help make this happen. We’d love to have you on board.