Investigations begun and completed into freight rail incidents

Investigations into two freight rail incidents have begun and been completed this week.

The completed investigation targeted the dewiring of over a kilometre of overhead powerlines in 2018. In this case, the ATSB investigation found that the collapsible walls of the flat racks were not secured by personnel at the Acacia Ridge terminal.

When passing through Cooroy on the North Coast line in Queensland, the rear end wall of the top of a stack of flat racks was extended, leading to it becoming entangled with overhead line equipment (OHLE), including copper wire. The wires were dragged along the platform at Cooroy, where luckily no one was present, however a south-bound train was due to arrive in 30 minutes.

Another concern in the incident was train crew entering the three-metre exclusion zone around the OHLE, before the wires were isolated and earthed. Although de-energised, the cables were not electrically safe.

ATSB director transport safety Mike Walker said the incident showed the need for effective processes for emergencies and in freight terminals.

“This occurrence has highlighted the importance of having checklists for rarely conducted tasks and emergency response tasks in the rail environment, and ensuring these checklists are readily available and used by operational personnel,” said Walker.

Aurizon, which operates the Acacia Ridge terminal and the train in the incident, has updated its safety processes in response to the incident and investigation. Network manager Queensland Rail has also mandated a network control officer checklist for OHLE emergencies.

Another investigation has been opened into a freight train derailing near Lake Bathurst. The Pacific National-operated service, a loaded garbage waste train, derailed after a wheel bearing assemble on the trailing axle of the lead bogie of one of the wagons failed.

The derailment lasted for a distance of roughly 2,500m. No one was injured however there was damage to the wagon’s bogie and frame and minor damage to track infrastructure. The NSW Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI) is conducting the investigation on behalf of the ATSB.

Fremantle port shuttle to move more freight via rail

A new port shuttle rail service between Fremantle Port and the Perth Freight Terminal in Kewdale could take over 20,000 return truck trips off roads in Fremantle and Perth each year.

Pacific National began the port shuttle rail service last month and is looking to ramp up volumes on the route in September. Up to five port shuttle services are on offer each week, with each train having the capacity to haul 100 shipping containers from the North Quay Rail Terminal at Fremantle Port to Kewdale.

Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle said that there is the potential to move up to 26,000 shipping containers from trucks and onto rail each year with the service.

“Daily train shuttle services between Fremantle Port and Perth Freight Terminal are by far the safest, most efficient and environmentally-friendly way to haul large volumes of freight,” said Dalla Valle.

Getting more freight from Fremantle Port to Kewdale will be essential to avoid Perth’s roads being clogged with large trucks. Container volumes at Fremantle Port are expected to increase to over 1.2 million TEUs by 2031, near double 2016 figures, according to the Perth Freight Transport Network Plan.

Significant increases are also expected in iron and steel imports, agricultural and other machinery, and motor vehicles.

Demand for rail freight is expected to increase by 50 per cent over the next two decades.

The Western Australian government hopes to move more freight via rail through upgrades to infrastructure, such as track duplication, and improved efficiencies on the existing network.

The need for effective and efficient freight networks with rail as the backbone has only come to more prominence since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the first time in a long time, people have started to understand and appreciate the finely tuned nature and criticality of our nation’s freight supply chains. They are the arteries supplying our economic lifeblood,” said Dalla Valle.

“Shifting haulage of large volumes of containerised freight from road to rail benefits the broader WA community. It results in fewer road accidents and fatalities, reduced traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, and less wear and tear on local and state roads.”

ACCC seeks to take Acacia Ridge sale to High Court

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has sought leave to appeal to the High Court Pacific National’s purchase of Aurizon’s Acacia Ridge Terminal.

In May, the Full Federal Court, on appeal, found that the sale would not substantially lessen competition in the rail freight sector.

If the ACCC’s appeal is successful, it will be the first time that the High Court has heard a case with Australia’s merger laws.

Pacific National has criticised the ACCC’s pursual of the case, which had been heard and ruled upon twice at the Federal Court level.

“Pacific National was looking forward to completing the transaction and adding the Acacia Ridge Terminal to its network of efficient freight terminals, and this will once again be delayed while the ACCC seeks to further appeal what Pacific National considered was a comprehensive and correct decision by the Federal Court,” said a Pacific National spokesperson.

Aurizon has said in a statement that it would continue to operate the Acacia Ridge terminal and expected the leave application to be heard and decided before the end of 2020.

The ACCC has been pursuing the case as it sees the case as a test of Australia’s merger laws. In addition, the ACCC is attempting to seek a finding as to whether a court can accept an undertaking after finding a proposed acquisition is anti-competitive.

“We are seeking special leave to appeal to the High Court because it is vital for Australian businesses and consumers that competition laws are effective in protecting the competitive process,” said Simms.

Pacific National had offered to make an access undertaking which the Federal Court had initially accepted. On appeal the Full Federal Court found that the undertaking was not needed.

Simms said that the Full Federal Court’s decision did not recognise the impact of Pacific National’s purchase of the Acacia Ridge terminal.

“We believe that the Full Federal Court’s decision does not recognise the full impact of the proposed acquisition on competition in this vitally important industry.”

New construction and freight jobs for Western Sydney

Up to 80,000 truck trips will be taken off Sydney’s congested motorways each year, while 230 jobs will be created in Western Sydney, as part of a combined investment value of up to $100 million to shift freight off the city’s road network and onto rail.

The NSW government has approved construction of a new freight hub in the heart of Western Sydney, allowing shipping containers to be hauled by freight trains from Port Botany to St Marys rather than transported by thousands of truck trips on busy Sydney motorways.

