Federal Court dismisses ACCC appeal against sale of Acacia Ridge terminal

The Federal Court of Australia has upheld the acquisition of the Acacia Ridge intermodal terminal by Pacific National.

In a judgement delivered on May 6, the Full Court of the Federal Court dismissed an appeal by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) against the sale of the terminal by Aurizon to Pacific National and upheld Pacific National’s cross appeal.

The appeal is the latest in a long-running legal process since the $205 million sale was announced in 2017. After the sale was announced, the ACCC blocked the sale and commenced legal action to prevent Pacific National from purchasing the terminal. A Federal Court challenge in July 2018 led to the Court dismissing the ACCC’s challenge. Subsequently, the ACCC appealed to the Full Court of the Federal Court.

The Federal Court has now found that the sale does not breach the Competition and Consumer Act. In addition, the court found that the undertaking that Pacific National agreed to, that would increase competition, was unneeded. In a statement, Pacific National welcomed the court’s decision.

“Pacific National welcomes today’s judgment and is looking forward to adding the Acacia Ridge Terminal (south of Brisbane) to its nationwide network of efficient rail freight depots, terminals and hubs.”

Aurizon also welcomed the court’s findings.

“Aurizon welcomes the certainty delivered by the Court today – for our business, our employees and our shareholders. It is almost three years since the sale of the Terminal was announced in August 2017 and two years since the ACCC initiated proceedings in the Federal Court in July 2018,” the company said in a statement.

ACCC chair Rod Simms said that the case would be looked at for what effect it has on mergers in Australia.

“We will now carefully consider the Full Court’s judgment. The ACCC will continue to consider what changes are needed to make Australia’s merger laws work in the way they need to, to safeguard the economy from highly concentrated markets.”

In the earlier Federal Court proceedings, Pacific National had unconditionally offered to not discriminate in providing access to other rail operators. The ACCC rejected this undertaking, however the court found in 2019 that the offered undertaking would have the effect of enabling competition. The ACCC had then appealed the decision based on the Court’s acceptance of the undertaking.

“Pacific National is actively working to ensure the many social, environmental and economic benefits of rail freight are realised throughout Australia’s transport supply chain, including the future Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail,” said Pacific National in a statement.

Pacific National

Pacific National ramps up mental health peer support

Pacific National has today announced it will be increasing the size and scope of its mental health support for employees.

With more than 3,500 employees and terminals, depots and sites across Australia, Pacific National has been running a peer support program for a number of years. The organisation has been working on re-invigorating the initiative since late last year.

Chief people officer for Pacific National, Heidi Beck says their Peer Connect program ensures that important conversations about people’s mental health happen every day, not only on Rail R U OK?Day.

“Our program is somewhat unique in that it has been ongoing for some time, but it is very much led and driven by our employees and, increasing the size of the program was something that was requested by employees.

“Our Peer Connect program is aimed at raising mental health awareness and building a peer to peer support network every day. Our Peer Connect Champions are a point of contact for employees needing support,” she said.

To mark Rail R U OK?Day, the company has more than doubled the pool of peer support champions so that employees will have an identified peer to speak to if they need to have a confidential chat, either in person or via email, to one of their colleagues within the business about any difficulties they are facing.

“Every one of our Peer Support Champions will undergo the TrackSAFE Mental Health First Aid training in person and we will be looking to start this as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.

“In the meantime, our new Peer Support Champions will receive in-house training and resources so they can start to prepare themselves for their new roles,” explains Beck.

During the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic, check-in conversations with each other and openly talking about our state of mind have become a crucial way of life for all.

The training program itself is specifically designed for the rail industry and focused on the issues those working within the rail industry may face. It has been developed by Mental Health First Aid Australia and is facilitated by TrackSAFE.

“I have completed the program myself and it reminded me that while people may seem stoic on the outside, underneath they might be very stressed and a trigger can bring on high levels of anxiety in any of us,” says Beck.

Container rail into Port Botany. Photo: Sydney Ports

Extra freight trains threaded through the Sydney network

Extra freight services have been running across the Sydney network to service the increased demand for essential supplies and to ensure Australia’s exports get to ports.

