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Freight rail personnel travelling from Victoria to NSW will have to apply for a permit, under new regulations imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The new rules were imposed on July 8 and apply to anyone crossing the border from Victoria to NSW. While freight and logistics are exempted from the ban on travelling across the border as they are seen as providing critical services, a permit is required.
A separate permit is being created to clarify conditions for freight and transport operators. This permit will allow freight personnel to travel between NSW and Victoria for the purpose of their duties, as long as their employer has a COVID-19 Safety Plan and does not require them to self-isolate.
Applications for the new freight and transport permit will be live through Service NSW by close of business Thursday, July 9.
When the border closure was initially announced and put in place, freight and logistics operators were required to self-isolate, however chair of the Freight on Rail Group of Australia Dean Dalla Valle welcomed the change to the freight and transport-specific permit.
“Rail maintenance workers, terminal staff and safety compliance officers also need to regularly cross the Victorian-NSW border in cars to service and supervise essential freight train operations,” he said.
“Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole and his key agency staff immediately understood and appreciated these nuanced, daily practical requirements of our sector. He also understood the logistical difficulty of forcing hundreds of train crews to self-isolate for 14-days each time they crossed the border on a freight delivery run.”
Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham also welcomed the NSW governments creation of the freight transport permit.
“ALC has been working with the NSW government and other industry groups over the past day to rectify the impractical requirement for freight transport workers entering NSW from Victoria to self-isolate for 14 days,” he said.
“We are pleased that the NSW Government is now creating a new permit that will allow our industry’s workforce to continue delivering essential goods to communities without being forced into self-isolation.”
Passenger rail between the two states has been halted, with the XPT service from Sydney terminating at Albury.
According to a statement from the Victorian and NSW agriculture ministers, both governments are working to ensure freight can flow across the border.
“We are working closely with our federal and New South Wales counterparts to ensure freight movements across the border can continue and our agricultural products can be delivered to market shelves across Victoria,” said Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes.
NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said that the governments will ensure that the agricultural supply chain will continue operating.
“Agriculture is critical to both our states and to the country, which is why we’ll be working to make sure there’s minimal to no disruption to this essential sector.”
Rail freight and the wider transport sector has been recognised as critical to ensuring Australians can access essential supplies throughout the COVID-19 period. When other state-borders were closed earlier in 2020, exemptions were granted for freight to continue. Coningham said that these procedures should continue.
“Our industry has supported communities right throughout this pandemic, and it’s important governments return that support by ensuring their COVID rules and regulations are practical, workable and allow us to keep delivering.”
Dalla Valle said that the efficiencies of rail had been clearly demonstrated throughout the pandemic.
“What has become crystal clear during the COVID-19 pandemic is the innate power of rail in being able to transport bulk volumes of freight over large distances and state borders in a safe and efficient manner,” he said.
“For example, a typical interstate goods train up to 1,500 metres in length can haul approximately 220 shipping containers, helping to significantly reduce the number of truck (and hence people) movements across state borders.”
Dalla Valle also said that rail was able to ensure that goods are transported via corridors and facilities that did not come into contact with the public.