Pacific National’s CEO Dean Dalla Valle said St Marys Freight Hub will shift up to 301,000 shipping containers onto rail each year, removing 70,000 to 80,000 truck trips off Sydney’s congested motorways annually, helping to improve road safety and the daily commute of thousands of motorists.

“By shifting more freight onto rail between Port Botany and Western Sydney, the number of truck trips on the congested M4 and M5 motorways will be reduced by 8.7 million kilometres each year, that’s equivalent to 23 trips to the moon,” he said.

Dalla Valle said St Marys Freight Hub will allow more people to live and work locally, rather than commuting around 130 kilometres each day between Western Sydney and Port Botany.

“With Western Sydney’s population forecast to grow by another 1.7 million people by 2036, freight will be in high demand as will the need for new skilled employment in the region,” he said.

Dalla Valle said under the development consent for St Marys Freight Hub, Pacific National has a year to start construction with early works expected in coming months. This project will play an important role in helping to boost the NSW economy as it recovers from the deep shocks of the coronavirus crisis.

“With the COVID-19 global pandemic creating the most testing employment conditions since the Great Depression, the St Marys Freight Hub will create 60 construction jobs during the building phase and more than 170 full-time jobs once fully up and running,” he said.

Dalla Valle said St Marys Freight Hub was ideally located to process large volumes of containerised freight, with many of Australia’s major retailers and wholesalers operating national warehousing and distribution centres within 15 kilometres of the new intermodal facility.

“Imported shipping containers will be hauled from Port Botany to St Marys Freight Hub by train, then transported to nearby warehouses and distribution centres by truck to be unpacked,” he said.

Pacific National has partnered with port logistics operator ACFS who will manage and operate the St Marys Freight Hub and deliver shipping containers the ‘last mile’ by truck to retail and wholesale customers at surrounding warehouses and distribution centres.

ACFS Port Logistics CEO Arthur Tzaneros said St Marys Freight Hub will be a game changer for commercial and industrial areas and facilities in Western Sydney where the majority of large-scale customer warehouses and distribution centres are located.

“The strategically located 43-hectare hub – initially 10-hectares in size – will increase reliability and cost efficiency of freight movements for ACFS customers. It is located outside of Sydney’s road toll zone and will help ensure freight deliveries are not delayed in traffic congestion on the city’s motorways,” he said.

Dalla Valle said contents of shipping containers include everything from food, medical supplies, building products and household items like TVs, washing machines and furniture.

“To put this in perspective, a single shipping container can hold approximately 25,000 rolls of toilet paper, 55,000 cans of tinned food or 1,500 cases of beer,” he said.

Rapid adoption of ATMS key to freight rail competitiveness

Rail freight cannot afford to be left “in the age of steam” chair of the Freight on Rail Group (FORG) Dean Dalla Valle has said in the inaugural industry-led Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) oversight group.

Dalla Valle, who chaired the first meeting, was referring to the adoption of semi-autonomous trucks in the road freight sector, and the need for rail to adopt similar digital technologies such as ATMS.

The group, formed in May, held its first meeting on June 2 and will oversee the rapid rollout of the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) ATMS system.

ATMS will allow for more trains to run on Australia’s freight network by reducing headways and improve safety by allowed for remote control and automatic braking.

Using GPS navigation and mobile internet, ATMS removes the need for trackside infrastructure and operators will communicate with drivers via in-cab equipment. Dalla Valle said that this would shift the public perception of rail freight.

“Innovative in-cab technologies not only help enhance safety and productivity, they also allow us to better monitor the performance of networks. Smart technology to better utilise existing physical assets is often overshadowed by ‘glamorous’ big-money infrastructure projects, albeit the two need to go together.”

Dalla Valle also highlighted that the adoption of ATMS would remove the tendency towards distinct train control systems, a trend that could limit the effectiveness of the rail freight sector as the different state-based gauge networks did in the 20th century.

“Lack of harmonisation of train control systems across the country – the last count is at least 11 different systems are currently in use – is starting to act as a handbrake on safety and efficiency improvements in our sector.”

Now formed, the oversight group will deliver a business case to fast-track the implementation of ATMS. The business case will involve detailing the deployment of ATMS and its integration with existing train control systems including European Train Control System – Level 2 on metropolitan networks. A business case is hoped to be delivered to the Australian government before the end of July.

The system is currently in trials on the Port Augusta – Whyalla rail line and will soon be the primary safe working system on this section of track. The next section will be between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie, beginning in 2021.

Dalla Valle highlighted how recent events have reinforced the value of a safe, efficient rail freight network, in particular the demands on the freight network during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an Australia-developed system, ATMS will ensure that the efficiencies and advantages of rail freight are continued.

“To help recover from the deep economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic, Australia must get better at both leveraging and synchronising new and improved technologies in our transport supply chains,” said Dalla Valle.

Members of the ATMS implementation oversight group include:

  • Dean Dalla Valle – in his capacity as FORG Chair
  • Mark Campbell – ARTC CEO
  • Simon Ormsby – group executive strategy and corporate development, ARTC
  • Shane Curtin – head of project Management, Aurizon
  • Louise Collins – chief of operational planning, Pacific National
  • Ian Hall – chief operating officer, OneRail Australia
  • Chris Jones – executive general manager, Southern Shorthaul Railroad (SSR)
  • Dani Gentle – national safety manager, Qube
  • Andrew Williams – chief operating officer rail, SCT Logistics
  • Murray Cook – Arc Infrastructure CEO
  • Paul Lowney – general manager, network strategy and customer operations, Arc Infrastructure
  • Paul Hamersley – corporate affairs and marketing, WatCo Australia
  • Kerryn Vine-Camp – first assistant secretary, Major Transport and Infrastructure Division – Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development & Communications
  • Dale Merrick – chief operating officer, NSW TrainLink
  • Alex Panayi – executive general manager asset management, V/Line