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Episode 042: Transit Unplugged Podcast - Raymond O’Flaherty
Raymond O’Flaherty –Metro Trains Melbourne

“The mission of this organization is to be the most respected and the best railway in Australia.”

Our adventure continues in the land Down Under with CEO of Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM), Raymond O’Flaherty. On this episode, O’Flaherty discusses why MTM focuses on passenger experience as a measurement of success in addition to your standard reliability of service KPIs. He also elaborates on the importance of interchanges between systems and modes, the investment into MTM, his focus on teamwork, and why he created a podcast to communicate better with his organization.

If you want to know more about Metro Trains Melbourne, you can check out their website.

Remember to check out to learn from top transit professionals and stay up to date to catch all the latest episodes.

Show Transcript

Paul Comfort : I'm Paul Comfort and welcome to a special edition of Transit Unplugged. On today's episode, we continue our seven-part series on transit in Australia, the land Down Under. And today I'm excited to have as my guest, Mr. Raymond O'Flaherty O'Flaherty, who is the chief executive officer of Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia. They're part of the overall Public Transport Victoria, and they've got a massive rail system above and below ground in and out of the city, transporting millions of people every year. It's a massive well run, professional system. I got to meet with him in his office and meet with his staff, spend some time with them and get to know these top-notch professionals who are running a major rail system that is the envy of Australia, and one of the top examples of a well-run system anywhere in the world. I'm excited for you to hear today from Raymond O'Flaherty O'Flaherty, CEO of Metro Trains, in Melbourne, Australia.

Intro : What does it mean to be a successful public transit agency? What are you doing to lead the way? It's time to learn from the top transit professionals in North America. This is Transit Unplugged with your host, Paul Comfort.

Paul Comfort : Welcome to Transit Unplugged. I'm your host Paul Comfort and welcome to the worldwide phenomenon of listening and interviewing top CEOs around the world. Today we're in the land Down Under, Australia – in Melbourne, Australia to be exact. And I'm speaking with Raymond O'Flaherty O'Flaherty, who is the CEO of Metro Trains Melbourne. Raymond, thanks for being with us today.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Yeah, I'm delighted to be here, Paul, and welcome to Melbourne.

Paul Comfort : Thank you.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Is this your first time to Melbourne?

Paul Comfort : This is my first time to Melbourne and Australia, and it's been amazing so far.

Raymond O'Flaherty : We're delighted to have you. You're in the most livable city in the world.

Paul Comfort : I believe it.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Look forward to speaking to you.

Paul Comfort : Thank you. Yeah. Well, let's talk about that. Tell us a little bit about the city itself and how public transportation is run in Australia in general. How does it work? And then we'll talk about your background after that.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Well, Melbourne is a great city to live in. I moved here 20 years ago. I wasn't born here. I was born in Ireland in the west of Ireland. So, 20 years ago came to Australia, lived in Melbourne and it's a great city. It's well serviced by public transport. It's got three modes - train, light rail or trams, and bus.

Here in Melbourne, two parts of that system have been contracted out by government to the private sector to run. So, it's privatized under a franchising arrangement. So that's both the train and the tram system. Buses are still largely run by the state. Some of that is also privatized. And of course, we've got a regional train operator as well here are called V/Line.

Melbourne is a growing city - big population growth forecast, you know, over the next number of years. In fact, very soon to be the largest city in Australia. So, a bit of competition here between Melbourne and Sydney. So soon, Melbourne will be the largest city. More and more people are using public transport, and our responsibility is to make sure that we're catering for that growth. That's our biggest challenge now – making sure that we're improving our network.

Government is investing a lot in our network at the moment, which is exciting. So, we see that investment come in, that's much needed because the forecast for ridership shows big demand in our services and future years. It's a great city. It's a very livable, but it needs to make sure that it provides that public service, public transport service to match that requirement.

Paul Comfort : That's great. So, tell us about your background. You just stated you moved here 20 years ago, but how did you get involved in public transport, and how did you end up as CEO of this big organization?

