Freight Rail

Rail freight on ‘deathbed’ between Melbourne and Sydney

Pacific National container. Photo: Cameron Boggs

Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle has called for access charges on the Sydney-Melbourne rail corridor to be abolished to address a substantial competitive advantage enjoyed by road operators along the busy route.

Dalla Valle on July 29 said less than 1 per cent of the 20 million tonnes of palletised and containerised freight transported between Melbourne and Sydney is now hauled by trains.

Pacific National analysis calculated the access costs of hauling a 20-foot container between Melbourne and Sydney by a freight train as $94, compared to just $55 on the back of a B-double truck.

“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.

This access charge discrepancy occurs because rail charges have been designed to properly reflect the cost of maintaining that infrastructure, while this mechanism is not properly reflected in access charges to truck operators, with the extra maintenance and repair costs for roads made up by taxpayers.

Dalla Valle said without immediate action from the government, road could soon increase its share of Sydney-Melbourne freight to 100 per cent.

“Government access charges must be abolished on the rail corridor between the two cities,” Dalla Valle said.

“Bizarrely, at a time when Australians want safer roads, less traffic congestion during their daily commute, reduced vehicle emissions, and properly maintained roads, government policies are geared to rolling out bigger and heavier trucks on more roads.

“Australia’s busiest freight corridor by volume has become a conveyor belt of 700,000 B-double equivalent return truck trips each year along the Hume Highway. Now the Hume Highway is fully duplicated, I suspect governments in the future will allow access for even bigger trucks on the freeway, including A-doubles and B-triples.”

Dalla Valle’s dramatic call came just days after the Coalition launched its heavy vehicle road user charging pilot.

“The Government will continue to prioritise progress on reforms to improve infrastructure investment, while testing alternative options to replace heavy vehicle registration fees and fuel-based charges,” deputy prime minister Michael McCormack said on July 25.

“Decisions to implement a new way of collecting heavy vehicle charges may be part of a potential future stage of Heavy Vehicle Road Reform. These decisions are likely to be a number of years away and will take on board the real-life experience of industry following a full evaluation of the trials.”