We caught up with Susie Homan, Director of Planning, Engineering and Operations at the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) to find out how the UK’s passenger transport industry can learn from Australia’s Gold Coast.
Homan’s entire career has spanned customer-focused operations. She has rolled up her sleeves on many occasions to put passengers first — something that she insists office-based staff should do more often to remind themselves about the service they provide.
Last July, Homan returned to the UK to take up her present role at RDG. She had spent 10 years in Australia working firstly as Business Integration Director for Melbourne’s Yarra Trams for two years, and secondly in a similar role in 2011, developing Queensland’s Gold Coast light railway, and latterly as their Customer Service Director.
As one of Australia’s fastest-growing cities, The Gold Coast, as the name suggests, is a major coastal tourist destination renowned for its surfing beaches, high-rise dominated skyline and rainforest hinterland. The city knew that it had to invest in solutions that would tackle escalating traffic congestion. By 2014, Homan’s team had delivered a 13km (16 stops) light railway along the city’s busiest corridor. Homan had to create and deliver the customer experience, which complemented a new state of the art light rail system and delivered to the expectations of the City and its community.
Homan is no stranger to setting up and running a customer-focused rail business. She had cut her teeth as a Customer Welcome Host on Peterborough platforms and went on to become a British Rail Management trainee. Her career took her to learning how to run two incredibly busy railway stations — London Euston and London Liverpool Street. In those roles, she worked for operators Intercity East Coast, GNER and Railtrack.
In 2018, The Gold Coast played host to a successful Commonwealth Games — one of the largest sporting events in the world — and it was here that Homan made G:link a star performer. Homan explained, “The experience of travelling around a city is such a major part of hosting any large event. It not only makes or breaks the event, but it also serves to showcase the city to the world.” It was absolutely imperative that in the lead up to the Games a hefty maintenance regime was in place — that left no room for hiccups.
Prior to the Games the line was extended to a 20km line and introduced three new stations as part of an integrated transport solution for the Games. For the first time it joined passenger rail and light rail in the Gold Coast allowing for public transport, by rail, from Brisbane Airport all the way to the Gold Coast. The new extension opened three months prior to the Games commencing, which left little time for bedding down operations and working with new rail and airport colleagues. Homan’s team built strong relationships quickly agreeing joint customer messaging and how to work together with regards to station operations.
During the Games, G:link was operational 24/7, transporting six million extra passengers in the space of 11 days. Homan had established a 30-strong Customer Services team, which rose to around 300 during the Games. It was her idea to send her team to experience first hand how Melbourne tackled one of its major sporting events — the Australian Open, in 2016. “This helped a great deal, giving my team ideas and opportunity to think big”, Homan explained.
Homan spent much time diligently training her team through ‘what if’ scenarios of passenger needs. She gave her team responsibility, and in turn, they took pride in their stations and day-to-day tasks. Homan made sure morale remained high and station staff didn’t feel alone through encouragement and motivation using the app SLACK.com.
The Gold Coast is currently looking to extend the G:link. Its success is a testament of how good planning — with the end user in mind — will create a lasting legacy.
For the UK, Homan wants to see rail operations involved right from the start — at the concept and design phases of a project. It’s their job to start from the premise of “What do passengers want?”. All too often engineering and operations are working in very different ‘time’ silos.
Homan never intentionally set out to have a career in the rail industry, yet it is here that she has stayed for close to 30 years. She is a motivated high achiever and it’s her belief, that for rail to continue to play its part in modern life, the industry must become far more passenger-centric than ever before.
Australia’s Gold Coast G:link Map: Putting the passenger first means user friendly design. https://ridetheg.com.au/