The first of what is tipped to be a bumper winter wheat harvest has been transported by rail to the Port of Newcastle. Read more
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.
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.
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.
The Victorian government is investing $3.5 million in upgrade works to the Maryvale rail siding in Gippsland.
The siding is primarily used by freight trains hauling paper from Australian Paper’s Maryvale mill to Melbourne.
Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said the upgrade would ensure paper products continued to be transported via rail.
“This important upgrade will ensure Victoria’s busiest regional rail freight train continues to run and will support the jobs of 900 Gippsland workers,” she said.
“We’re keeping rail freight cost-effective and helping businesses like Australian Paper access key domestic and overseas markets.”
The upgrade will involve the replacement of sleepers and ballast, with ground resurfacing works also taking place. Ultimately, the works will increase the efficiency of the rail infrastructure by reducing maintenance expenditure, ensuring that rail remains competitive for Australian Paper.
Procurement will begin in early 2021 and construction should begin soon after that.
The funding for the project is part of the Victorian government’s COVID-19 response. In May, the government earmarked up to $90m for regional rail infrastructure upgrades.
“This work comes adds to the significant improvements to the signalling system in Morwell, which have already been completed – making it easier than ever to move freight through Gippsland,” said Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing.
To connect freight trains to the main Gippsland line, an automated signalling system in Morwell has been installed, replacing manual processes and improving integration across the network.
ALC CEO Kirk Coningham highlights how a united freight industry has achieved a common-sense protocol for border safety.
The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us to deal with scenarios and situations that were hard or even impossible to anticipate.
Of course, the freight and logistics industry has long-held concerns about some of the complexities that arise from having to comply with multiple regulatory regimes as freight crosses the border from one state or territory into another. Yet the closure of those same borders at the onset of the pandemic has forced the industry to confront and adapt to a whole new set of requirements.
The fast-moving nature of the COVID-19 challenge has also required governments and regulatory authorities to move speedily – and in some instances, this has led to the imposition of rules that are simply incompatible with the realities of freight transport.
Over the past several months, ALC has worked with its members, regulatory authorities and allied industry groups to build support among governments for a nationally consistent approach that will protect the health of the freight transport sector’s workforce and the wider community, while still ensuring that our industry can get the job done.
Those efforts bore fruit in late July when the National Cabinet gave its endorsement to a Domestic Border Control Freight Movement Protocol.
The protocol has been endorsed by chief health officers from all state and territories and clearly outlines measures that all states and territories agree will allow freight to move safely and efficiently across borders.
This includes a number of common- sense measures which ALC has pursued throughout the pandemic. These include the ‘waive through’ of freight vehicles at borders, standardising the duration of border crossing permits, mutual recognition of COVIDsafe work plans developed in other jurisdictions, and not requiring rail crews to quarantine or self- isolate when crossing borders if they have not developed COVID-19 symptoms.
Obtaining agreement to this protocol has only been possible because our industry has been able to clearly and convincingly demonstrate its commitment to COVIDsafe practices to governments nation-wide.
In particular, the members of our Safety Committee provided crucial support by offering compelling examples of the extensive efforts being undertaken by freight and logistics companies to make their operations COVIDsafe. This gave policymakers added confidence that our industry takes its obligations seriously
and understands the importance of COVIDsafe behaviour in protecting the wider community. The importance of having COVID testing available for freight workers frequently crossing borders is also recognised, and the protocol calls for states and territories to offer ‘pop-up’ testing facilities in appropriate locations.
Importantly, the protocol also requires authorities to consult with industry to understand the effect and impacts of potential changes ahead of any new directions being been put place.
It will be vital for governments to follow this requirement if we are to avoid some of the confusion that has been witnessed throughout the pandemic, especially in instances where border requirements were changed with inadequate notice to industry.
Qube has reported a net profit drop of over 50 per cent due to the impact of COVID-19, bushfires, and floods during the 2020 financial year.
These impacts were offset by growths in Qube’s revenue and the commencement of new rail contracts.
During the past financial year, Qube began rail operations from the IMEX terminal at the Moorebank Logistics Park as companies including Woolworths committed to significant distribution centres at the site.
Qube also signed new contracts with Shell and BlueScope Steel. For BlueScope, Qube will provide interstate rail haulage services as part of a 10-year contract and intermodal operations at Qube’s North Dynon facility in Melbourne. To deliver the contract Qube will invest $73 million in new rollingstock and infrastructure, as well as leased equipment.
Qube managing director Maurice James said that the company’s overall performance was sound.
“The events of 2020 tested the strength and resilience of the company in ways which no-one could have predicted. This result once again demonstrates the success of our diversification strategy which protected the company as markets were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“We were also able to adapt rapidly as an organisation to protect the health and safety of our people, deliver on customer requirements and minimise the economic damage to the Group. We are also well positioned for growth post pandemic with conservative gearing, and a strong balance sheet with substantial funding capacity.”
Rail will continue to play a major part in Qube’s operations during the next financial year as the company constructs the interstate rail terminal at Moorebank Precinct West along with further warehousing space. Further capital expenditure is planned in the 2021 financial year on rail terminals, precinct infrastructure and locomotives and wagons for the BlueScope contract.
Operations at Qube’s intermodal terminals will also become more automated as the company shifts from manual to automated mode at the IMEX rail terminal.
A new freight rail connection in Dandenong South will remove 100,000 trucks of Melbourne’s roads a year.
The new rail line will connect the Salta Properties freight hub in Dandenong South with the Melbourne suburban rail network, allowing shuttle trains to run between the Port of Melbourne and Melbourne’s southeast.
