Rail freight group meets with Environment Minister to resolve grain concerns

To resolve a standoff on noise and CO2 emissions from grain haulage, an alliance of grain freight businesses have held a roundtable with NSW Environment Minister Matthew Kean.

Representatives of Southern Shorthaul Railrod, Pacific National, LINX Cargo Care Group, CF Asia Pacific, Qube Holdings, Aurizon, Manildra Group, NSW Farmers Association, and Grain Corp amde their concerns heard to Kean.

Last week, the group had banded together to protest draft emissions thresholds which would have forced grain movements off trains and onto trucks. The discussion with Kean has allayed fears of the end of grain freight via trains, said Save our NSW grain lines spokesperson Jason Ferguson and Southern Shorthaul Railroad owner.

“To his credit, Minister Kean acknowledged the importance of allowing older, lighter diesel locomotives to continue providing essential haulage services to farmers needing to transport bulk grain from regional silos to coastal ports like Kembla and Newcastle.”

Kean also reiterated the NSW’s government’s commitment to keeping freight on rail.

“I made it clear to those present that we do not want to see rolling stock taken off tracks and replaced by trucks however we do have a duty to ensure communities are not impacted by extreme noise and air pollution just because they happen to live near rail lines,” Kean told Rail Express.

The draft emissions thresholds would have prohibited the older locomotives used to haul grain. These older locomotives are the only fit-for-purpose solution due to the older tracks – some laid 100 years ago – being unable to hold newer locomotives with heavier axel loads.

“This debate was never about industry resisting the purchase of new locomotives – it was about recognising older, lighter loco classes provide fit-for-purpose haulage services on many regional rail lines,” said Ferguson.

“The minister took our advice about expensive loco emission kit technology causing higher fuel burns and therefore CO2 emissions,” Mr Ferguson.

Due to these discussions, Ferguson expects that the final Environment Protection Licences for Rollingstock operators to take the industry’s concerns into account.

“Just like any vehicle, different types of locos have different noise profiles – the EPA’s original proposals didn’t factor this in. I’m pleased the Minister has,” said Ferguson.

Kean also saw a way forward for both the EPA and the rail freight industry.

“In what are highly technical issues, I believe we found a balance between satisfying the communities concerns whilst limiting the impact on industry,” said Kean.

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