Raymond O'Flaherty : I'm sure like many other CEOs tell you, Paul, I never planned to be a CEO of a major transport organization. How it all started for me was with PricewaterhouseCoopers. I was working with them for many years as a consultant advisor in their advisory business. And when I was in Australia about 15 years ago, I had the opportunity to go and work with a French transport group, Transdev. They were in Australia - they were running buses, ferries, and, in Melbourne, they were running the light-rail/tram system.

And the government at that time was bringing back the two separate tram networks into one. At that stage, the systems were split into two tram networks and to metropolitan train networks. Government then decided it was better to bring them back as one. So, tram was being brought back as one. I went into support Transdev with that, and I got the bug for public transport.

You know, when I was working there with the CEO, he said, "Raymond, you'll never leave this industry." Now I've found that it was a great industry to be in, things happening every day. You know, giving back to the people, making sure that we're providing that good reliable service every day. So, I never went back to PricewaterhouseCoopers. I stayed on working with Transdev and Yarra Trams here in Melbourne. I stayed there for five to six years before coming across here to this organization.

Paul Comfort : What was your role there?

Raymond O'Flaherty : My role there was largely commercial and finance and contract management. I also had the role of deputy CEO, so you know, I became more and more familiar with operations and asset maintenance and the important things about running a public transport organization around safety. So, when I came over to Metro Trains in 2009, that was when MTR from Hong Kong along with John Holland and UGL, a new consortium took over the running of the rail system here in Melbourne. It was kind of a handover from the previous operator to a new consortium.

I was approached by that consortium to join Metro Trains in 2009. So, I came in again in that kind of commercial contract management role. But about four years ago we put a proposal together to extend our contract here out to 2024, possibly up to 2027. And I led that project. So, I put the kind of the vision, the plan, the model together for the future.

When I finished that, the CEO role was vacant and, I guess, my shareholders felt I was the most passionate about delivering the new vision, which I am. So, I worked with the team to put together the plan for the next few years. I know what's needed and now very proud to lead the team to go on and deliver on our promises to Melbourne.

Paul Comfort : That's great. Tell us about the service itself that you operate. Kind of like the nuts and bolts of it - number of employees, number of passengers, kind of what you actually run here.

Raymond O'Flaherty : It's a really fast-growing organization. When I started, we had about 4,000 employees. Today we have 5,700.

Paul Comfort : And over how many years was that?

Raymond O'Flaherty : Since 2009. We've been growing fast, and that's a reflection of the growth in the network here, the expansion of the network and more ridership. So, 5,700 employees, hiring 60-70 new employees every month. So, we're in a real growth phase at the moment, which is fantastic. Over 200 stations on the network. Every day we have about 850,000 passenger trips, soon forecast over the next couple of years to get to a million trips a day. By about 2020-30, you know, we're looking at about two and a half million passenger trips every day on this network. It's phenomenal the growth that's happening.

As the private operator of the system here, our responsibility is to operate and maintain and renew all of the assets and run all of those services every day. We don't obviously provide all of the new investments to expand the network or to put in the new infrastructure, that's funded by government, but it's very much us working with them in partnership, working out where the priorities are for the network, where money needs to be spent on catering for the future. So right now, we've got a huge number of exciting projects happening around the network. We're seeing a hundred new trains that are being commissioned now. There'll be brought into service over the next number of years.

Paul Comfort : And what type of trains are they that you're bringing in?

Raymond O'Flaherty : They're high capacity, metro trains. They're not driverless - they still require our colleagues to drive those trains. But they are seven car trains and carry about 1400 passengers. Our current fleet carries about 800-900. So, they're much, much bigger. We're going to have a hundred of those.

We're also removing a lot of level-crossings. It's another big project funded by government around the network. Melbourne is a very open network. It's not fenced off. It's not dedicated track. There was a lot of roads running across the network. So thankfully we're removing a lot of those kinds of very busy level-crossings, and that's great for us in terms of train running and great for safety as well.

And of course, we're building the new tunnel that's currently under construction. That's the new metro tunnel which will open in 2024. That's now under construction with five new stations. And we're also now planning for a train service to Melbourne airport. So again, that hasn't started construction yet. That's in planning with government. So, there was an announcement today around that in Melbourne.

