Freight group issues election priorities

The industry group representing Australia’s largest rail freight operators and infrastructure owners has released its policy priorities for the forthcoming Federal election.

Freight on Rail Group (FORG) members contribute more than $11 billion to Australia’s economy each year, employ almost 20,000 people, operate 1600 freight locomotives and manage 23,000 kilometres of rail track. They include Pacific National, Australian Rail Track Corporation, One Rail Australia, Aurizon, Qube Holdings, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, Watco Australia and Southern Shorthaul Railroad.

Rail-based freight and logistics operations perform a vital role for Australia’s export industries and in domestic markets. FORG recognises the importance of efficiently meeting future freight demand and continuing to improve the competitiveness of freight supply chains. As Australia moves rapidly to decarbonise the nation’s supply chains, rail will have a pivotal role given the major safety, environmental and other community benefits it delivers, including reduced road congestion.

Prioritise rail infrastructure resilience
FORG welcomes the current Review of Road and Rail Supply Chain Resilience. With “once in 100 year” events happening more regularly it will be important that:
• Resilience priorities are identified across Australia’s rail freight network, including regional rail infrastructure and focusing on where the existing network requires improvement.
• The use of technology to detect when a network or particular sections of a network require mitigation and protection actions.
• Ensuring that rail networks are well prepared to undertake efficient recovery works when required.
The findings of the Review of Road and Rail Supply Chain Resilience need to be a key priority for the first six months of the new Federal term of office.

Inland Rail Project
Inland Rail will provide step-change improvement in the domestic and export supply chains for industries that are vital for Australia’s economic prosperity.
A key infrastructure priority for an incoming Federal Government should be the delivery of the Inland Rail project, with a focus on supporting the large private sector investments that will be required to realise all the economic and regional benefits of the supply chain services that will use Inland Rail in the future.

Provide a level playing field for rail and road with infrastructure pricing policy
On freight corridors where rail and road compete to transport general freight, the current policy of Federal and State Governments has resulted in in favourable road user charges for trucks that are not cost reflective.
FORG recommends the Federal and State Governments introduce equivalent policies for rail and road infrastructure pricing, and achieve this by one of the following options:
• Road pricing reform that introduces cost-reflective user charging for heavy vehicles, as previously agreed by the Federal and State Governments
• Alternatively, the introduction of a rail freight utilisation incentive program, potentially linked to the value of the emissions reduction benefits of freight transported by rail.

Utilise rail freight to reduce transport sector greenhouse gas emissions
Too often the emissions reduction strategies are compartmentalised to the specific mode of transport, road or rail, and handled separately. There is an opportunity for governments and industry to think across the different transport modes and to increase the utilisation of rail freight to reduce overall transport emissions, given that using rail freight produces 16 times less carbon pollution than road freight per tonne kilometre.
FORG recommends that emissions reduction programs should provide an incentive for future freight volumes to be carried by rail, recognising the environmental and community benefits from using rail. A rail freight utilisation program could also be linked to the larger infrastructure access costs paid by rail compared to road.

Coastal shipping regulation
Coastal shipping regulation for the transportation of domestic freight should recognise investments in land transport operations and provide for efficient utilisation of land transport modes where infrastructure and services are available.
Coastal shipping regulation should not provide unreasonable competitive advantages to foreign flagged ships to enter and participate in Australia’s domestic freight services market where ships compete with land transport supply chains. FORG recommends that transport policy and regulation should better protect the sovereignty and security of Australia’s domestic supply chains against foreign-flagged ships.

Focus on improving the productivity of rail freight
FORG recommends a nationally coordinated focus on improving the productivity of rail freight that involves the following priorities:
• Addressing impediments to rail freight productivity including those that are identified by the Review of Rail Freight Productivity chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson.
• Making targeted investments in improving the productivity of existing rail infrastructure.
• Integrate rail-based supply chains with other transport modes so that the benefits of rail in carrying larger volumes of freight are realised, including ‘first mile’ and ‘last mile’ connections to production or distribution sites and end destinations.
• A coordinated Federal and State Government approach to consistently identifying and overseeing the implementation of rail freight productivity improvement priorities that is integrated with overall supply chain development programs.

Transport infrastructure investment proposals to recognise externality impacts of transport modes
FORG recommends that transport infrastructure investment assessments should be required to consider and recognise the externality impacts of transport modes, including safety, environment and congestion benefits.
These benefits should be identified and considered in relation to infrastructure investment priorities, including investments aimed at improving the productivity and utilisation of existing infrastructure.

Port Botany

Freight coalition unite in calling for rail container incentive scheme

Freight and logistics groups have called out the NSW government’s undermining of its own mode share target for containers carried by rail into Port Botany.

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC), Freight on Rail Group of Australia (FORG), Freight and Trade Alliance (FTA), and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) along with individual port rail freight operators are questioning the wisdom of allowing more high productivity vehicles on Sydney’s roads.

“By incentivising HPVs, government is perversely derailing their own policy to grow rail’s mode share target – at a time when Sydneysiders want safer roads and less traffic congestion and vehicle emissions,” said ALC board member and Qube managing director Maurice James.

The NSW government has been issuing permits for high productivity vehicles to access the Sydney road network and major motorways such as WestConnex. By allowing trucks which can carry two containers to travel within Sydney, this reduces the competitiveness of rail for the metro import container market.

The NSW government has set itself the goal of having 28 per cent of the container trade through Port Botany being handled by rail by 2021, however just 17.6 per cent is currently hauled by rail.

Instead of having each mode compliment each other, with rail for longer distances and trucks for the first and last mile, road transport was monopolising container traffic, with impacts on the local community, said FORG chair and Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle

“Today, many HPVs are doing ‘every mile’ of the freight task in Sydney, placing heightened pressure on traffic congestion, road safety and vehicle emissions,” he said.

Dalla Valle advocated for a measure such as the Western Australian government’s Port of Fremantle container incentive scheme was needed in NSW.

“Prior to introduction of the incentive scheme at the Port of Fremantle in 2006-07, rail mode share was a meagre two per cent. The scheme underpinned growth of rail’s mode share which is now above 20 per cent – the highest in the country,” said Dalla Valle.

Director of the FTA and secretariat to the Australian Peak Shippers Association Paul Zalai said that governments should encourage importers to use rail services.

“Governments must maximise port assets and manage our trade gateways through incentivisation of rail usage for imports to metropolitan sites and importantly, streamlined connectivity to regional areas to cost effectively reach export markets.”

ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie said communities would be feeling the brunt of the lack of rail transport.

“The balance has tipped so far we run the risk of Sydney’s roads being over-run with trucks unless there is urgent action to use more rail.”

Permits required for freight crossing NSW border from Victoria

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.