Freight Rail, Operations & Maintenance, Resources, Safety, Workforce

Call for RAT kits access to be prioritised

Leading Australian rail freight operator Pacific National says securing adequate numbers of Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits for workers continues to be a major challenge for the national supply chain.

The business has long championed the need for RAT tests, and had the foresight to secure supply of an additional 30,000 RAT kits before Christmas.

Pacific National CEO Paul Scurrah said with a 24/7 national operation the size of Pacific National, which has 70 terminals and depots spread across the mainland, screening frontline rail workers three times a week, consumed about 7000 RAT kits each week

“As you can imagine, we are currently chewing through them at a rate of knots,” he said.

“Rationing of RATs is now the new norm in the national supply chain.

“We understand the Australian Government is bending over backwards to secure more RAT kits from around the world, but this could take weeks.

“Currently it’s a major challenge for business to source RAT kits and we need to address this immediately for the sake of public health outcomes and the economy.

“Like many other countries around the world, once RATs arrive en masse, National Cabinet must commit to providing free kits for all essential frontline workers. The current system is creating unnecessary angst among essential workers and distorting daily supply chain operations.”

Scurrah said that moving forward, the Government had to start learning more from the experience of other countries where new COVID variant outbreaks have hit.

“There were clear signs around the world as early as the middle of last year that RAT was increasingly going to be relied on as a key frontline defensive tool to help combat COVID. As a country we have fared better than most, and that’s a credit to our political system, but we must keep striving to stay ahead of the global pack.”

Scurrah said the Omicron outbreak had highlighted the innate benefits of hauling large volumes of goods and commodities over large distances by rail.

“A typical 1500-metre interstate freight train operating between Melbourne and Sydney hauls 215 containers and is equivalent to 90 cross border truck trips. Where 90 truck drivers are needed, only two train drivers are required to move the same volume of freight,” he said.

“Since March 2020, Pacific National has put in place rigorous systems and processes to ensure social distancing and stringent hygiene standards to reduce the risk of our freight train crews and terminal staff being exposed to COVID.

“Among our employees we only recorded a handful of positive cases over the course of 2020 and 2021, despite having terminals located in major COVID hotspots.

“Because of these protections, our workers have continued to provide 800 services each week across the mainland to help keep freight flowing. Today, less than 10 per cent of our 2300 frontline workforce is furloughed due to the pandemic.”

More reading

RBTU urges free RAT tests

Prioritise rail worker vaccinations

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