Paul Comfort : Yeah. Your Prime Minister is here today, right? With your Premiere and they're going to announce it?

Raymond O'Flaherty : They're going to announce the next stage of that. They've been talking about it now for some time, but both federal and state governments are right behind the project and Melbourne is desperately in need of that reliable service to the airport.

Paul Comfort : It's great that your elected officials now see the importance of investment into the expansion but also the safety, which I know we're going to talk about that in a minute because that's been a passion of yours. So that's good.

So, the service itself, 800,000 passengers a day, that is massive. Any statistics you can give us on key performance indicators that you might be proud of on-time, performance, safety, customer service, anything like that that you want to talk about?

Raymond O'Flaherty : Well, in terms of reliability of our services, it has improved a lot since the team that I've worked with since 2009 stepped in here. We were running, you know, maybe 85%, high eighties, trains on-time to four-minutes, 59 seconds. That's improved now to 90-92% of trains on time. We deliver about 99% of the timetable. People now rely on the system to get them to where they need to go.

Under a new contract, we've moved on now from just reliability of services into passenger experience. So under our new contract with government, it's very much around making sure trains are clean or stations are clean or passenger information is really good. Particularly if there are unplanned disruptions of those things that don't go to plan that we're communicating effectively with our passengers - they know what's happened, they know the alterations of our services to get that information in real time. We've got more improvements to make in that space. So that's what we're focused on is around the passenger experience, giving them that really good end-to-end journey experience. That's something we're determined to do. Obviously, safety, as you mentioned, is a key priority of mine.

Paul Comfort : Let me ask you one more question along those lines though, so that our listeners can understand if they're not from Melbourne: Can you describe how your service differs from the trams and other heavy rail? Yours is kind of like a subway, but most of it is not underground, is that right? Describe what type of service you're operating specifically.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Yeah, we have about 15 lines, and it's like a bit of a spider's web. You know, those metropolitan lines come in from the outer suburbs around Melbourne and effectively all kind of merge in the center of the city. And then we have a loop around the city to get those trains back out again into the suburbs.

Paul Comfort : But it's not commuter trains, per se, right? That's what the V/Line is?

Raymond O'Flaherty : Yeah, V/Line runs trains right out into the state, into the regional Victoria, where we're very much the urban/metropolitan train system.

Paul Comfort : And not with catenary wires and all that? That's the trams?

Raymond O'Flaherty : That's the trams, yes. So obviously our system is totally electrified. The regional train operator there runs diesel trains - it's non-electrified. This year a couple of our lines get out into the regions, but in most cases, they've got their own dedicated tracks. Of course, the light rail then runs around the city more in the inner areas.

Paul Comfort : Yes. The central business district where it's free. I rode a lot of it this week when I was here.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Yeah, they've got that free zone, and it's very popular. I mean, their daily trips are almost equivalent to ours - a bit less. But, you know, a big demand again and it's a very important part of Melbourne, and I'm sure you're going to meet Nicolas and speak to him as well. I used to work there, so I know their system quite well.

Paul Comfort : So, you all have places where you meet? Where people transfer from one to the other?

Raymond O'Flaherty : Indeed, we do. So that kind of modal connection is really important between all modes - between the regional train operator and ours. There are a number of connection points, and once people get into the city, they come in on our services, they very often jump on the tram, to that kind of final journey to their place of work. And of course, at our stations more and more bus interchanges. So, buses coming in, feeding our train services. Sitting across the top of all the operators is Public Transport Victoria.

Paul Comfort : Yes. Tell us about that.

Raymond O'Flaherty : That's obviously an authority set up by government. I'm sure you'll meet Jeroen Weimer, their CEO. Jeroen's role effectively is to oversee all of our sister transport operators. He's kind of like my boss. He oversees our performance of our contract, holds us to account to make sure we're delivering what we said we would do. But he's also looking at it from an overarching point of view - looking at that connectivity between all the different modes, make sure we're working together and again, how people can make that kind of seamless journey and transfer between different transport modes.

