The country’s largest rail freight operators and infrastructure owners have called on Australian governments to do more to help move freight off roads and on to rail, ahead of the Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC) meeting of the state and federal transport ministers this week.
The Freight on Rail Group (FORG), which represents the industry, called on the TIC to give higher priority to rail freight efficiency and productivity, and deliver a program of works next year to streamline state regulations to allow the benefits of rail freight to be fully utilised across Australia’s transport supply chain.
“To develop polices to deliver new innovations and efficiencies, the rail freight sector is simply asking for an equal playing field,” FORG chair and Pacific National CEO Dean Dalle Valle said.
“This can only be achieved by a new era of closer collaboration between government agencies, which regulate rail networks, and private companies which operate on those networks.”
Dalla Valle said that it was concerning that government policies were geared towards helping the roll-out of heavier and longer trucks at a time when Australians want safer roads and less traffic congestion.
“As a case in point, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator recently approved the roll-out of a 105-tonne 36.5-metre b-quad truck on select routes between Victoria and Queensland,” Dalla Valle said.
“Don’t get me wrong: I see the obvious freight productivity benefits, but how much bigger and heavier do we want trucks on our roads to get? What’s the upper limit?”
Dalle Valla said that while the trucking industry had been successful in extracting major concessions in efficiency, productivity and road access, the rail freight industry, in contrast, had become “tangled in nests of technical jargon” and had focused too much effort on perceived safety risks that have largely been eliminated by modern technology.
NSW freight train drivers, he said, can be subjected to up to 18 months of extra training to operate on a similarly configured rail corridor in another state or territory.
“In stark contrast, a NSW truck driver can move from operating a semi-trailer for a year to handling a b-double or road train in just two days at minimal cost with immediate access to thousands of kilometres of road across every jurisdiction in the country,” said Dalla Valle.
Dalla Valle said that FORG was also requesting that governments make efforts to harmonise operating procedures and training requirements for freight train drivers and crews across state and territory borders by 2021.
“In the last decade, advances in communication and signalling technologies like sophisticated global positioning systems and state-of-the-art network control systems can now be deployed to help dramatically improve the safe running of trains,” he said.
“To improve rail freight productivity in this country – which directly impacts the cost of transporting goods and commodities to domestic and global markets – it’s time to consign outdated and contradictory cross-border rules to the dust-bin of history.”
The full set of initiatives called for by FORG also include changes to the purview of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) to advance of efficiency and productivity initiatives in the rail freight sector, an investigation by the Productivity Commission into the impacts of mandated train driver hours on the rail freight sector, and more recognition to the rail freight sector’s contribution to reduction in accident costs and carbon emissions.
Dalla Valle said that it was a disappointment that the benefits of rail freight over road freight were not being fully recognised or embedded within government policy.
“More worryingly, policies aren’t keeping pace with the delivery of upgraded rail infrastructure of the range of new and improved technologies available to the sector,” he said.
“A single 1,800-metre freight train hauling containers is equivalent to removing 70 b-double trucks from our roads. These compelling facts put rail freight firmly on the right side of every debate.”