Chair of the Freight on Rail Group of Australia, Dean Dalla Valle, highlighted that by working with the Transport for NSW Freight Access and Performance Unit and the Rail Operations Centre (ROC) extra capacity on Sydney’s normally busy network has been opened up.

“Freeing up extra paths on Sydney’s rail network, notably for goods trains, is a smart, quick and cost-efficient way to help support and amplify critical freight activity in the economy.

“It means freight trains can access more paths during peak morning and afternoon periods, which normally would not be available, to better service the transport supply chain.”

Under normal conditions, freight trains cannot run on the Sydney network between 6am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm due to the priority being given to commuter services, and access is limited on the shoulder of these peaks. In all, there is only 10 hours of access for freight trains to vital ports such as Botany, Kembla, and Newcastle.

Access to Port Botany, in particular, is restricted, being located just south of the Sydney CBD and accessible via some of the most heavily congested lines in the network. However, Dalla Valle noted, the Sydney network is a critical hub for freight in NSW.

“For example, each day thousands of import and export shipping containers arriving or leaving Port Botany pass through key rail depots and terminals at Chullora, Enfield, Minto, Cooks River and Moorebank,” he said.

“Similarly, goods trains running between Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have to be threaded through the Flemington rail junction – rail’s equivalent of passing through the eye of a national logistics needle.

“Likewise, grain originating from central west NSW to be converted into food and industrial ingredients like flour, starch, and ethanol at Manildra Group’s Nowra facility is hauled via the Flemington junction to eventually join the South Coast-Illawarra railway line,” said Dalla Valle.

With demand for household goods increasing and key supplies such as ethanol for handsantiser more essential than ever, having easy access to the Sydney network is critical for the national supply chain to function smoothly.

“Every grocery item delivered to a supermarket, every batch of medical supplies made available to hospitals, every tonne of grain delivered to a flour mill or ethanol plant, every tonne of coking coal delivered to a steel mill, or every tonne of thermal coal delivered to a power station to provide baseload electricity to Australian cities and towns – all this counts,” said Dalla Valle.

As the economy starts to get going again, having smooth and efficient supply chains will only become more critical, said Dalla Valle.

“Economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will benefit greatly from essential rail freight services having greater access in the future to the Sydney Trains’ network.

“Our proud sector helps underpin a vital and finely tuned component of our economy. If we don’t plug away 24/7, 365 days of the year, rain, hail or shine then the arteries of our economic trade will quickly clog up,” he said.

To limit the possibility of any spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) strict protocols have been put in place at depots, terminals, and maintenance facilities.

The Freight on Rail Group of Australia is made of up major rail freight businesses including Pacific National, Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), One Rail Australia, Aurizon, Qube Holdings, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, WatCo Australia and Southern Shorthaul Railroad (SSR).

Increase in freight services to meet consumer demand

Pacific National has increased key interstate freight services by up to 15 per cent to meet consumer demand.

According to Pacific National CEO, Dean Dalla Valle, extra services have between all mainland state capitals.

“For example, in terms of goods trains operating back and forth across the Nullarbor between Melbourne and Perth, we have lifted the number of services by 15 per cent in the last two weeks,” he said.

“Similarly, to meet customer requirements, Pacific National had increased rail freight services between Melbourne and Brisbane by 8 per cent.”

Pacific National has also been looking to streamline operations due to the unpredictability of current conditions.

“A zeal for constant innovation and a laser-focus on customer needs, both in frontline operations and the corporate centre, is vital,” said Dalla Valle.

“In these rapidly changing times, management and frontline staff must explore every operational and commercial angle to maintain an edge in the marketplace.”

To accommodate the increase in services, operating hours at freight terminals have been extended, consolidated assembly and staging of goods trains at Port Augusta, in South Australia.

“Port Augusta is at a key crossroad in the national supply chain, acting as an ideal launch pad location to provide high capacity rail freight services to every corner of the continent.”