Paul Comfort : That's great. Now you've been a CEO for a little less than a year in this particular role here. I know what it's like to come in as a CEO of big operation, and a lot of times the new CEO comes in with a new vision. You know, the direction that you want to take it, and I know you had one. Tell us about that vision and how you've implemented it and how successful it's been so far.

Raymond O'Flaherty : I guess you're right. I was an internal appointment, but when I was stepping into the role, I was determined for older employees to see a change of mindset and see a difference. So, you know, a couple of things around that.

One for me is, I'm very passionate about building diverse and inclusive organizations and very passionate around teamwork. So, one thing you hear a lot about in this organization that I launched in July was one team, one metro. Obviously, we know our name is Metro Trains Melbourne. I'm a big, big believer in teamwork. I'm not a fan of, since I've been working in this organization, a divisional, siloed-type organization and sometimes that's not the best teamwork between people in the same organization. So, since July, a big change in focus around that, it's now about working together collaboratively. Colleagues all across the organization supporting each other, breaking down those silos, working together as one team is really important.

Paul Comfort : So, affecting the culture of the organization.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Exactly. So, I'm determined to kind of make that big shift in culture. You know what it's like in rail industries around the world, they sort of have this long-embedded culture, and I'm determined to move our culture to make it aligned to a modern progressive organization. One that's attractive to people to join where, you know, trying to bring the best talent in here. I want people to join an organization that is modern, progressive, has a good culture, looks after its employees, cares, support, develops people in the right way, and has got good diversity.

Generally, we've got good diversity across this business, but pretty poor on gender diversity. So that's a thing typical of rail organizations - not doing very well on gender diversity. We've had success here in some areas, like among our drivers. A number of years ago, 2% of our drivers were female. Today, it's 20%. But we're aiming across all of our organization for 40% of our workforce to be female. Today we're at about 24.5%. I'm a firm believer that our organization should reflect our community and should reflect our passenger base, which is equal gender diversity. So, I'm determined to make this an organization where more women join, more women are in leadership roles. So that's the journey we're on, and we're very much a supportive, inclusive organization.

So, I'm pretty strong on values. We're just relaunching our values in the next few weeks. You know, values are around zero harm - I'll come back to zero harm in a moment - but around, you know, being a caring organization about teamwork and explaining to our colleagues the behaviors we want to see and more importantly, the behaviors that we don't want to see. Many organizations tell their employees we'd like you to exhibit these good behaviors. We're going a step further, and we're saying to our employees, these are the behaviors we don't want to see. And the challenge will be there on everybody stepping up, and we all have to make that kind of step over the line and follow the new ground rules for how we want this organization, the heartbeat of this organization every day. So that's the culture journey we're on.

Paul Comfort : Tell us about that. So, what kind of things are you going to say about the behaviors you don't want?

Raymond O'Flaherty : No blaming. You know, no pointing fingers. This is about if something happens, we learn from it. We learn the lessons, and we don't repeat them. So, we become more of a learning organization rather than one that typically points fingers and blames.

Paul Comfort : Honesty? I'm sure that's a big part of it too.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Absolutely, honesty. Generally, I'm finding all our colleagues are pretty honest. But honesty for me goes beyond that. It's about speaking up as well. And it's about if you've got some good ideas, speak up because you will be heard. It's not about being pushed back into the background. I want an organization where people feel they can speak up, their ideas will be listened to, and they will be implemented.

Paul Comfort : That's wonderful, Raymond. You don't get that. Just like you, I've been around this business a long time, and I don't see that a lot of big agencies, I don't see CEOs encouraging their mid-level managers to bring up ideas. But they're the ones that are on the front lines, right?

Raymond O'Flaherty : They are. The ones on the front line, particularly around safety. We'll talk about safety because what matters most to me is making sure every colleague in our organization is safe and goes home from work back to their families and don't get injured when they're working for us. Same for passengers.

