Freight Rail, Passenger Rail, Events, Operations & Maintenance, Safety, Track & Civil Construction

Rail umbilical cord needs repair

Australia’s largest private rail freight company, Pacific National, says the weekend washout along the rail track north of Port Augusta, which suspended freight services from Adelaide to Perth and Darwin, is a sign that the Trans-Australian Railway is in urgent need of upgrades.

Part of the track between Coondambo, near Lake Gardiner, and Lyons, north-west of Port Augusta, are under water. With rail maintenance crews still assessing the damage, it is not known how long the line will be out of service.

Pacific National Chief Operating Officer Pat O’Donnell said the Trans-Australian Railway was the umbilical cord connecting the continent’s eastern and western seaboards and was a vital link in Australia’s supply chain. Road and sea freight alone can’t provide all the volumes of goods needed in Western Australia.

“Pacific National alone undertakes about 50 return services each week between Adelaide and Perth. That’s equivalent to 90-kilometres of freight train length each week. Currently, these critical rail freight services are suspended due to the track closure,” he said.

A typical 1800-metre-long double-stacked interstate freight train travelling between Adelaide and Perth (a 2700-kilometre journey which takes between 42 to 46 hours) can haul up to 330 containers. Such a service is equivalent to 140 interstate B-double truck trips (or 280 return trucks trips).

“For added context, a single container can hold up to 50,000 cans of food, 25,000 rolls of toilet paper, 1,500 cases of beer, 900 boxes of bananas, or 100 fridges,” O’Donnell said.

“It’s now time for the Australian Government to commit funds to upgrade this vital piece of national infrastructure. More resilience needs to be built into the existing rail line. I can’t imagine commuters or truckies accepting major regional highways being closed for up to or over a week.

“The Omicron outbreak has already highlighted the unique benefits of hauling large volumes of goods and commodities safely over large distances by rail. It has also shone a spot light on the finely tuned nature of Australia’s national supply chain.”