Friday 25th Sep, 2020

Size, location key to intermodal success on Inland Rail

Simon Ormsby, Australian Rail Track Corporation. Photo: David Sexton
Photo: David Sexton

An expert from the Australian Rail Track Corporation has outlined his keys to success for new intermodal hubs planned along the proposed Inland Rail freight line.

ARTC executive general manager for strategy and corporate development Simon Ormsby spoke last Friday at the Rail Freight Alliance conference in Melbourne.

He said Inland Rail – the proposal to connect Melbourne to Brisbane via a more direct inland route – would not just give a more effective link between the two cities, but would also give Queensland a better link to the western states.

Importantly, he noted, the project will also give a lot of regional areas a far better connection to the major ports of Australia.

That will be useless, however, if intermodal connections to the line are not good enough.

“Unless you’ve actually got the right locations to get the freight onto the network, there’ll be a limit to what you can achieve with Inland Rail,” Ormsby said. “Terminals are a fundamental and critical piece to make Inland Rail succeed… [but] Inland Rail itself won’t guarantee the success of a terminal.”

He noted a number of factors aside from just location that go into making an intermodal hub successful.

“The terminal of the future … does not rely on a single rail connection off the main line, with a bit of hard stand,” he said. “To take advantage of the terminal today … I think it’s essential to have land available alongside the rail facility for industrial facilities, to establish an industrial precinct.”

He said developing an industrial precinct around the terminal minimised the pick-up and delivery leg by aligning the freight distribution centres with the railway hub, and allowed users to take advantage of heavy loading rates on rail compared to road.

He said an intermodal terminal needs to be 200 to 300km from the major port, and needs to handle a minimum of 10,000 twenty-foot containers or equivalent (TEU) annually to be assured of viability.


Inland Rail not necessary yet, but should be soon

Ormsby said the ARTC is not relying on Inland Rail for the continued growth of rail freight, but is instead seeing it as an ideal addition to Australia’s interstate railway network as freight growth takes place down the road.

“We see Inland Rail not as an alternative to that coastal route [between Brisbane and Melbourne], but complementary,” Ormsby explained.

“ARTC has made a big investment in the existing network … as much as we’re supporting Inland Rail as a concept, we’re not waiting for Inland Rail to try and grow freight and volume on the network.”

The government-owned infrastructure owner has invested about $3.5 billion on the coastal route between Melbourne and Brisbane, he explained, and a lot of that money has gone into the corridor between Sydney and Melbourne.

Ormbsy describes the Sydney to Melbourne section of the ARTC network as “the best piece of network we have,” noting it is largely two way, not gradient restricted, and gives direct freight access to each port.

That makes it ideal, he says, for increased rail traffic. And as that happens, Melbourne to Brisbane freight will need to move elsewhere.

“If we achieve our freight targets and some of our freight objectives, and start to put more volume on that Sydney to Melbourne corridor, it is a logical next step that we will take the Melbourne-Brisbane freight, and the Brisbane-Perth freight off that coastal route, and onto Inland Rail.”

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