Weld Australia has hit out at recent comments from the New South Wales State Government that Australia is ill-equipped to manufacture trains locally.

While unveiling a new fleet of Chinese-built Waratah 2 trains last week, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said “there’s a reason” why the trains weren’t built locally. Constance said that locally manufactured trains were likely to cost 25% more due to higher labour, energy and material costs. His comments came just a week after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reportedly said Australia and NSW are “not good at building trains”.

The comments drew widespread criticism from the opposition, unions and industry bodies. Geoff Crittenden, Chief Executive Officer of Weld Australia, said: “It is precisely this attitude – that sees state governments send what could be local jobs offshore – that will prevent Australia from recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Weld Australia has called on all state governments to support local welders and fabricators in their rail procurement processes, arguing that this would create thousands of jobs, a solid local supply chain, and an industry equipped to export world-class trains all over the world. According to Crittenden, there is a real opportunity for the state governments to invest in creating a robust, resilient rail manufacturing industry that can compete on the world stage.

“State government rail procurement practices that support local welders and fabricators would create thousands of jobs, supporting local families and local economies in a post COVID-19 world,” said Crittenden. “It would facilitate technology transfer and drive some of the world’s most innovative research and development.”

Crittenden argued that with a long-term procurement commitment from the state governments, rail industry manufacturers would have the confidence to reinvest in their own capabilities, strengthening businesses and creating new and better jobs.

“Innovation investment by business is crucial to our ongoing prosperity,” he added. “It would make Australia home to a world-leading rail industry, with the capability to build and export superior quality trains.”

“In recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, this type of economic expansion is essential; both the Federal Government and the Reserve Bank of Australia have emphasised how important it is for state governments to spend money. And yet, our state governments consistently spend our money overseas.”

Crittenden stressed that Australia has a proud history of rail manufacture, citing the Tangara trains as one of the most advanced and internationally successful trains of their time. Australia has a substantial rail repair and maintenance industry worth over $2.4bn to the economy, with more than 900 companies involved in manufacturing and supplying in the industry. However, Crittenden noted that all of New South Wales’ trains are manufactured overseas, as are most of the trains currently in use across the country.

“Offshoring rail industry welding and fabrication work to India, China and South Korea does not strengthen the Australian economy in any way. In fact, it weakens the Australian economy. Only weak-minded nations and leaders export strategically critical infrastructure projects.”