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AusRAIL Day 1: Check out the live blog here

Delegates at AusRAIL PLUS 2015. Photo:

The live blog for the morning Plenary sessions for Day 1 of AusRAIL has now ended. Check it out below. Updates are posted from the bottom of the page, upwards.

12.30pm The conference breaks for lunch, and technical streams will take place from 2pm.

12.20pm Larsen says there is serious potential in increased data collection, and other new technologies such as drones, to create new efficiencies in the maintenance space. “Increased infrastructure spend is not always the answer,” Cronin agrees.

Larsen also believes autonomous trains will become more prevalent in Australia’s bulk and freight networks. Pauline adds: “The technology is there, it’s tried, proven and tested. I’m sure we’ll see some of that disruption hitting the industry.”

12.15pm Fullerton says rail has always had a competitive advantage over alternatives when it comes to safety, and signalling and communications technology can extend that advantage. “From the ARTC’s point of view we are looking at ATMS to achieve those safety outcomes,” he says. “The real benefits of those technologies is to be able to move trains around the network more efficiently.” But, he adds, the technology opportunities extend further than just communication and signalling equipment, with opportunities existing also in wayside technologies, etc.

Pauline says GWA is also looking at a wide array of technologies, including advanced weather warning systems.

12.05pm Mick Cronin outlines the issues facing ports, including urban encroachment, and reducing bottlenecks to ensure continued growth. “We need good conversation and good planning policy now … to make sure we can protect now, for the future, the benefits places like Port Botany and others bring to the economy of New South Wales.”

Paul Larsen says Brookfield has also had to deal with the changing nature of both passenger and freight rail in Western Australia. “The [rail] corridors are being built right up, because local governments, and the policing of their planning processes has been very poor.”

John Fullerton says the development of more intermodal terminals is “the most important thing” for the future of freight rail around urban areas. He says the success of Inland Rail, also, will rely on good terminals.

And Greg Pauline says getting more freight from road to rail is “incredibly important,” and finding good strategic locations for terminals will be crucial to this.

12.00pm AusRAIL’s first panel session begins, with the focus of “Investment and innovation: How can we fast-forward change in the freight game”. It includes ARTC chief executive John Fullerton, Brookfield Rail boss Paul Larsen, Genesee & Wyoming managing director Greg Pauline and NSW Ports general manager strategy & commercial Mick Cronin, and is facilitated by WA Freight and Logistics Council chair Nicole Lockwood.

11.50am Anderson is not as positive about the prospects of road pricing as prior speakers, however. Asked about the “political reality” of such ideas, he says: “Our objective ought to be … to extract the economic benefits from lower transport costs, and to recognise that [Australia] reaps the benefits … of expanded economic activity. So I would temper conversations about user charges [for roads]. Taxes, by definition, reduce economic activity. Wherever possible, [the government] ought to be striving to build infrastructure at the lowest possible price and ensure it is accessed at the lowest possible price.”

11.45am “We need to build as quickly as we can the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail,” Anderson adds. “I believe it is, and should be a national priority.” He says the industry needs to avoid “paralysis by analysis,” however, around the subject of finalising a detailed route for the project.

11.40am “Rail should be the highest priority for investment and reform, in my view, in coming years,” Anderson said, reflecting on the growing nature of Australian urbanisation.

Where ACRI comes in, he says, is to help Australia maintain a research advantage over international competition.

“If rail is to have any chance of reaching its potential … investment and careful investment is needed both in infrastructure and in innovation.”

11.30am Anderson says that, in many ways, he can “only agree” with Marion Terrill’s assertions about the challenges facing politicians and transport investment.

“We need to have a debate about how we debate,” he says. “There’s very little concern for analysis and evidence based decision making … We really do need to be much more level headed, [and] we need to learn again how to talk to one another, how to listen to one another …”

“Far too many decisions today are either influenced unwisely, or decided by either clap-o-meters or sneer-o-meters on Q&A  and not enough by evidence based analysis.”

11.25am The plenary session is now being addressed by former deputy prime minister John Anderson, the chairman of the Australian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI).

11.20am One of the most harmful symptoms of early project announcements, like those which plagued the most recent election cycle, is significant cost overruns when final project costs are compared to costs suggested in initial project announcements.

Terrill has a range of recommendations to fix these issues. These include having business cases tabled in Parliament before funding can be made, and even having standalone legislation for major projects, to encourage bipartisanship.

11.15am Terrill’s case is that Australian politicians too often make major investment decisions on transport projects in order to win elections, and not because those are the best projects to invest in.

She says investment has favoured country NSW and country Queensland over capital cities, despite the large proportion of people and GDP coming from cities.

