Robbie Ward has spent 40 years on the railways and he'll never stray too far from the tracks.
Key points:Seventy trains travel daily along 2,670 kilometres of single line and duplicated track spanning central QueenslandThe Central Queensland Coal Network connects 50 mines with five major export ports on the east coastRobbie Ward, who has worked 42 years in the industry, says he's witnessed dramatic changes
Mr Ward is one of a 70-strong team calling the shots on Australia's largest export coal rail network – the Central Queensland Coal Network (CQCN).
It's a massive job, ensuring 200 million tonnes of coal is transported to terminals along the east coast each year, ready to be shipped overseas.
"They say if you get a job you like, you never have to work a day in your life and that's certainly been true for me," Mr Ward said.
"Every day has been a big adventure."
Calling the shots to keep trains on track
It takes precision to ensure the busy network runs smoothly. Any delays could cost businesses millions of dollars.
Seventy coal trains travel daily along 2,670 kilometres of single line and duplicated track spanning central Queensland.
The network connects 50 mines with five major export ports on the east coast.
Between Gladstone and Rockhampton alone, more than 100 trains haul freight, coal, livestock and passengers along a single 100-kilometre stretch.
As a network controller, Mr Ward sits in front of eight large LED screens watching their every move and pre-empting dangers like wildlife, repair work or other locomotives.
It's a far cry from when the bells rang out at 9am to ensure rail workers' watches were in sync.
Synchronising clocks keep trains on time
Mr Ward started out as a 16-year-old porter boy with Queensland Rail in May 1979 and has witnessed firsthand the transition to a technology-based industry.
"Every running man and ganger had to have a watch," Mr Ward said.
"They'd sit there watching the time of the station and the clocks in the stations were regulated by a uniform time sent out on the control line at 9am every Monday morning.
"Time was very important — everything was done on time."
Technology changing the game
Like most industries, Mr Ward said computers had caused the biggest revolution in rail and the days of paper and pencil were long gone.
"Now instead of being written on a sheet, the running of trains and accounting of delays is done in a system called ViziRail, and it's activated by the signalling system," Mr Ward said.
"Today, computers automatically calculate load and length and warns you if it's too heavy, or there's not enough braking power and things like that."
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The future is in safe (human) hands
Rail safety expert Phillip Barker said technology would never replace the need for network controllers.
"I don't think the role itself will become redundant," Mr Barker said.
"Artificial intelligence will evaluate problems and offer solutions for the network controller to take on board, instigate or dispel – they're still controlling and they have the ability to say yes or no.
"When things go wrong, when there are failures … the network controller has to deal with that and they have to then manually look at the issue where the trains are and come up with the best way to get a train from A to B."
Mr Ward loves his job so much, he's spent years building his own miniature train network at home, modelled on the historic South Brisbane Station.
"I've got a variety of wagons and what I'd like to do is have it set up like back in the day when I first started, so a variety of goods, wagons and coal wagons and different locomotive type classes," Mr Ward said.
"It's still just a timber framework with a little bit of track on it at the moment, but I'm getting there."
Posted 3 Nov 20213 Nov 2021Wed 3 Nov 2021 at 8:36pmShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp