flood

Monitoring processes improved following rail flood incident

An out of service water level sensor led an Aurizon freight train to plough through flood waters that had inundated a rail bridge near Tully, Queensland, in 2018.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found that the driver had attempted to stop the train before the flooded bridge, but as the bridge was soon after a curve, applying the emergency brake was not enough to stop the Brisbane-bound train.

Following investigations unearthed that the water level sensor at the bridge had been out of service for several weeks, and the crew was not informed that the bridge was flooded. A CCTV camera also installed had an out-of-service illuminator, so was ineffective at night.

Further inquiries by ATSB established that Queensland Rail (QR), the infrastructure operator, could not effectively ensure that network control staff knew that monitoring systems were working or not, especially during conditions such as wet weather. The ATSB also noted that control staff were not required to actively search for information about track conditions ahead of a train when there was a realistic potential that conditions had deteriorated.

“This investigation highlights the importance of having serviceable weather monitoring stations at known flooding locations on a rail network, and ensuring that if these systems are not functioning all relevant parties need to be aware of the defect,” said ATSB director transport safety Mike Walker.

The incident occurred on March 7, 2018, after a significant period of wet weather, the Tully area is also one of the wettest towns in Australia, with an average March rainfall of 756mm. A flood watch had been issued on the afternoon of March 6 for that area.

Due to these conditions QR had placed a speed restriction on the area, limiting the speed of trains so that they could stop short of an obstruction within half the distance of a clear line that was visible ahead.

“Operating under a condition affecting network (CAN) requires effective communication between all relevant parties,” said Walker. “Train controllers need to ensure that all relevant information associated with the network conditions are passed to train crews and track maintenance personnel so that they can effectively perform their roles.”

The train driver and crew were not injured, and following the incident moved the train to the Tully yard.

QR has improved its processes to ensure weather systems are reliable, and that control personnel are aware of any faults. Network control staff have also been trained to proactively monitor network conditions.

ACCC seeks to take Acacia Ridge sale to High Court

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has sought leave to appeal to the High Court Pacific National’s purchase of Aurizon’s Acacia Ridge Terminal.

In May, the Full Federal Court, on appeal, found that the sale would not substantially lessen competition in the rail freight sector.

If the ACCC’s appeal is successful, it will be the first time that the High Court has heard a case with Australia’s merger laws.

Pacific National has criticised the ACCC’s pursual of the case, which had been heard and ruled upon twice at the Federal Court level.

“Pacific National was looking forward to completing the transaction and adding the Acacia Ridge Terminal to its network of efficient freight terminals, and this will once again be delayed while the ACCC seeks to further appeal what Pacific National considered was a comprehensive and correct decision by the Federal Court,” said a Pacific National spokesperson.

Aurizon has said in a statement that it would continue to operate the Acacia Ridge terminal and expected the leave application to be heard and decided before the end of 2020.

The ACCC has been pursuing the case as it sees the case as a test of Australia’s merger laws. In addition, the ACCC is attempting to seek a finding as to whether a court can accept an undertaking after finding a proposed acquisition is anti-competitive.

“We are seeking special leave to appeal to the High Court because it is vital for Australian businesses and consumers that competition laws are effective in protecting the competitive process,” said Simms.

Pacific National had offered to make an access undertaking which the Federal Court had initially accepted. On appeal the Full Federal Court found that the undertaking was not needed.

Simms said that the Full Federal Court’s decision did not recognise the impact of Pacific National’s purchase of the Acacia Ridge terminal.

“We believe that the Full Federal Court’s decision does not recognise the full impact of the proposed acquisition on competition in this vitally important industry.”

Achieving sustainability

Australia’s largest rail infrastructure project, Inland Rail and Australia’s largest rail freight operator, Aurizon, share how they’re meeting sustainability targets.

Successful management of sustainability- related targets requires a collaborative effort. Once the 1,700km rail network is complete, Inland Rail will be the backbone of Australia’s national freight rail network. The scale and the significance of the project creates an opportunity to set new benchmarks and standards in environmental and socio- economic performance.

Similarly, as the operator of a rail network distributed across regional Australia, Aurizon’s has the potential to contribute to sustainability in the communities in which it operates. The company’s sustainability strategy sets out that it aims to achieve resilience and resourcefulness through the transportation of bulk goods and commodities. While environmental strategies are an essential focus for both Aurizon and Inland Rail’s network, social sustainability is key facet of their approach to sustainability.

Most directly, social sustainability is promoted by both network managers in the design, maintenance and construction of rail track and associated infrastructure. As Inland Rail is transitioning from the design phase to construction, the company is primarily focused on benefiting regional towns along the alignment over the next stages of the project. Meanwhile, Aurizon is ensuring it is sustaining employment and enhancing businesses in the non-metropolitan areas of its rail network.

