NSW EPA trying to put the brakes on rail freight

Draft changes to NSW environmental standards could end regional branch freight lines, warns an alliance of rail industry leaders.

The joint letter signed by freight operators, farmers, and grain growers, and seen by Rail Express, responds to draft NSW EPA standards for rollingstock emissions and noise.

The draft standards set a noise ceiling of 85 decibels, a similar volume to a lawnmower, which would rule out diesel locomotives of the type used to transport grain from silos to port.

The 48 Class locomotives which service these branch lines have a low axel load of 12.5 tonnes, and are able to run on the older steel track which are restricted to locomotive axle loads of 17 tonnes.

The letter outlines that rather than improving environmental outcomes, the restrictions on noise, if implemented would force grain to be transported by trucks. The authors write that this could lead to an extra 25,000 B-double trucks on a “conservative” estimate. This would generate a 500 per cent increase in CO2 emissions compared with rail freight.

“In short, proposed new EPA environmental standards for diesel locomotives will significantly increase net [greenhouse gas] emissions in regional NSW,” write the authors. “This is a perverse outcome.”

Other costs include increased road accidents and fatalities and job losses of locomotive drivers and seasonal silo workers.

Additionally, by forcing grain onto trucks, the cost of exporting grain would increase, placing pressure on farmers’ margins at a time when drought is impacting upon agricultural profitability.

Emissions standards proposed by the NSW EPA also place a restriction on rail freight. While emissions kits can be installed in diesel locomotives, the cost of installing them would be prohibitive and would increase the consumption of diesel by five per cent, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The weight of these emission kits can also push a locomotive over the axel load threshold.

The signatories to the letter are:

Dean Dalla Valle, Pacific National CEO

Klaus Pamminger, GrainCorp COO

Dick Honan, Manildra Group chairman

Jason Ferguson, Southern Shorthaul Railroad director

Maurice James, Qube Holdings managing director

Matthew Madden, NSW Farmers Association Grains Committee chair

Danny Broad, Australasian Railway Association chair

Geoff Smith, SCT Logistics managing director

Luke Anderson, Genesee & Wyoming Australia CEO

Anthony Jones, LINX Cargo Care Group CEO

Ian Gibbs, CF Asia Pacific / CFCL Australia executive chairman

BHP proposal approval lays out 100-year plan for the Pilbara

Western Australia’s McGowan Government has approved mining giant BHP’s plans for expansion in the Pilbara region, which includes plans for the company’s freight rail operations.

BHP’s plan lays out a strategic mining proposal for the next 50 to 100 years in the region, including mining, rail, storage, dams and associated infrastructure, with a plan to halve future approval timeframes. 

BHP is a freight operator on the Mt Newman and Goldsworthy railways, which run from the town of Port Hedland in the northern Pilbara.

The WA Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has also recommended BHP’s plan, subject to certain conditions. Particularly crucial to the EPA’s assessment was that BHP’s plan not significantly impact important regions such as Karijini National Park and Fortescue Marsh.

“The EPA gave BHP’s strategic proposal careful consideration, including considering the impacts to fauna, flora, surface and groundwater, air quality, landforms and social surrounds,” said WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson. 

“Strategic proposals allow the EPA to take a bigger picture view of the potential environmental impacts the proposals may have, considering the cumulative impacts rather than on a case-by-case basis, as individual mines or developments are proposed.”

The WA Government added that the proposal would help to reduce red tape and green tape, allowing the EPA to assess the cumulative effect of future proposals rather than on a case-by-case basis.

“Industry has been crying out for this type of plan. It recognises the need to reduce unnecessary ‘green tape’ to increase investor confidence, and pave the way for more jobs,” said WA Premier Mark McGowan.

“It is another sign our economy is improving with the major miner taking a long-term view of its proposals in the State.