Freight Rail, Operations & Maintenance, Safety, Workforce

Environmental protest action slammed  

Pacific National class 92 locomotives hauling a coal train over a rail bridge crossing the Hunter River at Singleton, NSW. Photo: Creative Commons / Bluedawe

Pacific National chief executive officer Paul Scurrah has condemned protest activity from environmental groups which brought the Hunter Valley rail freight network to a standstill yesterday. 

Speaking at a Freight on Rail Group of Australia meeting, he said the actions — which included the placement of a car on the line and protestors suspending themselves above the tracks in scaffolding or from power poles  not only put the safety of train crews in great peril, but also led to Pacific National cancelling 20 rail services, notably coal, to the Port of Newcastle, as well as containerised grain and cotton services to Port Botany 

“Each coal and grain service to port contains approximately $1 million in export value to the nation,” he said. 

“We are an island nation that survives on exports. 

“Sadly, our sector doesn’t get a sense of any coordinated approach between federal and state authorities to prevent these dangerous protest activities from occurring in the future.” 

The Hunter Valley network, run by the Australian Rail Track Corporation, is about 1400km in length from the Port of Newcastle to Muswellbrook, where it spans west along the Ulan line and toward Parkes as well as north of Muswellbrook beyond Narrabri toward Moree and the Queensland border. 

FORG consists of Australia’s nine major rail freight businesses. Combined, these organisations contribute more than $11 billion to the nation’s economy each year, employ about 20,000 skilled Australians (many based in the regions), and manage and operate 23,000 kilometres of rail track.  

“The COVID crisis, and associated disruptions related to cross border travel, has put into sharp focus the innate strength of rail hauling large volumes of containerised and bulk freight over large distances both safely and efficiently,” Scurrah said.  

“The pandemic has highlighted the finely tuned nature of Australia’s national supply chain. With millions of Australians forced to work from home, the pandemic turbocharged the trend towards online shopping.  

“At the same time, COVID caused major disruptions in shipping and port operations. Combined with record grain harvests, these factors have seen a surge in demand for rail freight services.” 

More reading

Aurizon slams rail protest