Creating opportunities for the development of a skilled local workforce through construction and operation is helping to deliver key national priorities for infrastructure and economic policy. In Inland Rail and Aurizon’s respective rail transport system, linking communities and strengthening the rail and national supply chain industries go hand in hand.

INLAND RAIL’S SUSTAINABLE PRIORITIES
Richard Wankmuller, Inland Rail CEO, stated in last year’s annual sustainability report that Inland Rail’s focus on social, environmental, and economic sustainability ensures the organisation is continuously striving to deliver the best possible outcomes for communities and the natural environment. Wankmuller acknowledged in the 2018-19 report that the once-in-a-generation rail project is only in its early phase, enabling Inland Rail to provide a unique opportunity to influence the effectiveness, benefits, and outcomes from its model for future rail infrastructure.

With the first stage of construction of the 103km Parkes to Narromine project expected to be completed in mid-2020, the billions of dollars invested to create the Brisbane to Melbourne rail freight network is also an investment for local communities and affected landowners to mitigate long-term economic and environmental impacts and create ongoing community benefits. With the separate sections of Inland Rail’s alignment at under varying stages of development, going forward, the sustainability program will commence annual public reporting of environmental and socio- economic benefits realised during the design and construction of the program.

According to Rebecca Pickering, Inland Rail director of engagement, environment, and property, Inland Rail is aiming to establish a new sustainability benchmark for environmental and socio-economic performance for Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) operations and the rail industry more widely. “Our engineers don’t need prompting about Inland Rail’s sustainability opportunities. Largely in this design phase, the team is driving smarter and innovative strategies that have never been seen in the industry before,” she said.

Pickering credits the wider strategic business framework of Inland Rail for empowering regional and local communities to take advantage of the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of procurement that will be generated during construction of the Inland Rail alignment. “To achieve our vision, we need to be innovative, agile and global in our thinking. Sustainability provides a framework to drive and support this culture,” she said.

Pickering said the environmental, social, and cultural outcomes are of equal importance to Inland Rail’s economic objectives. “We’ve already achieved success in managing impacts and creating connectivity in regional communities. A major chunk of recent success is the ability to provide sustainable jobs, which has been crucial during the current state of the economy,” she said. At the peak of construction, Inland Rail will create more than 16,000 direct and indirect jobs. An additional 700 ongoing jobs will be created once Inland Rail is operational. Pickering said $89 million has been spent with local businesses on-top of wages and every stage of construction is another opportunity to improve engagement and achieve ongoing sustainability.

“Not everything is set in stone, it’s a changing landscape so it’s super exciting and inspiring to connect so many regional communities. Recycling of materials, further consultation, and exceeding sustainability requirements are a focus as our strategies evolve,” Pickering said.

AURIZON’S SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Aurizon’s reporting of its environmental, social, and financial sustainability has given an insight into how the ASX-listed company is managing the impact of a widely dispersed railway network throughout central Queensland. According to its 2019 sustainably report, Aurizon is committed to continuing its strong track record in supporting a highly efficient and globally competitive supply chain for Australian commodity exports, especially for coal. Aurizon takes a direct approach to reporting environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosures to stakeholders with the publication of its annual Sustainability Report. In August 2019, Aurizon maintained a ‘Leading’ rating for the fifth consecutive year from the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) for corporate sustainability reporting in Australia. Having received this rating for over four consecutive years, Aurizon has again been considered a ‘leader’ by ACSI, along with 45 other ASX200 companies.

Andrew Harding, Aurizon CEO and managing director said it’s important that the company creates a business that is not only strong commercially and performs well for customers, but also plays a positive role in the regional communities. “It is a genuine demonstration that while we develop our business and operations to ensure the company’s ongoing success, it is the strength, resilience and resourcefulness of our people that are key to our sustainability,” Harding stated in the opening to Aurizon’s most recent sustainability report.

An Aurizon spokesperson said the company’s current priority and focus is sustainably managing the business through the COVID-19  pandemic.“Understanding our material impacts is necessary to develop our strategy and operate sustainably, and that addressing these impacts is key in creating sustainable value for our stakeholders,” the spokesperson said.

Sustainability is central to Aurizon’s response to the current challenging times. “Our core value is safety, and Aurizon has implemented a range of proactive and practical measures to protect the health and safety of employees as well as provide business continuity to our customers. We cannot achieve operational performance objectives or maintain our social licence to operate unless we ensure the safety of our employees, our contractors, and our communities,” the spokesperson said.