The $28 million project is funded by the federal and state governments, with each contributing $18.3m and $9.7m respectively.
The project will be completed by the Level Crossing Removal Authority as part of the Cranbourne Line upgrade.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the connection would form part of a wider network of freight rail connecting the Port of Melbourne with intermodal facilities.
“The new spur line will connect the intermodal freight terminal at Dandenong South to the Cranbourne Line. As part of the Port Rail Shuttle Network it will help cut the number of trucks on inner Melbourne roads by up to 100,000 each year and support hundreds of jobs during construction and as part of the terminals ongoing operations.”
Victorian Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said the project would make freight more competitive.
“We’re making rail freight a more attractive option for businesses, and this investment means containers can be transported by rail the entire way from the Port of Melbourne to Dandenong South,” she said.
“It will reduce congestion at the port gate and cut the high cost of the last mile that so often disadvantages containers moved by rail.”
The Port of Melbourne has recently made major investments to improve the capacity of rail to handle cargo. The port authority is investing $125m in on-dock rail, to enable freight to be taken directly from ship to rail and to intermodal terminals such as these.
The Victorian government has also invested in two other port rail shuttles, one to Altona and another to Somerton, with further funding to be announced.
A new rail hub for the shipment and processing of logs will be built in the Rangitīkei district, near the town of Marton.
The facility will be supported with NZ$9.1 million ($8.3m) from the government’s $3 billion COVID-19 response and recovery fund.
Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones said that the hub would get more freight onto rail.
“This rail hub will not only attract more commercial developments to the immediate area, it will also take freight trucks off the roads.”
The local council expects the hub, which will include a debarker facility, will create roughly 83 jobs during construction and 22 full time jobs once operational.
Improved efficiencies created by the Marton facility, located in an existing freight centre, will combine logistics efficiencies.
“Marton is central to significant forests in Rangitīkei, Manawatū and Horowhenua regions that are mature and will continue to produce mature trees and increased volumes for the next 15 years. It is also a key service town for agriculture in the area, making it a good location for a freight hub,” said Jones.
“Parts of this region are deprived, with few options for economic development. This construction project will benefit the building and associated industries, boosting the local economy and keeping people in jobs. It also provides potential for the region to diversify and boost the local economy.”
Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, sets out the association’s advocacy agenda when it comes to rail freight.
The doubling of Australia’s population over the next 30 years will make connecting the supply of goods and services between our far-flung cities more important than ever.
Resilient freight networks will be an essential part of our national connectivity and will be key to supporting the productivity of businesses across the country.
And rail must play a growing role to meet that challenge.
The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) recently released its rail freight and ports strategic plan to set its advocacy agenda on this crucial issue over the next three years.
Informed by extensive industry consultation, the plan identifies the need for rail to increase its share of our national freight task to ensure the growing demand expected in the next 20 years can be met.
While COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of resilient supply chains, that need has always been there and is only becoming more important.
The country’s freight task is expected to grow by 35 per cent by 2040, and by then our network will traverse more than 1,000 billion tonne kilometres every year.
That new demand can simply not be sustainably supported by more trucks on the roads or planes in the air alone.
A multi-modal freight sector that makes the best use of all modes of transport is a fundamental part of ensuring Australia’s supply chains can deal with the needs of the nation in the future.
Maintaining the status quo will not be enough.
There is enormous potential for rail to play a greater role in meeting our freight task, but regulatory reform is required to make that a reality.
A level playing field for all will be needed for this to be realised to make sure every mode of transport can be used efficiently and effectively to support our economic growth and development.
Common safety, environmental, and economic regulation across the country would streamline operations and put the focus firmly on delivering on the nation’s freight needs.
So too would the achievement of a truly interoperable rail network, and the ARA’s rail freight and ports strategic plan supports the ARTC’s efforts to implement its Advanced Train Management System on the interstate network.
These are big ambitions that require national focus and strong collaboration between government and industry to be realised.
We are pleased to see these conversations progressing through the National Rail Action Plan working groups and other industry forums.
As we continue to advocate for changes to support the growth of the industry, a clear understanding of the current state of play and the obstacles that the industry may face is essential.
That is why the ARA has launched three research programs to be completed over the next 12 months.
Firstly, we will be working to better understand the impediments to rail freight modal shift.
Just one freight train alone can take 110 trucks off the roads a year, busting congestion and improving the safety outcomes of the sector.
Rail freight remains a sustainable and efficient option that has proven its reliability time and again.
In urban centres, rail freight frees up the road network to create more liveable communities for people in our cities.
Given these benefits, rail should be playing a significant role as part of a multi- modal network – and this research will inform how we achieve that outcome.
Secondly, we will be looking at rail freight productivity in Australia.
It will be essential to establish a clear view of the industry’s current performance and the conditions required to make rail freight even more competitive in the future.
The 2017 Value of Rail study found a one per cent improvement in rail freight productivity could generate $8-20 billion in savings to the national economy over 20 years.
Small improvements could make a big difference and our research will seek to identify actionable outcomes to drive greater productivity in the sector.
Finally, we will research rail freight infrastructure investment.
Continued investment in the freight network will be essential to meet growing demand, but projects must be planned effectively and implemented efficiently.
Getting infrastructure investment right for the beginning will ensure the benefits of that investment are realised faster and reach further into our communities.
Combined, these projects will inform our advocacy agenda to make the case for regulatory reform.
Because we will need more than one approach to make a real difference for the benefit of Australian businesses and communities.