People of the project: Team player and quality assurance master Mike Harris

In our last interview of the ‘people of the project’ series we catch up with passionate Project Quality Lead, Mike Harris. Mike explains the role of quality assurance in rail construction and what happens now that major construction on Narrabri to North Star is finished.

Mike Harris, Project Quality Lead N2NS

How long have you been with Inland Rail?

I joined Inland Rail in December 2019 as the Quality Lead on the Parkes to Narromine section. I transitioned to this section in December 2020.

What were you doing before joining Inland Rail?

Prior to joining Inland Rail, I was at a Spanish explosives manufacturer and service provider for mining and quarries as their Quality and Environment Manager for the Australia and Pacific Islands region.

What motivated you to join Inland Rail?

After a few years of demolishing, I welcomed the chance to be involved with constructing! The fact that Inland Rail is an iconic mega project and a very critical piece of infrastructure for the east coast supply chain network was the cherry on top.

So how did you get into this line of work?

There was no degree in quality assurance back in my day (there are certificate courses now) so I fell into it. I qualified in Economics at the Australian Defence Academy in Canberra and was in the Navy for 12 years as Supply Officer.

Many of the skills I learnt in the Navy, like risk assessment, occupational safety and environmental awareness are requirements of this role. Qualities like strong interpersonal communication skills and an eye for detail also help.

Can you tell us more about what leading Quality entails?

In a nutshell my role ensures that the required standard of quality across all facets of the project is delivered. This includes the built form as well as design documentation. I also am responsible for the completions and handover of all three stages of the project.

This means myself and my team inspect and witness contractor work activities to make sure they’re done properly before the work can move to the next stage. Everything must be documented which includes drawings and reports that capture what has been delivered. Any deviations to our inspection plans, like defects, need to be rectified as part of the completion and handover phase. I champion quality and help others understand how their piece fits the whole puzzle.

Best thing about the job?

Seeing the benefits Inland Rail brings to the regional areas it touches. I’ve had people come up to me at the supermarket in Moree and say thank you for what Inland Rail has brought to the area, perhaps their family or community. That’s saying something!

What has been the most challenging experience for you?

The flood last year. Because I saw how it impacted the people around me firsthand. I saw colleagues rush home to prepare their property for the inundation. I was also in town that weekend and was flooded in my rental for four days.

We had four graduates working with us at the time and most had never been through a flood. I helped them and we prepared the office with sandbags and raising things off the floor. I also helped my neighbours to prepare for the flood because we knew we would be inundated.

Once the waters subsided, we planned how to inspect the site, worked out the steps we would take to approach any issues and decided the quality control protocols required for this unique scenario.

What are some of your thoughts/feelings as your time on the project draws to a close?

My work is not quite done! In October we celebrated the end of major construction. However, there is still work left to do, mainly with documentation. There are also a few jobs in the rail corridor left to finalise that did not prevent us from returning the line to service but that we need to close out. So, I will be sticking around a few more months on this project.

Image caption: Mike performing a quality check on signalling equipment on the N2NS Phase 1 alignment