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Rail needed to improve empty container supply chain in NSW

Rail will be a critical component of a new strategy to increase the efficiency of the empty container supply chain in NSW.

The current inefficiencies of the empty container supply chain cost the NSW economy an extra $49 million per year, according to the NSW Empty Container Supply Chain Study, released this week by Transport for NSW (TfNSW).

As most containers come to Australia full and then leave empty, ensuring that unloaded containers leave their final destination and are turned to port efficiently is a major concern for the freight and logistics industry.

A current lack of capacity at empty container parks will lead to a shortfall of 12,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) by 2031.

The study recommends working with industry, including rail transport operators, to implement a working group to address these issues and increase the use of rail for returning empty containers to stevedore terminals. Other recommendations include accelerating work to enable rail to play a more significant role in the empty container supply chain.

According to a TfNSW spokesperson, the industry working group is currently being established under the Port Transport Logistics Taskforce.

“The working party will aim to support industry to introduce measures to improve efficiencies in the empty container supply chain, including examining options for increasing the use of rail. Operational and administrative solutions will be considered as a priority as part of this work in consultation with industry.”

Some options that the report has suggested include greater bi-directional movement of full and empty containers via rail. This will be needed to enable Port Botany to handle the expected growth in containerised freight, which will rise from 2.29 million TEUs to 7 million by 2040. Rail is expected to handle a much greater proportion of freight, with the aim to handle 28 per cent by 2021.

“Infrastructure improvements will be needed to enable the increased use of rail at Port Botany, including reforms to improve rail window utilisation and the duplication of the Port Botany rail line,” said the TfNSW spokesperson. “Transport for NSW is working with NSW Ports and port operators to understand and monitor industry proposed solutions to improve rail windows at Port Botany.”