Increase in freight services to meet consumer demand

Pacific National has increased key interstate freight services by up to 15 per cent to meet consumer demand.

According to Pacific National CEO, Dean Dalla Valle, extra services have between all mainland state capitals.

“For example, in terms of goods trains operating back and forth across the Nullarbor between Melbourne and Perth, we have lifted the number of services by 15 per cent in the last two weeks,” he said.

“Similarly, to meet customer requirements, Pacific National had increased rail freight services between Melbourne and Brisbane by 8 per cent.”

Pacific National has also been looking to streamline operations due to the unpredictability of current conditions.

“A zeal for constant innovation and a laser-focus on customer needs, both in frontline operations and the corporate centre, is vital,” said Dalla Valle.

“In these rapidly changing times, management and frontline staff must explore every operational and commercial angle to maintain an edge in the marketplace.”

To accommodate the increase in services, operating hours at freight terminals have been extended, consolidated assembly and staging of goods trains at Port Augusta, in South Australia.

“Port Augusta is at a key crossroad in the national supply chain, acting as an ideal launch pad location to provide high capacity rail freight services to every corner of the continent.”

Each of the 40 rail services that Pacific National have been operating back and forth across the Nullarbor have ensured that Western Australia remains connected to the rest of the nation, with 60 per cent of goods arriving in the state carried by rail.

Rail freight services have been particularly key during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown as they operate on separate corridors, reducing the potential for contagion.

“The health and safety of our train crews are paramount, and I’m immensely proud of their ongoing efforts and dedication,” said Dalla Valle, who noted that hygiene and social distancing procedures are strictly adhered to.

Increased appetite for air to rail switch

If concerns around climate change were not enough, modelling by Swiss bank UBS is showing that more people will be looking to switch from air to train travel in Europe following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The report, released by UBS Evidence Lab, highlights that a number of air routes within the EU are at risk of losing passengers to rail. Those most at risk include routes from Berlin to Frankfurt and Munich, London to Paris and Edinburgh, and Madrid to Barcelona.

While most of the routes most affected are relatively short, the report notes that travellers are having an increasingly higher tolerance to longer rail journeys, which could be taken faster by plane in the same corridor.

“Data from a UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1,000 people in four European countries and China suggests leisure travellers would tolerate 5-6 hours on a train, and EU business travellers up to four hours vs the general consensus of 2-3 hours.”

The report notes that service and frequency are drivers for demand for longer train journeys, and that competition among operators can often encourage improvements in these areas.

The report links the growing appetite for rail to current concerns about COVID-19, as well as wider demands for net-zero carbon by 2050.

“The Covid-19 outbreak is showing industrialised countries not only what clean air means and how to cope without travelling, but also how a cleaner environment and healthier populations cope better with diseases.”

While the report authors note that some low-carbon investments may be diverted to support the transport and travel industries, countries will continue to push towards net zero by 2050, while consumers will continue to look for travel options that take the least time. Increased funding to meet these twin demands will grow the market for European high-speed rail and associated supplies of rollingstock, signalling, controls, and brakes.

Source : UBS Evidence Lab

Real time data assisting social distancing

To enable commuters to continue travelling safely and to protect the health of staff, Auckland Transport (AT) has updated the AT Mobile app to allow train passengers to see if physical distancing will be possible before they board the train.

The app displays a live occupancy status, whether the train is likely empty, likely space available, likely near the limit of safe distancing, and likely not accepting passengers. The live data is drawn from tap on and off points, where travellers have used their AT HOP cards.

Across the AT network, 15,000 trips are being made per day, despite the New Zealand government’s Level 4 restrictions. These journeys are being made by essential workers, those needing to travel for medical reasons, or to access essential services.

According to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, the solution was developed in a rapid time frame.

“It enables AT to ensure that it meets the rule of trains as well of buses running at no more than 20 per cent capacity to ensure passengers can maintain 2 metres of separation. This allows passengers travelling to essential work or to access essential services to know that they will be safe using public transport,” he said.

Once the lockdown period is over, users will continue to have access to the service, to avoid crowding and provide better customer information.

The service was previously available on buses, and was rolled out to trains this week, noted AT chief executive Shane Ellison.

“Those who are travelling on trains for essential trips are now able to make an informed decision about which service to take for their health and safety. I’m very proud of the team for making this update happen so quickly.”

Other updates are providing clearer information on updates to the transport network.

In Australia, while Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is not currently considering using real time data to assist passengers with social distancing, there are other ways for passengers to learn about train occupancy levels.

“TfNSW already provides passenger load data for bus and train services to apps such as TripView and NextThere which can assist customers with selecting the most suitable service to board,” said a TfNSW spokesperson.