Each of the 40 rail services that Pacific National have been operating back and forth across the Nullarbor have ensured that Western Australia remains connected to the rest of the nation, with 60 per cent of goods arriving in the state carried by rail.

Rail freight services have been particularly key during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown as they operate on separate corridors, reducing the potential for contagion.

“The health and safety of our train crews are paramount, and I’m immensely proud of their ongoing efforts and dedication,” said Dalla Valle, who noted that hygiene and social distancing procedures are strictly adhered to.

Preliminary report into Jumperkine collision released

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its preliminary report into a freight train collision at Jumperkine in Western Australia.

The collision occurred on 24 December, 2019, when a Pacific National freight train travelling towards Perth collided with the rear of a stationary grain train, operated by Watco. The driver of the Pacific National train, Greg Reid, suffered fatal injuries.

Prior to the collision the freight train passed a signal set at caution, then a temporary speed restriction ahead sign warning of a 30km/h speed restriction. The preliminary report then establishes that the freight train passed a signal set at stop when travelling at 72km/h.

Roughly 60 metres after the stop signal, the freight train passed a temporary speed restriction start sign, and the driver applied the brake three seconds later. This slowed the train down as it travelled around a left hand curve and then onto a straight section of track. The report then notes that the rear of the grain train would have come into view, leading the driver to apply the emergency brake. 13 seconds after the brake was applied the freight train collided with the grain train.

The collision occurred at 2am and the driver was acknowledging the vigilance system alerts. Before the collision a network controlled had attempted to contact the driver, but there was no response.

ATSB director transport safety Stuart Godley said that further investigations would be undertaken.

“In the coming months transport safety investigators will examine the functionality of the locomotive’s braking and vigilance control systems and undertake further analysis of event data recorders and video recordings,” said Godley.

A spokesperson for Pacific National said the company acknowledges the report.

“At Pacific National the safety of our employees and contractors is our highest priority and as a business we are devastated by the loss of our train driver Greg Reid in this very unfortunate incident.  We continue to offer support to Greg’s family.”

Arc Infrastructure, the operator and manager of the accident site, also noted the report.

“Arc Infrastructure fully cooperated with the ATSB in their investigation including providing an internal investigation report into the Jumperkine incident. Arc Infrastructure remains committed to working with industry to continue to improve the safety of the rail industry,” said an Arc Infrastructure spokesperson.

“We wish to thank the ATSB for the detailed factual information contained in the report and for their ongoing commitment to safety in our industry.”

Proactive safety actions have been taken by both Pacific National and Arc Infrastructure and cover operations carried out between midnight and 6am, the calling of train routes, and processes for when a train has stopped.

Now is the time for Team Australia

Not since World War II has Australia’s social and economic way of life been put under such pressure. Businesses are struggling or closing, thousands have already lost their jobs, governments are shutting down all non-essential activities, and millions are working from home.

Australia’s Reserve Bank has slashed interest rates to record lows and governments are spending tens of billions to help stabilise the economy.

Anxiety is gripping the nation, with panic buying of food and household items by nervous consumers.

Now is the time for Team Australia to kick in.

What many Australians may not realise is the army of essential freight and logistic workers toiling day and night to help keep our economy ticking over. They are making sure necessities and raw materials find their way to supermarkets, retail stores, petrol stations, warehouses, steel and flour mills, and manufacturing plants.

As Australia’s largest rail freight company, Pacific National is proud to be doing our part, hauling the nation’s goods and commodities 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year along railways linking key supply chains across our vast continent.

Without goods trains, domestic and imported products like food, clothing, medical and pharmaceutical supplies, cleaning products, fuel, household products, chemicals, electronics, steel, and machinery and parts cannot be efficiently transported to depots and warehouses between cities and regional towns.

A double-stacked 1,800-metre interstate goods train can haul more than 330 shipping containers, thereby helping to free-up hundreds of truck drivers each week to focus on delivering goods and products the remaining ‘last mile’ from warehouses to stores where consumers need shelves restocked.

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

Without freight trains, bulk exports like grain, meat, fresh and dry produce, cotton and coal cannot be efficiently hauled to ports, the gateways to global markets.