Terrill is critical of the major parties (Greens, Labor, Coalition) who, in the 2016 election campaign, continually promised funding for projects which were not yet listed (via assessment) as priorities by Infrastructure Australia. She says 15%, by value, of the Coalition’s promises were supported by being on the Infrastructure Australia priority list, while just 3% of Labor’s promises, by value, were on the list, and 0% of the Greens’ promises were supported.

11.10am “We’re already a very urbanised country,” Terrill says. “And we’re becoming more so.” Even during the mining boom, she notes, the vast proportion of Australia’s GDP came from its cities. As goods have become cheaper and imports have grown, the demand for urban areas has been competitive.

11.00am Following the morning tea break, Grattan Institute transport program director Marion Terrill is explaining how investment should be prioritised to meet the growth of Australia’s cities.

10.25am Palazzolo launched GS1’s Australian Rail AIDC Guideline to help guide the sector through the “many many changes” that have to take place to achieve this goal, available here:

10.20am The end-game for GS1 is to have every asset in the sector marked with barcode or similar marking that is unique to that object, and globally standardised, to allow everyone around the world to operate on a level playing field.

“This is not rocket science,” Palazzolo says, “this is really basic stuff.”

10.15am Palazzolo says GS1, an international non-profit, can provide a global standard that could provide the platform for efficiencies across the sector. She says the company is multi-sector so it is not dependent on a single industry, and is the most widely used supply chain standard used in the world, with more than 2 million user companies.

10.10am Maria Palazzolo, chief executive officer of barcode technology business GS1, says barcoding can be used to better control inventory and supply chain assets in the rail sector, significantly improving profitability.

“The reality is that current [asset management] practices are just really inefficient and very costly,” she says. Change in several European companies has been driven by regulation, but “in Australia we don’t have [barcoding] regulations … so the best approach is to self-regulate … [to] introduce technology to have best practices in place without having to incur regulation.”

10.05am Asked by a delegate about the role of rail in keeping supermarket prices in Cairns at the level they are in Brisbane, Brooks says: “We’re a heavy user of rail on the North Coast Corridor … Using rail plays a very important role in keeping the cost of our goods comparably similar [in price] to Brisbane [along that corridor].”

10.00am Brooks reflects on Woolworths’ transition to using more rail in its supply chain: “Through direct relationships we were able to work [with the industry] … unless we had that support, we would still be using road [on those routes] today.”

The next steps for Woolworths are finding new optimisation paths, investing in the intermodal space, and working further with the industry to improve its offering to customers.

9.50am Woolworths Group head of transport Chris Brooks says the “rail is an increasingly important mode” in the retail giant’s network. He believes a direct relationship with Freightlink and now Genesee & Wyoming has resulted in a lift to the level of service received.

9.45am Hart says a road pricing scheme is a necessity, as the current state of play is placing too much strain on the road network, and the nation’s roads can’t cope with the forecast freight task in future years.

He says the rail freight network needs to be well maintained to help it better compete with the road network, a factor which he says will help create “a steady growth story” in the railway maintenance sector. “There’s another big wave coming,” he says.

A key question that needs to be answered, though, is whether the Australasian rail industry is capable of handling this growth.

9.40am Public spending is currently replacing private spending to make up the bulk of activity in the rail sector over the next five years, and spending is shifting from remote areas to urban areas, Hart outlines.

9.35am Hart says recent significant growth in coal and iron ore markets is “probably not sustainable” to this extent, but should reflect a more positive overall outlook in those sectors, too.

Civil construction such as transport projects should help make up for long-term slowdowns in resource-related infrastructure construction and residential construction – Hart says we are likely at the peak of the residential construction cycle.

9.30am Businesses should take advantage of historically low interest rates now by setting themselves up for future construction peaks and troughs, Hart says.

He lists the potential key risks to rail on the domestic front: “Public investment does not recover as forecast due to either a lack of productive infrastructure projects, lack of consensus on how to fund them, or generally lower costs than expected seeing a lower value of work”.

But for the most part, Hart is very positive about rail’s outlook, even though, he jokes, “the United States is exiting the world”.

9.25am To open his Market Outlook presentation, BIS Shrapnel senior manager infrastructure & mining Adrian Hart says “this is a really exciting time for rail”. He says rail “has one of the strongest growth outlooks in the construction industry over the next five years”.

9.20am A video message is played from infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester, who is unable to visit AusRAIL due to Parliamentary commitments in Canberra.

9.15am Broad says the ARA has made several key achievements during its recent transition. A key aspect of this is a soon-to-be-published future plan. Recent ARA leadership lunches have been well received, and Rail Safety Week and Rail R U OK? Day were both successful.

9:10am Australasian Railway Association chief executive Danny Broad opens the conference with an emotional tribute to his late predecessor, Bryan Nye OEM. “I’m sure that all our prayers are with his family and friends.”