Although patronage dropped by 75 to 85 per cent in the four weeks to March 31 across all modes in NSW, services are continuing to be maintained.

“TfNSW understands the important role public transport plays in the daily lives of commuters, especially in the regions, and there are currently no plans to reduce services of trains, buses and ferries across the vast network,” said the spokesperson.

“By maintaining the existing level of service on the NSW public transport network, customers are able to better practice social distancing when using the network for essential travel.”

Rail R U OK?Day updated with COVID-19 resources

The importance of looking out for friends, colleagues, and mates in the rail industry has only been further highlighted this year with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As routines are upended and social distancing is adhered to, loneliness and isolation can be further compounded, while obligations to look out for family members, partners and, friends outside of work can increase.

With these factors in mind, the TrackSAFE Foundation has reaffirmed that Rail R U OK?Day will continue as scheduled on Thursday, April 30. In addition, TrackSAFE has released additional materials relevant to the current working environment.

Resources that TrackSAFE have collated include updates to the RailRes App, as well as support and counselling services provided by Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and the National Mental Health Commission.

Additionally, R U OK? CEO, Katherine Newton has released a special message to encourage people to stay connected and give practical tips to stay in contact despite physical distancing laws. This messages has been supplemented by Connection Cards, which can be distributed without contact.

Materials to encourage electronic communication and online events have also been uploaded to the TrackSAFE website.

Ahead of this year’s Rail R U OK?Day organisations and participants can draw on the five years of successful R U OK?Days since 2015, with 55,000 rail employees participating in 2019. Over 70 rail companies are registered for the initiative and 105 Champions will facilitate the day.

This year, the two interactive question marks, Quentin and Quinn, departed from Canberra, with Major Projects Canberra, Canberra Metre Operations and Transport Canberra and City Services hosting the beginning of the seven week journey. This year was the first time that organisations in Canberra had participated in the Rail R U OK?Day.

Rail the backbone of reliable international freight

Although the coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused major disruptions to international supply chains, not all freight and logistics networks have been affected equally.

As countries around the globe have closed their borders to air freight, due to the restrictions on passenger flights which carry most airborne cargo, shipments via rail have continued unabated, including long haul routes from China to Europe. Additionally, seaborne freight has been first hit by shutdowns in China and now by lockdowns in the US and Europe, causing freight liners with large capacities to cut back services.

Into this situation has come rail freight, which within Europe has bypassed kilometres long lines of trucks stops at internal borders, and has picked up the slack left by ocean-going lines being reduced. In mid-March, DHL announced that while routes via air were uncertain and blank sailings (cancelled ship cargo services), rail freight continued as normal.

“All DHL Global Forwarding Rail services, including FCL and LCL service from China to Europe (Westbound) and Europe to China (Eastbound), continue normal operations,” the company announced on March 10.

More recently, Finnish logistics operator, Nurminen Logistics has announced the schedules of its Helsinki, Finland to Hefei, China service. Senior vice president sales, Mikko Järvinen, said that flexibility is key.

“Everyone has had to improvise with these disturbances in international logistics. One of the tools we have had for our customers has been the fast cargo train service,” he said.

With the demand for essential medical supplies more critical than ever, and with China manufacturing many of these goods, a reliable shipping option has needed to be found, and in this case, that has been rail.

According to Chinese media agency Xinhua, the first quarter of 2020 saw a 15 per cent increase in freight rail trips between China and Europe, and an 18 per cent increase in freight units. From March 21 until the beginning of April, China had sent 333,800 pieces of epidemic control supplies via rail to Italy, Spain and other European nations.

Within Europe, logistics operators were hit hard by border closures within the Schengen zone. Which in one case at the border between Germany and Poland led to a line of trucks stretching for 50 kilometres. In the Czech Republic, the border into Slovakia is clogged with 30 kilometres of trucks. Rail, however, is continuing across borders without any stops with Austrian operator Rail Cargo Group announcing on March 24 that all freight trains are running on schedule without any restrictions.

Furthermore, rail has also proven its flexibility. In one instance, an urgent shipment of pasta from Italy to Germany was hauled by rail at short notice. DB Schenker transported 400,000 packages of pasta, over 200 tonnes, for retailer Aldi.

“The current Coronavirus pandemic emphasises the importance of reliable supply chains. Logistics keeps the world running, as demonstrated by our solution for ALDI to transport pasta from Italy to Germany on short notice,” said Christian Drenthen, board member for land transport at DB Schenker.

Freight networks ensuring safe operations continue

Freight operators and network owners around Australia continue to serve businesses and communities, and Tasmania is no exception.

CEO of government-owned TasRail, Steven Dietrich, reminded Tasmanians this morning that the state’s freight rail owner and operator is continuing to provide rail-based freight services across the 611 kilometres of operational network.

