With so much investment injected into Victoria’s ever-growing rail industry in recent years, there is a targeted need to attract and train the next generation of younger workers ready to launch their careers.
Equally important however is being able to retain the experienced workers, like Level Crossing Removal Authority senior project engineer Paul Sonnet, whose practical skills and knowledge often prove invaluable in city-shaping projects.
When it comes to level crossings, not many know the inner workings of the boom gate as well as Paul Sonnet.
Prior to working on the Level Crossing Removal Authority’s comprehensive rail systems rollout, the senior project engineer’s 40-year career has been largely centred around various other metropolitan and regional rail line upgrades, including the design and installation of level crossings.
But despite coming full circle with the infrastructure that he helped to create, the Senior Project Engineer says he will be happy to see the flashing lights and sounds removed for good.
“When I did level crossing commissioning, we could design it to make it safe, to operate, but never rule out human error,” he said.
“It didn’t matter whether you had level crossings with boom barriers, flashing lights, traffic lights interlocked - you couldn’t stop the driver ignoring the lights and driving around the booms.
“(Our work) is making it a lot safer, but it also streamlines our train operations.”
As a 16-year-old studying in his first year as an electrical engineer, Paul’s passion for design and construction took a fast-tracked jump directly into the rail industry after his father endured a serious workplace accident, forcing Paul to find work and help support his family.
He began his career in 1974 as a junior draftsman for Victorian Railways’ level crossing design section and held that position for 15 years, working to commission upgrades across the state including crossings now targeted for removal at Murrumbeena, Poath and Clayton roads.
Paul would later move on to computer systems engineering at Metrol’s former control centre site on Batman Avenue, before further positions in rail systems with Alstom and Bombardier.
Now, he is assisting a major overhaul to the Cranbourne/Pakenham line’s rail systems in preparation for high-capacity metro trains, with the extension of platforms and comprehensive signalling changes making it one of the biggest rail upgrades now underway in the southern hemisphere.
“We’re actually going to go further with our communication-based train control,” Paul said.
“Instead of train drivers seeing signals, the signalling will actually communicate with the train to help (the driver) know when to slow down and when to speed up.”