Engineering, Environment and Sustainability, Freight Rail, Research & Development, Safety, Standards & Regulation

Rail bests road in Tasmania, study shows

TasRail Wagons. Photo: TasRail

A major TasRail study has suggested moving freight by rail rather than road will deliver an estimated $159 million in savings to the Tasmanian economy over the five years to 2019.

Freight rail saved the state $26 million in 2013/14 alone, through savings over road, the TasRail study found.

The study, commissioned by the Tasmanian rail freight business and undertaken by infrastructure consultant Pitt&Sherry, found savings were generated by reducing costs related to road accidents, pollution and road maintenance, as well as the operating costs of industry and commerce.

TasRail boss Damien White said the purpose of the study was to quantify the underlying benefits of the state’s rail freight system at a time when it was enjoying significant growth.

White said the essence of the study findings was that on major freight corridors, such as between Brighton and Burnie, rail was the most efficient freight mode.

“While there is an investment cost in rail – as there is with roads and shipping – it delivers statewide benefits that are significantly greater than the investment costs,” White said.

“The study highlights one of TasRail’s important competitive advantages, which is to help industries strengthen their social licences by moving freight by rail rather than by road, is providing vital social, environmental and economic benefits,” White said last week.

“Over the past five years, the Tasmanian and Australian Governments have provided the funds to rejuvenate the state’s rail system, which they clearly recognise as a critical part of Tasmania’s transport infrastructure.”

Statistical data was drawn from a range of official government studies and reports.

In 2013/14 the use of rail freight in Tasmania rather than road freight saved around $7 million in road accident costs; $1 million in environmental costs; $9 million in road maintenance costs; and up to $9 million in the operating costs of business and industry, a Pitt&Sherry spokespan said.

The Spokesman said the savings were forecast to rise over the five year period to June 30, 2019 and continue well into the future

“The report shows freight transport efficiency is maximised when freight can be moved at the lowest possible cost to customers (senders and receivers) and the community at large,” White added.

“It explains that a single train can move hundreds of tonnes of freight and the rolling resistance faced by a steel wheel on a steel track is small compared to that of a rubber tyre on a road.

“These physical and economy-of-scale advantages translate to very low overall costs on a per tonne kilometre basis.”

White said the study justified investment in TasRail’s infrastructure.

“Track upgrades improve the performance of Tasmania’s rail network to an acceptable level that enable rail to compete with road for certain freight tasks,” he said.

“The result is an overall increase in Tasmania’s transport system efficiency, delivering lower costs in two major ways. The most obvious effect is lower costs to freight customers, which in turn reduce the drag of freight costs on the whole economy.”

The study concludes over the next five years, the total government investment in TasRail will be approximately equal to the total benefits to the Tasmanian community in dollar terms.

From that point on, it suggests, savings will far exceed investment.

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