Aurizon reset its strategic framework in 2018. Since the re-modelling to ensure the sustainable success of the business, the new Strategy in Action framework has been driving focus in Aurizon’s short-term activity within a framework of what is required for long-term growth and success. “We strive to ensure that our sustainability framework reflects significant economic, environmental, and social priorities that may influence strategic decision-making or have significant impacts on our business and our key stakeholders. As such, we continuously assess the material issues that affect our business, our stakeholders, and our operating environment,” the spokesperson said.

In taking a broad approach to sustainability, both Aurizon and Inland rail demonstrate the importance of resilient freight rail transport networks to the ongoing vitality of regional communities.

Federal Court dismisses ACCC appeal against sale of Acacia Ridge terminal

The Federal Court of Australia has upheld the acquisition of the Acacia Ridge intermodal terminal by Pacific National.

In a judgement delivered on May 6, the Full Court of the Federal Court dismissed an appeal by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) against the sale of the terminal by Aurizon to Pacific National and upheld Pacific National’s cross appeal.

The appeal is the latest in a long-running legal process since the $205 million sale was announced in 2017. After the sale was announced, the ACCC blocked the sale and commenced legal action to prevent Pacific National from purchasing the terminal. A Federal Court challenge in July 2018 led to the Court dismissing the ACCC’s challenge. Subsequently, the ACCC appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court.

The Federal Court has now found that the sale does not breach the Competition and Consumer Act. In addition, the court found that the undertaking that Pacific National agreed to, that would increase competition, was unneeded. In a statement, Pacific National welcomed the court’s decision.

“Pacific National welcomes today’s judgment and is looking forward to adding the Acacia Ridge Terminal (south of Brisbane) to its nationwide network of efficient rail freight depots, terminals and hubs.”

Aurizon also welcomed the court’s findings.

“Aurizon welcomes the certainty delivered by the Court today – for our business, our employees and our shareholders. It is almost three years since the sale of the Terminal was announced in August 2017 and two years since the ACCC initiated proceedings in the Federal Court in July 2018,” the company said in a statement.

ACCC chair Rod Simms said that the case would be looked at for what effect it has on mergers in Australia.

“We will now carefully consider the Full Court’s judgment. The ACCC will continue to consider what changes are needed to make Australia’s merger laws work in the way they need to, to safeguard the economy from highly concentrated markets.”

In the earlier Federal Court proceedings, Pacific National had unconditionally offered to not discriminate in providing access to other rail operators. The ACCC rejected this undertaking, however the court found in 2019 that the offered undertaking would have the effect of enabling competition. The ACCC had then appealed the decision based on the Court’s acceptance of the undertaking.

“Pacific National is actively working to ensure the many social, environmental and economic benefits of rail freight are realised throughout Australia’s transport supply chain, including the future Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail,” said Pacific National in a statement.

Container rail into Port Botany. Photo: Sydney Ports

Extra freight trains threaded through the Sydney network

Extra freight services have been running across the Sydney network to service the increased demand for essential supplies and to ensure Australia’s exports get to ports.

Chair of the Freight on Rail Group of Australia, Dean Dalla Valle, highlighted that by working with the Transport for NSW Freight Access and Performance Unit and the Rail Operations Centre (ROC) extra capacity on Sydney’s normally busy network has been opened up.

“Freeing up extra paths on Sydney’s rail network, notably for goods trains, is a smart, quick and cost-efficient way to help support and amplify critical freight activity in the economy.

“It means freight trains can access more paths during peak morning and afternoon periods, which normally would not be available, to better service the transport supply chain.”

Under normal conditions, freight trains cannot run on the Sydney network between 6am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm due to the priority being given to commuter services, and access is limited on the shoulder of these peaks. In all, there is only 10 hours of access for freight trains to vital ports such as Botany, Kembla, and Newcastle.

Access to Port Botany, in particular, is restricted, being located just south of the Sydney CBD and accessible via some of the most heavily congested lines in the network. However, Dalla Valle noted, the Sydney network is a critical hub for freight in NSW.

“For example, each day thousands of import and export shipping containers arriving or leaving Port Botany pass through key rail depots and terminals at Chullora, Enfield, Minto, Cooks River and Moorebank,” he said.

“Similarly, goods trains running between Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have to be threaded through the Flemington rail junction – rail’s equivalent of passing through the eye of a national logistics needle.

“Likewise, grain originating from central west NSW to be converted into food and industrial ingredients like flour, starch, and ethanol at Manildra Group’s Nowra facility is hauled via the Flemington junction to eventually join the South Coast-Illawarra railway line,” said Dalla Valle.