In the statement, Dietrich noted that like other operators, hygiene and cleaning practices have been stepped up in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“To keep our teams healthy we have been working hard to implement best-practice hygiene and physical distancing measures at our sites around the state, protecting essential frontline staff, and coordinating working from home and split-shift operations where possible.”

As federal and state transport ministers have reaffirmed that rail freight is an essential service, Dietrich reminded the community that trains will be continuing to operate and that people should remain safe around the rail corridor, which includes over 500 level crossings around the state.

“Working together we will keep the critical freight services operating and continue to provide Tasmanians with the goods they require access to at this time.”

In a written statement, CEO and managing director of the Australian Rail Track Corporation John Fullerton also noted that rail freight would continue, and the network owner would be providing a safe network and progressing major projects in NSW, Victoria, and South Australia, as well as the Inland Rail project.

“While it is positive the freight and logistics industry and the works supporting these sectors have been recognised as essential services, we also recognise that in our continued operations we have a significant responsibility to the ongoing health and safety of our people as well as the communities in which we operate. This includes a range of preventative actions to minimise risk, adjustments to existing work practices and to actively plan for the health and people effects of COVID-19,” wrote Fullerton.

Many ARTC staff are working from home and those on-site are following guidance and social distancing and hygiene. Additionally, travel is being limited, and work is being carried out by locally based employees and contractors.

Fullerton highlighted that demand for predictable and reliable freight deliveries is critical.

“The ARTC team remains committed to ensuring that the rail network is managed and maintained safely, and the major projects the economy needs are delivered successfully. That remains our focus and commitment to our customers, stakeholders and the community,’ wrote Fullerton.

Freight and logistics councils streamline movement of goods

The freight industries in Western Australia and South Australia have each joined together to provide an efficient source of information for freight operators during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

In WA, the Freight and Logistics Council of WA (FLCWA), along has formed the WA Supply Chain Covid Response Group. The group brings together the FLCWA, Northern Territory Road Transport Association, and Western Roads Federation to ensure the safety of workers and the continuing supply of essential goods.

Leading the group will be Nicole Lockwood, chair of FLCWA, and the combined group will provide a single source of information to the WA and Northern Territory governments and agencies on behalf of the freight and logistics industries.

“We’re here to help any freight company who requires assistance in dealing with operational impacts due to Covid-19 and encourage them to get in contact with us,” said Lockwood.

Since its formation two weeks ago, the response group has been providing advice on the impact of border closures and supported the delivery of products such as hand sanitiser to the freight industry.

“Our key priority is the safety of all workforce involved to maintain the movement of food, medical supplies and general freight. I’d like to acknowledge the dedication from the front-line truck drivers, train drivers and Port workers in ensuring essential goods are kept flowing into Western Australia,” said Lockwood.

WA network operator Arc Infrastructure has been planning for the COVID-19 pandemic since February to ensure that operations continue. Those who can work from home are doing so, and while regional depots and head office remain open, face-to-face meetings are limited unless business critical.

Arc Infrastructure has also implemented new control centres in the metro area, increasing the number of available train controllers, decentralising work locations, and making sure that expertise and qualifications are evenly spread across the network.

In South Australia, Minister for Trade and Investment, David Ridgway, has formed the Export Recovery Taskforce to support South Australian freight businesses overcome the economic effects of COVID-19.

“South Australia has an immense task ahead of us, and the impacts of COVID-19 are being felt across all export sectors. We recognise the enormous economic and logistical issues challenging our industries, businesses and individuals right now as a result of the necessary restrictions on travel,” said Ridgway.

While international air freight has been restricted, ports and ship-borne freight remain operating. According to Evan Knapp, executive officer of the SA Freight Council, while the initial focus is on shipments via air, future discussions could incorporate impacts to goods shipped by rail, for example grain.

“Rail is still moving relatively well at this stage. Grain has been affected by the massive change in value of our currency which will have short term impacts, but in the longer term the currency depreciation will make Australian goods much more attractive in markets around the world.”

Knapp added that the SA Freight Council and others have reiterated to governments that rail workers and rail safety workers are essential workers and must be permitted to cross state borders to make urgent repairs to rail networks, when required.

3D printing expertise called in for fight against COVID-19

The skills and expertise of the rail industry have not only been demonstrated in ensuring that the movement of people and goods is uninhibited during the corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In Barcelona, railcar and signalling manufacturer Alstom has been utilising the knowledge of its industrial prototyping team to build visors for face shields and ventilator valves which are being delivered to hospitals.

The initiative is in partnership with 3Dcovid19.org which has been coordinating additive manufacturing facilities to provide parts for the healthcare sector in Spain.

