CFCL Australia’s Matthew Roberts told Rail Express about the fleet lessor’s flexible approach, and how it’s responding to growing intermodal demand.
The growing volume of freight in Australia is presenting both challenges and opportunities for the rail sector. A 50 per cent increase in the decade to 2016 is putting pressure on intermodal, containerised freight, as rail is called upon to shuttle freight from ports to intermodal terminals.
In this context, logistics operators are looking to get more goods onto rail, and CFCL Australia (CFCLA) is able to provide a flexible solution, outlines Matthew Roberts, CFCLA rollingstock operations manager.
“Most of our wagon fleet is intermodal, and we hire out our wagons to all the rail operators, and some non-rail customers use them and engage other people to haul trains for them.”
CFCLA’s 1,700 wagons are supported by 78 locomotives. As a company with over two decades experience in Australia and deep roots in the home of rail freight Chicago, the integrated rail services provider is able to give peace of mind to operators and contractors.
“With our intermodal wagons we wet lease, which means we do all the maintenance,” said Roberts. “Like hiring a car, we do everything; the car is registered and we complete the servicing and repairs so all the customer needs to do is phone our 24-hour helpdesk to arrange workshop time that suits their schedule. When someone goes in and bids for a job, they don’t have to hold the wagons for 30 years, they’re only holding them for the period of the contract with their customer.”
The recent openings of intermodal terminals, particularly around the Sydney basin and further afield in NSW, have increased the need for CFCLA’s intermodal expertise.
“We have been contacted by a broad range of shippers and freight owners who are looking for assistance or advice on getting their freight between terminals, which is port to metro and regional terminals and return, there could even be regional-to-regional opportunities”, Roberts said.
When Inland Rail opens in 2025, Roberts also expects demand to increase. Of benefit would be open access terminals along the route.
“Inland rail will hopefully grow the pie by bringing new freight onto rail. The convenience of the Inland Rail line will encourage people who might currently ship by road to port to use rail instead,” he said.
CFCLA plans to respond to increasing demand by growing its workshop productivity. Located in Goulburn, NSW and at Islington Railway Workshops in Kilburn, South Australia, the two workshops house the knowledge that CFCLA has built up over 22 years in the Australian rail industry.
“We’ve have locomotive overhaul facilities, so we can do any sort of service on a locomotive that we own. We own 78 locomotives ourselves and we also work on customer-owned locomotives and can complete a full overhaul should the customer desire,” said Roberts.
With freight movements and logistics networks functioning on tight time intervals and schedules, CFCLA enables an operator to keep its cargo moving.
“The idea is that customers passing our workshops can drop off and pick up locomotives with ease, so there’s no downtime,” said Roberts. “They can drop off a locomotive, leave it there for a couple of days for servicing, and take one of our locomotives straight out of the workshop and keep going.”
This kind of servicing and maintenance also lends itself to finding a smarter solution, based on knowledge of what factors are affecting the sector.
“The intermodal sector is picking up, but there’s presently a shortage of 40-foot wagons in the market,” said Roberts. “We’re looking at either modifying or building more 40-foot wagons. We’re looking at a program of cutting some 60-foot wagons into 40-foot wagons and that’s to allow for maximum container weight and not running with empty space on the train.”
By modifying 60-foot wagons to 40 feet, CFCLA is meeting the emerging needs of freight operators needing to fit more containers through congested terminals, such as Port Botany with limited rail infrastructure and minimising train lengths, which reduces costs in things such as access fees.
“On a 60-foot wagon you can put two heavy containers, but using up more train length to do it. We’re looking at how to get more 40-foot wagons into the market. They’re at a premium because the sidings at the port are fairly short and that’s a restricting factor; the time it takes to shunt at the ports as trains become longer,” said Roberts.
These kinds of modifications go some way to ensuring that rail can continue to move larger volumes of freight, even as port terminals are constrained in siding space.
“A lot of infrastructure owners seem to have built short sidings, around 600 metres long,” said Roberts. “The trains are getting longer and longer but the infrastructure at those places is not.”
Already, those freight operators that CFCLA is working with are putting in requests for CFCLA to provide more, shorter wagons, a service that CFCLA can offer because of the flexibility enabled by having its own workshops.
“We’ve been working with Crawfords Freight Lines and they have a demand for more 40-foot wagons, and also Bowmans Rail in South Australia, they’ve got a demand for more 40-foot wagons,” highlighted Roberts. “They can still carry the freight on longer wagons, but you can’t put a third maximum loaded container on the wagon making the train longer.”
Work for both of these clients will be handled by CFCLA itself.
“Our own workshops will do the work, our own workshops will make the modifications,” said Roberts.
SAFETY AND COMPLIANCE: THE BACKBONE TO INTERMODAL FREIGHT
To continue to responsively meet the demand of rail operators, CFCLA sees an ever-growing need for workshop capabilities.
“We’ll have to look at expansion of the workshop sector. If the sector grows, we grow with it, so we will have more intermodal wagons for the increasing traffic,” said Roberts.
CFCLA’s workshop staff will bring to intermodal wagons their expertise in a variety of rail operations, highlighted Roberts.
“We do all types of rail maintenance work; whether it’s rail equipment that is used out on the line for track maintenance, or passenger cars for the Ghan and Indian Pacific, including wagons and locomotives.”
Beyond the range of jobs able to be completed, what distinguishes CFCLA’s workshops is the intensive safety and compliance regime that is applied from the shop floor up to senior management.
“On the subject of safety, it goes without saying there is no compromise as without doubt rail is a risk management business,” said Roberts.
“We have a very strong safety management system with the regulator, the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator. They visit and audit us three times a year or more. Customers can come to us, knowing that the regulator visits, checks what we’re doing, visits the workshops, and comes into the office and looks at all our records. We need to demonstrate we are competent at what we do.
“Where it does count for maintenance is the shop floor. The guys on the shop floor have access to the documentation because there is quite a bit of documentation on how to change a wheel, how to measure a wheel even, so that everything is recorded and completed properly.”
Implementing these standards is an experienced and specialised workforce, many of whom come to CFCLA with a background in rail, and if not are trained by CFCLA to become part of what Roberts described as a “family”.
“We try and treat everyone like we would our own family, so our CEO knows people on the shop floor by name and they know her. We talk to each other.”
In sum, noted Roberts, “what we really do is simple – we have workshops wagons and locomotives – we just try and do that well”.