With demand for household goods increasing and key supplies such as ethanol for handsantiser more essential than ever, having easy access to the Sydney network is critical for the national supply chain to function smoothly.

“Every grocery item delivered to a supermarket, every batch of medical supplies made available to hospitals, every tonne of grain delivered to a flour mill or ethanol plant, every tonne of coking coal delivered to a steel mill, or every tonne of thermal coal delivered to a power station to provide baseload electricity to Australian cities and towns – all this counts,” said Dalla Valle.

As the economy starts to get going again, having smooth and efficient supply chains will only become more critical, said Dalla Valle.

“Economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will benefit greatly from essential rail freight services having greater access in the future to the Sydney Trains’ network.

“Our proud sector helps underpin a vital and finely tuned component of our economy. If we don’t plug away 24/7, 365 days of the year, rain, hail or shine then the arteries of our economic trade will quickly clog up,” he said.

To limit the possibility of any spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) strict protocols have been put in place at depots, terminals, and maintenance facilities.

The Freight on Rail Group of Australia is made of up major rail freight businesses including Pacific National, Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), One Rail Australia, Aurizon, Qube Holdings, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, WatCo Australia and Southern Shorthaul Railroad (SSR).

Operators meeting strengthening demand for rail freight

Figures released by Aurizon show that there has been greater demand for rail freight services in the March quarter of 2020.

The Queensland based business, which operates the Central Queensland Coal Network, as well as coal services in NSW and South East Queensland and national freight services, saw a 2 per cent increase in total above rail volumes when compared to the 2019 March quarter.

The growth was driven by a 12 per cent increase in bulk volumes, however coal volumes remained flat.

In an ASX statement, the company attributed the growth to strong volumes of iron ore from Mt Gibson, in the Kimberly and Mid West of Western Australia. However, the overall level of growth in the bulk sector was affected by the flooding of the Mt Isa line in the March quarter last year, which restricted volumes in that period.

The flat demand for coal volumes were affected by the ramp down of New Acland mine, industrial action and adverse weather in February and march which impacted the Centre Queensland Coal Network.

Aurizon also noted that there has been greater demand for freight rail services from Linfox due to increased demand for consumer goods during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Aurizon has put in place extra preventative measures and there have been no cases of COVID-19 among Aurizon employees.

Linfox has been redeploying some of its workforce from affected operations to manage this demand for grocery products and the company is ensuring that supply chains remain open, said Linfox Logistics CEO Australia and New Zealand, Mark Mazurek.

“It is critically important that Linfox’s warehousing, road and rail networks continue to function safely and efficiently and that we can work collaboratively to deploy our people into new roles.”

Extra services running to transport household items

Linfox Logistics and Aurizon have upped their weekly intermodal services by 20 per cent, to meet the needs of households across Queensland and Australia.

Aurizon has added a number of northbound services from Brisbane, carrying finished products including food, groceries, and beverages in Linfox containers, with these carriages then filled with fresh produce on the return leg from Central and North Queensland.

The trains have been travelling between Brisbane and Cairns, Innisfail, Townsville, Bowen, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Emerald, Alpha, Barcaldine, Longreach, and Winton.

According to Linfox Logistics CEO Australia and New Zealand, Mark Mazurek, each extra rail services is equal to 80 B-double trucks.

“Collectively, we have mobilised a significant number of additional truck and train services to ensure essential items flow through to regional Queenslanders,” he said.

“Everything from groceries, to cleaning and personal care products, to fresh produce from Far North Queensland farms are delivered via these critical networks.”

In delivering these extra services, both Linfox and Aurizon have ensured that they meet and exceed health and safety measures. With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a focus on health and safety is more important than ever, said Aurizon group executive bulk, Clay McDonald.

“This applies not only in their everyday roles in the transport and logistics business but also in practicing safe distancing, enhanced cleaning procedures and high levels of workplace hygiene,” he said.

“Together, we are pleased that our supply chain is delivering such an important service to the community during a very testing time for customers and communities across Queensland.”

Linfox Logistics, which began in the road freight sector, has recently expanded its rail freight operations, purchasing Aurizon’s Queensland intermodal business a year ago. Linfox owns depots, rail wagons, and 4,500 specialised rail

Aurizon purchases bulk transport and handling business

Aurizon has acquired Townsville Bulk Storage and Handling (TBSH) to grow its capacity to shift bulk freight in North Queensland.

Finalised on March 21, the acquisition expands Aurizon’s bulk freight business and the company will be now known as Aurizon Port Services. According to an Aurizon spokesperson, the acquisition comes as Aurizon looks to grow its business.

“Aurizon has been assessing growth opportunities for our bulk business to extend supply chain services beyond our core rail capability.”

