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Transport & Logistics

When rail meets road: Making trams safer with Clément Michel, Yarra Trams

13 Feb 2015, by Informa Insights

Clément Michel is currently Chief Executive Officer of Yarra Trams and will be a keynote speaker at the 2015 Rail Safety conference.

Clement was kind enough to sit down with us in the lead up to the conference to talk about his experience and the important issues facing rail with regards to safety.Clement Michel

Clément, can you tell us a little about your professional background and what led you to your current position?
As Chief Executive Officer, my vision is to make Yarra Trams a fully effective and efficient organisation that will be safe, passenger-focused and sustainable. I’m proud and excited to lead all employees as they embark upon the TRAMSformation of Melbourne’s tram network.

Recognising that Yarra Trams has a dedicated, passionate and highly-skilled workforce, I work towards improving internal organisation to fully support all employees. During my time at Yarra Trams, the number of employees has increased by almost 200. An ongoing program of leadership development means the organisation now has the managerial structure in place to enable employees to do their best work.

I arrived as Yarra Trams’ Chief Operating Officer in November 2009 when the franchise to operate the network was awarded to Keolis Downer. It is a significant symbol of continuity that I made the transition from Chief Operating Officer to Chief Executive Officer.

Before joining Yarra Trams, I was an International Manager of Projects for Keolis and managed a successful tender in the USA. In my previous role with SNCF (French National Railways) I was Managing Director of Gare de Lyon in Paris – France’s busiest. My proudest achievements include improving punctuality, quality of service and commercial turnover during extensive renovations work and the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

I have extensive experience in network operations, having worked in different leadership roles in SNCF including as Head of southern France’s Operations Management Centre.

I’m a passionate advocate for public transport and recognise the important role of the tram network as a part of Victoria’s mobility solution. By developing a close working partnership with Public Transport Victoria and the other operators, I’m committed to developing a world class tram network that delivers a world class customer experience to our customers.

You will be taking part in the CEO Panel at Rail Safety 2015. This session will focus on “safety culture from the top down”. What are some of the tools you have employed at Yarra Trams to encourage a culture of responsibility?
Organisational change within Keolis Downer in the past five years has been a crucial component of the record safety performance now being delivered in a number of areas. The three main pillars are structure, systems and managerial leadership, with the principles of each underpinning the work of every employee.

Changes to structure mean that ‘dotted lines’ to more than one manager, and too many or two few layers of reporting, are now a thing of the past. Every employee is now clear about who their manager is and what their role requires, while managers are able to add value to their employees’ work and provide the necessary support and leadership.

A number of safety and broader business systems and processes are being developed to ensure a consistent and repeatable application of principles and standards across the whole organisation, fostering an environment of trust and fairness.

An example of the change in managerial and safety leadership can be seen at the eight depots in relation to the more than 1,200 drivers who keep Melburnians moving. The creation of the role Team Manager, Drivers changed the ratio of manager to drivers from 1:140 to 1:40. This means that drivers now receive regular feedback and coaching from their manager about driving skills, performance, safety, customer service and wider business updates, while also providing a direct channel to recommend improvements.

Keolis Downer has introduced more than 70 team manager roles during the past three years in order to increase the level of safety support to its frontline employees.

The personal two-way interaction between team managers and their drivers is regarded as a key contributor to record levels of punctuality, improved safety performance, customer satisfaction and significant improvements to employee satisfaction.

You will also be delivering an address on “Rail Safety Initiatives in Yarra Trams”. What are some of the specific safety concerns associated with light rail systems versus standard railways?
On 80 per cent of our 250km network we share the road with vehicles and pedestrians. This means that there is a direct correlation between our incident profile and the density of traffic with which we compete on our roads.

This gives rise to more than 800 tram to vehicle collisions a year (down from nearly 1000 when we took over the network back in 2009) and around 10 serious pedestrian knockdowns a year.

Given that we don’t have a dedicated rail corridor to operate within we focus on mitigating our risk through the following:

  1. Relying on engineering design to minimise the risk: we are introducing a Premium Line strategy in Melbourne on one of our busiest routes – Route 96. Route 96 was the first route to operate using our next generation E-Class trams and involves at the core:
    • upgrading tram stops to make them safer and accessible to all people
    • relocating or removing some tram stops close to newly upgraded stops to ensure more even spacing, improve connectivity and reduce journey times.
    • providing dynamic customer information via automatic next stop and directional announcements
    • traffic light priority and effective separation from motor vehicles where practicable.
  1. Defensive Driving: Yarra Trams has revised its training program for tram drivers and now includes two modules of driver development training (carried out every six months). Furthermore we introduced a state-of-the-art full-cab driver simulator to Yarra Trams in 2013 to further aid in developing driver skills and resilience when operating in a mixed traffic environment.
  1. When we took over the franchise in 2009 the operational rules and procedures had not been revised since 2003. Since then we have had two reviews to ensure the right rules are in place and that they are being appropriately monitored.
  1. Our team managers conduct formal task observations on our drivers at least twice a year. This overt monitoring is held over a two-hour period and uses tablet technology to allow for the storage of collated data and analysis of driving performance by driver, depot and organisation. Most importantly, however, the task observation provides the team manager with the opportunity to provide instant feedback on a driver’s operational and safety performance.

Clement Michel will be speaking Rail Safety 2015, 24 -26 March in Melbourne. Register now to hear from a range of expert speakers on one of the most important topics the transport industry faces.

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