We're on a new journey now, and we're calling it zero harm. Many other organizations, you know, when you look around the world looking at companies in the U.S. and looking at companies in oil and gas, mining, aviation, those organizations have been on a journey for many years of zero harm, and they've been very successful. We're many years behind. And again, I think our injury rates are too high for my liking - we're injuring too many of our colleagues, and we're having too many incidents that if something had happened the consequences could have been terrible, you know, colleagues could have been killed.

I'm very, very determined as are all the leaders in the organization because safety is everybody's responsibility. It's everybody working together to make sure that we're planning the work, sticking to the plan, looking out for each other, and doing it in the safest possible way. And people around the front line of our organization know where the gaps are. And that's why it's really important to get out there and listen. Because our people out there know where the issues are, they know what's needed to be safer. So, we're out there having those conversations.

I've actually brought in DuPont. They've been working with us here for a number of months, and they've been going out holding roadshows, workshops, to see what can we do to make this a really safe organization. We have zero tolerance now for injuring anyone.

Paul Comfort : Let me ask you a follow-up question on that. I've seen, in big organizations, that safety often becomes siloed in the safety department. The operations folks and maintenance folks, when they see the safety guys/gals coming around, they don't want anything to do with them because they're seen as cops that are going to come and report you. How are you working to integrate the safety culture throughout your organization and break down those silos?

Raymond O'Flaherty : So we have a model here now where we have a very light corporate safety team, just a very small team and their responsibilities are just to make sure that the processes are set up, the systems are there, the rules are there, but safety is pushed down into the organization. Every leader here, every manager, every supervisor, every team crew leader, they are responsible for the safety of their teams, and everybody in the front line is responsible for looking out for their colleagues. Safety here is decentralized, and it's pushed right down into the front part of the business.

Now, under a new zero harm journey, we're making that even more meaningful. We're out there again having the conversations, putting the safety improvements in place, listening again. So, we've got a roadmap now. We have a safety roadmap cause we're not going to get there tomorrow. People were saying, "Raymond will never be at zero harm. It's not possible." We're not going to be there tomorrow. We won't be there next week or in six months.

But it's a mindset change. You've got to have the mindset that every injury is avoidable because when we investigate every incident, you look at the causal factors behind, why did that person get injured? Everything can be avoided. So, it's taking that mindset to believe that's how we're going to drive down or injury rates and make us a really safe place to work.

Paul Comfort : Yeah. I'm always a strong believer in visualizing where you want to go. So, you've got to visualization, no harm. Right? And that is the endpoint that everybody can look at that like a north star and that's guiding their actions. So, along the lines of listening, you've done something that not many CEOs have done that I've seen. And that is you've started your own podcast where you listen to your employees. Tell us what it's called,

Raymond O'Flaherty : Raise it with Raymond.

Paul Comfort : So, people can raise issues with you, right?

Raymond O'Flaherty : Yes.

Paul Comfort : Tell us a little bit about that. That's pretty cool.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Again, when I took on my new role in July, I was looking at how, with my communications, seeing what better ways to communicate with all our people around the organization because a lot of our front-line colleagues, they don't read emails - they come in, they drive they're training, they work at stations, they're out on the track, they're doing maintenance, renewal work, they don't have the time to read emails. And I want to reach out to them. And I've been doing that a number of ways.

One is just getting out more, along with all of our teams, getting out and visiting all of our sites. And I do that a couple of times a week around all of our network - being visible to our employees.

But in other ways, yeah, a podcast. I came up with this idea of Raise it with Raymond. So, every couple of weeks, a different colleague from around the organization comes in here, into this room, sits where you are, and we talk about a topic. It might be safety. It might be what we're doing on disruption. The one we had just last week was around what we're doing in the area of being a better corporate, socially responsible organization. You know, one of those partnerships we're having in the community. So, the podcast doesn't go on for very long, we talk for about maybe 10 minutes. And we always have a safety moment on the podcast. Then we talk about a few things.

I'm a big fan of music, love American music, alternative rock, and country music. So, I always put a band that I'm listening to at the end, just a favorite song or concert I've just been to. And it's got people around metro talking about, you know, music or favorite bands. So, I think a podcast is a good way to reach out.