The purchase enables Aurizon to provide bulk transport, handling, and stevedoring services in North Queensland, and extends capabilities across its North Queensland network.

“In the future, our Mt Isa and Cloncurry terminals will aggregate products that will be railed directly into the newly-acquired business providing a fully integrated service with significant benefits for customers,” said the Aurizon spokesperson.

The acquisition is hoped to complement Aurizon’s existing rail services. The Mt Isa line connects to the Port of Townsville, where commodities extracted from the North West Minerals province are transported for export.

“Aurizon continues to have an optimistic outlook for bulk commodity markets within Australia – products that are required to support the demands of the modern economy and a general increase in living standards throughout the world,” said the spokesperson.

Aurizon’s bulk business transports mineral commodities, agricultural products, mining and industrial inputs, and general freight throughout Queensland and Western Australia. In the last year, Aurizon has significantly grown its bulk segment of the business with a 208 per cent increase in earnings before tax, interest and depreciation.

Joint communiqué affirms indispensability of rail freight

Australia’s largest rail freight operators and infrastructure managers have welcomed statements by Australian governments ensuring that rail freight services continue despite state border closures and shutdowns of non-essential services.

Chair of the the Freight on Rail Group, Dean Dalla Valle highlighted that rail freight services are critical for the supply of domestic and imported goods such as food, medical supplies, cleaning products, and fuel.

“Paddock to port, pit to port, or manufacturing plant to port – essential rail freight services stretch across state borders, servicing finely-tuned supply chains across our continent,” he said.

In collaboration with truck drivers working the ‘last mile’ of supply chains, rail services have hauled significant amounts of items in urgent need during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“A single-stacked 1,800-metre interstate goods train can haul 260 shipping containers, thereby helping to free-up hundreds of truck drivers each week to focus on delivering goods and products the remaining ‘last mile’ from warehouses to stores where consumers need shelves restocked,” said Dalla Valle.

“To put this in perspective, a single shipping container can hold approximately 25,000 toilet paper rolls, 55,000 food cans or 1,500 cases of beer.”

The move follows a meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council, made up of state, territory and federal infrastructure and transport ministers, on Wednesday, March 25, which affirmed that freight movements are an essential service, and will continue to operate despite restrictions on activity around the country.

“We, Australia’s Transport and Infrastructure Ministers, wanted to reassure Australians that supporting freight movements and supply of goods to individuals, businesses and service providers is a high priority for all governments,” wrote the ministers in a joint communique.

While Queensland was the latest state to close its borders, following Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Tasmania, the ministers confirmed that these would not inhibit the efficient movement of freight across Australia.

“All jurisdictions where restrictions are in place have provided exemptions to these measures to ensure Australia’s supply chains are maintained,” wrote the ministers.

“We want to thank all those Australians involved in the freight industry who are serving Australia so diligently despite the challenges we face.”

To ensure that rail freight operators do not become susceptible to COVID-19, additional measures have been put in place, said Dalla Valle.

“In recent weeks, rail freight operators have implemented strict hygiene protocols at depots, terminals and maintenance facilities, including social distancing, to protect the health of essential staff,” he said.

“Rail freight has the added benefit of operating within secure railway corridors and facilities prohibited to members of the general public.”

The Freight on Rail Group is made up of nine rail freight businesses, Pacific National, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), Aurizon, Qube, One Rail Australia, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, WatCo Australia, and Southern Shorthaul Railroad.

Qube

Rail stocks see rebound

While stock markets around the globe have seen a series of wild weeks with swings some of the largest they have been for a century, one area of safety is rail freight.

ASX-traded Aurizon (AZJ) received a significant bump in trading, up 3.85 per cent over the past five days of trading. The stock was reportedly selected by Swiss investment bank UBS as one of the best defensive stock bets in Australian markets.

“We like [gas pipeline owner] APA and AZJ as they are two income names with highly defensive dividends given their ‘take-or-pay’ structure,” a UBS analyst told financial markets site The Motley Fool.

Aurizon’s share price has been lifted by stock buybacks by the company, as well as targeted buying by insiders, including chairman Timothy Poole and non-executive director Michael Fraser, how both bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of Aurizon stock, according to finance watcher Simply Wall St.

Other rail stocks that have been weathering the financial storm during COVID-19 is logistics provider Qube. The company, listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) as QUB, grew by 3.76 per cent over the past five days.

Although rallies elsewhere in markets have been driven by speculation on the size of the US stimulus and it passing through the legislature there, the strong performance of Aurizon and Qube could be linked to their role in continuing to move freight despite shutdowns elsewhere in the economy,