EXCLUSIVE: Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack says the government is willing to consider changes to access pricing to encourage more freight onto rail.
McCormack, the leader of the Nationals and the government’s minister for infrastructure and transport, told Rail Express on August 1 he had met the day prior with several rail stakeholders, including Pacific National corporate affairs director Andrew Huckel and ARTC boss John Fullerton.
The meeting came days after Pacific National boss Dean Dalla Valle called on the government to abolish access charges on the Sydney-Melbourne rail corridor to address the substantial competitive advantage enjoyed by road operators on the busy route.
Asked whether the government is willing to consider improving rail’s competitiveness through changes to rail access pricing regimes, McCormack said “it is”.
“I had a great meeting with several rail stakeholders [on July 31],” he said. “We had a very frank discussion about what we could and should do.”
McCormack said getting more freight onto rail was “a huge priority” for the Government.
“That just makes good sense for safety, for productivity, for supply chain efficiencies, and for lowering costs for all concerned,” he said.
“Get more freight onto rail networks, get those supply chains and efficiencies happening; it’s better for productivity, better for getting goods to port and then onto those market opportunities that we’ve opened up.”
Road safety a key factor
McCormack added “it stands to reason if you get more trucks off the road, and more freight onto rail, that is going to be safer for road users.”
He made his comments on the same day the government agreed to address major road safety concerns.
Research conducted by the Australian Automobile Association forecast Australia will not meet almost half the targets set out in the National Road Safety Strategy, which launched in 2011 with targets for 2020.
In response a new Joint Select Committee on Road Safety will study the government’s current and planned actions aimed at driving down road trauma.
“The Joint Select Committee will thoroughly examine the effectiveness of existing road safety support services and programs, including opportunities to integrate Safe System principles into health, education, industry and transport policy,” McCormack said in a statement.
“The committee will also look at the importance of achieving zero deaths and serious injuries across Australia, but especially in remote and regional areas. It will also consider recommendations for the role of the newly established Office of Road Safety.”
Pacific National boss Dean Dalla Valle on July 29 said the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney had become a ‘conveyor belt’ of more than 700,000 B-double equivalent return trips each year.
By contrast, rail accounts for just 1 per cent of freight movement between the cities.
Pacific National analysis calculated the access costs of hauling a 20-foot container through the corridor at $94 for rail, and only $55 on the back of a B-double.
“In terms of accessing the freight corridor between Melbourne and Sydney, that’s a massive 70 per cent cost penalty for rail – this rips the guts out of our industry,” Dalla Valle said.