Paul Comfort : Yeah. That's a good hook to get them in, right? With the music. So, let's spend the last few minutes talking about what's coming for MTM. What's next for you? You mentioned it at the top of the podcast, but tell us a little bit more about your plans, your company, and the government's plan for what's coming in the next, you know, one to three years for Melbourne when it comes to the rail service.

Raymond O'Flaherty : The way I would summarize it is a huge investment, a big pipeline of new projects. So, the railway is going to be heavily disrupted because obviously when you're putting all of this new infrastructure in place, some of it on our existing corridor, it's a big upgrade of our existing corridors. Those corridors have to be shut down for periods of time. So on the service delivery side, we have to make sure that we're minimizing that disruptive impact on our passengers.

Paul Comfort : Are you going to do bus-bridges or how do you handle that?

Raymond O'Flaherty : While our train service isn't running, we're running bus replacements. A good example is, during Easter coming up at the end of April, we've got a number of our lines closed while we're doing major work. On some days, we're running about 350 buses. So, we'll be carrying a lot of our passengers on those buses.

Paul Comfort : Are you contracting it out to somebody else to run for you?

Raymond O'Flaherty : We contract that out. But, again, we're very much involved in making sure that that's well managed. We have big teams looking after that. We're even putting GPS on the buses so we can track where they are, so really good communication. So, the big project pipeline is making sure that we still run a good service for our passengers and, where lines are closed, we give them that reliable service into the city. Then we just got to get on and deliver these new works because the network needs them.

So, the big projects underway are getting the new trains into service, getting that Metro tunnel built. Our role there is a lot of that work is delivered by government with major contractors where we're very much involved as the operator reviewing the design, the standards, the testing, the commissioning. But the big construction, the tunnel boring, that's all done by other very experienced contractors. It's not done by us, it's done, and it's contracted by government, but we're a partner in there. So our role is to be a really good partner. A partner will make sure we're doing our part, we work with the government, and with the major contractors to deliver this big program of work on time.

So in addition to the tunnel, we're bringing in high-capacity signaling, CBTC, which for us moving from conventional signaling to high-capacity signaling allows us to run more trains per hour which increases the capacity of the network. Going back to those numbers I mentioned to you, it won't be long before we've got two and a half million passenger trips per day. We need a network that's running really well, using the best technology, the best signaling capability.

So it's an exciting time for us. We're an operator. We're supporting project delivery. We're in a big transformation period in a fast-growing city. So, for me, never a better time to have this opportunity to be in this role.

Paul Comfort : Yes. What a great time. With all this investment. I'm telling you, I know you'd know it, but across the world, not everyone realizes the importance of investment in rail. We just had budgets released in America, as we're recording this today from the executive branch in America, and there were major cuts to investment.

Let's end up with that question to you. What is the role, kind of the macro role, in a society, in a livable city like Melbourne, you're the CEO of Metro Trains Melbourne - What do you see as the role of public transit and culture in society as a whole going forward?

Raymond O'Flaherty : Well, we link it back to what our purpose is. So our purpose here is to keep Melbourne on the move. And that's our role. You know, people rely on us in this city to get them to work, to get them to school, to get them to where they need to go to. Whether on the weekend, the footy games, we're very much the heartbeat of the city. And that's what I see as our role here as the city grows - and it's a fast-growing city - we need to continue to improve our delivery of services and keep pace and keep ahead of the demands that are going to be placed on it.

So, our purpose is to look after the needs of this growing city, get people to where they want to go safely, reliably, and give them a really good experience. The mission of this organization is to be the most respected and the best railway in Australia. So, when you talk to Howard in Sydney, tell him, "Watch out." In Melbourne, we want to be the most respected, best railway in Australia. We're determined to do that in the next few years.

Paul Comfort : That's wonderful. Well, I think you're well on your way having been out in the city for a couple of days myself, the rail system seems to be fully integrated into what's happening in the city. It is the heartbeat of the city. I think you're right. Raymond O'Flaherty, CEO of MTM, thanks so much for being our guest today on our Australian edition of Transit Unplugged. Thank you.

Raymond O'Flaherty : Thanks, Paul. It's been great talking to you.

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