Peter Smith

Using the lessons of the past to drive innovation for the future: Peter Smith of SCT Logistics

Recognising a career of over 40 years in the rail freight industry, in November this year SCT Logistics founder and current director Peter Smith was awarded the Australian Freight Industry Award for Personality of the year. To mark the accolade, Rail Express sat down with Peter to hear how the company emerged from humble beginnings to where it stands today. Read more

Rainbow to Dimboola line sleeper replacement work underway

Work has begun on replacing 39,000 sleepers on the Rainbow to Dimboola line in Victoria’s North West.

V/Line crews with the support of contractors are conducting the works that are funded through the Victorian government’s Building Works program which sets aside $83 million for regional rail maintenance.

Victorian minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said the works would support freight movements and economic growth in the region.

“This investment will help improve our freight network and ensure we are continuing to support farmers and freight operators at a time when they need it the most,” said Horne.

“We’re continuing to maintain and improve the network, taking extra steps to allow projects like this to continue safely and help keep track workers, suppliers and contractors working.”

In addition to sleeper replacement works, ballast will also be renewed and resurfacing will improve the condition of the track. Scheduling has aimed to minimise the impact on freight services using the line.

Member for Western Victoria Jaala Pulford said the works were essential with a large grain harvest expected this year.

“This upgrade will provide easier and more efficient ways for farmers to transport their goods ahead of what is expected to be a bumper grain harvest,” said Pulford.

“The line has already been put to good use since re-opening in April, and this investment will make it even better.”

The 66km line from Rainbow to Dimboola was reopened in April after a $1m investment to replace 5,000 sleepers. So far, 38 freight services have used the re-opened line, carrying 100,000 tonnes of grain and replacing 5,700 truck movements.

Heavy use of the line has led farmers to previously call for further reopening of freight lines servicing grain growers and other primary producers throughout regional Victoria.

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Get the freight basics right and benefits will follow

To make the most of infrastructure investments, the playing field for rail freight needs to be evened out, writes Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA.

The confirmation of funding for the Port of Melbourne direct rail line to South Dandenong in August was welcome news for business, industry, and residents in the region.

The direct rail connection to the port forms part of the wider Port Rail Shuttle Network and will make it easier and more cost effective for businesses to access port facilities.

The Federal and Victorian government funding will deliver tangible benefits to businesses in Dandenong’s manufacturing sector and improve the efficiency of port operations.

Ultimately, the project will also take 100,000 trucks off the road, helping give local residents their city back in the process.

In the same month, the NSW government fast tracked approvals for the Botany Rail Duplication and the Cabramatta Rail Loop, putting its support behind greater use of rail within its freight network.

The projects will not only deliver this critical new infrastructure to meet the state’s freight needs but will take 54 trucks off busy city roads with every additional freight train travelling on the Botany line.

That will make a crucial difference as the Port of Botany’s freight task increases by 77 per cent in the 20 years to 2036.

As Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole observed when announcing the approvals, these new connections are so important because the more freight is moved on rail, the less congestion there is with fewer trucks on the roads.

These projects are great examples of the difference rail freight can make, and why continued investment is essential to the continued liveability of our cities and towns.

But while the benefits of projects like these are obvious, more needs to be done to ensure the rail sector can meet our increasing freight needs.

While Australia’s freight task is growing – and will continue to grow – the role rail freight plays in meeting this demand has actually declined.

Recent years have seen the rail industry’s share of the freight task eroded by policy settings that favour other modes of transport and frustrate investment in the sector.

As a result, less than one per cent of freight travelling between Sydney and Melbourne is moved by rail – a far cry from the 40 per cent share the rail network maintained in the 1970s.

While the vast expanses of the country have seen east- west connections hold up better, rail freight’s modal share has started to slip there too, with rail now carrying just 54 per cent of the freight task across the Nullarbor.

It is hard to reconcile the declining role of rail freight at a time where the sector needs more capacity than ever before.

Part of the problem is how we price rail freight when compared to road.

While getting trucks off the roads remains a focus in these busy and often congested urban areas, heavy vehicle road reform has simply not progressed.

So, while rail freight access charges are based on maintaining and operating the infrastructure it requires, the road freight industry is not expected to fully cover the cost of maintaining and operating the roads it uses.

As we hear more about the importance of easing congestion, the sustainability benefits of using more rail services and the value of creating city precincts that make it easier for residents to get around, favourable pricing models for road freight is increasingly difficult to reconcile.

We must have a level playing field for all to ensure rail freight can grow to support the increasing demand for freight across the country.

This, together with harmonisation of standards across the country, could enliven the rail freight sector again and ensure it is ready to support the growth of our economy over time.

After all, the industry has shown how much can be achieved under the right settings.

Australia was the first country to move to fully autonomous freight trains when the mining sector adopted the technology to service iron ore mines in the Pilbara.

This capability has become a hallmark of mining in the region and the significant benefits the industry delivers to the broader economy.

Use of rail for bulk commodities has increased, bucking the trend of the broader sector.

With a level playing field and certainty of standards across the country, there is no telling what additional benefits further innovation in the sector could deliver.

But first, we need to get the basics right so that rail freight can compete equally and fairly.

After all, we cannot allow new investment in rail infrastructure that busts road congestion in our cities to be eroded by a policy environment that only encourages business and industry back to the roads in the end.

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Resumption of Murray Basin Rail project a “national priority”: Rail freight businesses

The Freight on Rail Group has called upon the federal government to fund the resumption of the Murray Basin Rail Project.

The coalition of rail freight businesses, chaired by Dean Dalla Valle said that with the Victorian government committing $48.8m in funding, the Commonwealth needed to come to the table as well.

“This commitment from the Victorian government is welcome – as a nation we need to get this rail freight network humming again. Given we could see another bumper crop next year, industry encourages the Commonwealth to also commit extra funding to help get the network back on track,” said Dalla Valle.

Getting the project back on track would improve the productivity of the Victorian rail network, and with forecast bumper grain harvests, the need for investment is critical.

“Due to well-documented problems with rail infrastructure in the basin, I’ve heard almost 70 percent of export grain this season will be transported by truck to Victorian ports – this is an extremely poor outcome for society; and certainly not good for regional councils already struggling to repair and maintain large road networks,” said Dalla Valle.

Since stalling in 2019, the partially completed project has led to a decline in freight carried by rail in the region. Groups including farmers, grain haulers, and now freight rail businesses are highlighting the importance of an efficient freight network.

“Inefficient transport supply chains corrode the core fundamentals of state and national economic productivity; destroying jobs and increasing cost of living pressures for millions of Australians,” said Dalla Valle.

The opportunity to reinvigorate the Murray Basin rail network had positives on a number of fronts, said Dalla Valle, beyond agricultural productivity. Moving more freight by rail would make roads safer for passenger vehicle by reducing accidents and wear and tear on roads. Additionally, as rail freight is less emissions intensive than road freight, Australia could reduce transport emissions. According to a 2017 Deloitte Access Economics report, for every kilometre of freight transport, rail produces 16 times less carbon pollution than road freight, and 14 times less accident costs.

Rebuilding the network would also provide a boost for regional economies and the Australian supply chain.

“Just imagine all the Australian-made steel that will be used in upgrading and standardising the network with new track – additional support for this project should be of the highest national priority,” said Dalla Valle.