“3D printing has gained prominence due to its particular usefulness for creating equipment to protect against COVID-19, as it can be used to manufacture materials currently suffering severe shortages such as face masks, mechanical respirators and even door openers, among others,” said Jaume Altesa, who heads Alstom’s 3D printing hub in Santa Perpètua, Barcelona.

“The aim is to help the healthcare community by manufacturing parts that meet appropriate quality and safety standard.”

Due to the rapid modifications enabled by 3D printing, developers and designers that previously produced parts for new trains have pivoted to making in-demand medical supplies.

At the same facilities, computer aided design (CAD) experts are working on portable personal protectors for door handles and incorporating new anti-bacterial materials in masks.

When not working on products to equip front-line health workers, Alstom’s 3D printing division works to make prototypes and 3D printed parts quickly and cost-competitively for new trains and for customers who require spare parts, while also facilitating manufacturing and maintenance operations. The company’s “Industry of the Future” programme is part of the Smart Operations initiative. Internally, 3D printing is used to make tools for factories, prototypes for design validation, rapidly made mould and series parts with roughly 70 references in plastic and metal.

Stimulus a welcome boost for rail industry

Yesterday, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the $130 billion wage subsidy package.

The announcement goes well beyond previous stimulus packages by giving 6 million workers a flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight, through their employer.

The assistance is available to businesses with a turnover of less than $1 billion and have had a reduction in revenue of 30 per cent or more in a month since March 1, 2020. The expansion of eligibility means that many more companies will have access to these funds than previous measures.

For companies in the rail industry, such funding could be a lifeline to hold onto staff who may have otherwise been let go said Dennis Mah – strategy and commercial development – at Sonaray, which supplies lighting to rail projects.

“We will be taking advantage of all the government packages to retain all staff as long as possible. Luckily our over heads are not that high but when there is no or limited cash flow it hurts the bottom line,” said Mah.

Announcing the measures, Morrison noted that the funds will help businesses survive through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“This is about keeping the connection between the employer and the employee and keeping people in their jobs even though the business they work for may go into hibernation and close down for six months,” he said.

“When the economy comes back, these businesses will be able to start again and their workforce will be ready to go because they will remain attached to the business through our JobKeeper payment.”

According to Mah, however, there is further room for companies in the rail sector in particular to complete works now that would otherwise not be done.

“This could be the ideal time to access a lot of areas where normally it is restricted due to high pedestrian traffic.”

Now is the time for Team Australia

Not since World War II has Australia’s social and economic way of life been put under such pressure. Businesses are struggling or closing, thousands have already lost their jobs, governments are shutting down all non-essential activities, and millions are working from home.

Australia’s Reserve Bank has slashed interest rates to record lows and governments are spending tens of billions to help stabilise the economy.

Anxiety is gripping the nation, with panic buying of food and household items by nervous consumers.

Now is the time for Team Australia to kick in.

What many Australians may not realise is the army of essential freight and logistic workers toiling day and night to help keep our economy ticking over. They are making sure necessities and raw materials find their way to supermarkets, retail stores, petrol stations, warehouses, steel and flour mills, and manufacturing plants.

As Australia’s largest rail freight company, Pacific National is proud to be doing our part, hauling the nation’s goods and commodities 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year along railways linking key supply chains across our vast continent.

Without goods trains, domestic and imported products like food, clothing, medical and pharmaceutical supplies, cleaning products, fuel, household products, chemicals, electronics, steel, and machinery and parts cannot be efficiently transported to depots and warehouses between cities and regional towns.

A double-stacked 1,800-metre interstate goods train can haul more than 330 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.

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.

Without freight trains, bulk exports like grain, meat, fresh and dry produce, cotton and coal cannot be efficiently hauled to ports, the gateways to global markets.

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

Our company has been providing essential rail freight services since 1855. Back then we were called New South Wales Government Railways.

Today, our 600 locomotives are crewed and serviced by 2,500 men and women right across the nation. Each day and night they clock onto their shifts after practicing strict hygiene and social distancing procedures. Rail freight has the added benefit of operating within railway corridors and depots prohibited to the public.

The health and safety of our train crews are paramount, and I’m immensely proud of their efforts and dedication.

Unless ill or otherwise required by law, these crews continue to run essential freight train services around the clock. Without them, critical supply chains across state borders will break. Largely out of sight, each day they help underpin the productivity and wealth of our nation.

We thank federal and state governments for working closely with our sector during this challenging time. They moved quickly to protect the nation’s supply chains.

So next time you see a big blue and yellow Pacific National locomotive, take comfort knowing there is an army of freight and logistic workers doing their bit for Team Australia.

Dean Dalla Valle
Pacific National CEO