Paddock to port, pit to port, or manufacturing plant to port – essential rail freight services stretch across state borders, servicing finely-tuned supply chains.

Our company has been providing essential rail freight services since 1855. Back then we were called New South Wales Government Railways.

Today, our 600 locomotives are crewed and serviced by 2,500 men and women right across the nation. Each day and night they clock onto their shifts after practicing strict hygiene and social distancing procedures. Rail freight has the added benefit of operating within railway corridors and depots prohibited to the public.

The health and safety of our train crews are paramount, and I’m immensely proud of their efforts and dedication.

Unless ill or otherwise required by law, these crews continue to run essential freight train services around the clock. Without them, critical supply chains across state borders will break. Largely out of sight, each day they help underpin the productivity and wealth of our nation.

We thank federal and state governments for working closely with our sector during this challenging time. They moved quickly to protect the nation’s supply chains.

So next time you see a big blue and yellow Pacific National locomotive, take comfort knowing there is an army of freight and logistic workers doing their bit for Team Australia.

Dean Dalla Valle
Pacific National CEO

Joint communiqué affirms indispensability of rail freight

Australia’s largest rail freight operators and infrastructure managers have welcomed statements by Australian governments ensuring that rail freight services continue despite state border closures and shutdowns of non-essential services.

Chair of the the Freight on Rail Group, Dean Dalla Valle highlighted that rail freight services are critical for the supply of domestic and imported goods such as food, medical supplies, cleaning products, and fuel.

“Paddock to port, pit to port, or manufacturing plant to port – essential rail freight services stretch across state borders, servicing finely-tuned supply chains across our continent,” he said.

In collaboration with truck drivers working the ‘last mile’ of supply chains, rail services have hauled significant amounts of items in urgent need during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“A single-stacked 1,800-metre interstate goods train can haul 260 shipping containers, thereby helping to free-up hundreds of truck drivers each week to focus on delivering goods and products the remaining ‘last mile’ from warehouses to stores where consumers need shelves restocked,” said Dalla Valle.

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

The move follows a meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council, made up of state, territory and federal infrastructure and transport ministers, on Wednesday, March 25, which affirmed that freight movements are an essential service, and will continue to operate despite restrictions on activity around the country.

“We, Australia’s Transport and Infrastructure Ministers, wanted to reassure Australians that supporting freight movements and supply of goods to individuals, businesses and service providers is a high priority for all governments,” wrote the ministers in a joint communique.

While Queensland was the latest state to close its borders, following Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Tasmania, the ministers confirmed that these would not inhibit the efficient movement of freight across Australia.

“All jurisdictions where restrictions are in place have provided exemptions to these measures to ensure Australia’s supply chains are maintained,” wrote the ministers.

“We want to thank all those Australians involved in the freight industry who are serving Australia so diligently despite the challenges we face.”

To ensure that rail freight operators do not become susceptible to COVID-19, additional measures have been put in place, said Dalla Valle.

“In recent weeks, rail freight operators have implemented strict hygiene protocols at depots, terminals and maintenance facilities, including social distancing, to protect the health of essential staff,” he said.

“Rail freight has the added benefit of operating within secure railway corridors and facilities prohibited to members of the general public.”

The Freight on Rail Group is made up of nine rail freight businesses, Pacific National, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), Aurizon, Qube, One Rail Australia, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, WatCo Australia, and Southern Shorthaul Railroad.

Review of rail freight project targets governance, planning for improvement

The Victorian Auditor-General has delivered a withering critique of the governance and delivery of the stalled Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) and the Freight-Passenger Rail Separation Project (FPRSP).

The MBRP, which promised to upgrade over 1,000km of rail track in regional Victoria to standard gauge, has been left unfinished as funds ran out and disputes between V/Line and the contractor, a McConnell Dowell and Martinus Rail joint venture, caused the project to spiral beyond its original budget.

The Victorian Auditor-General brought in V/Line and the Department of Transport for criticism, nothing that both projects “have not met scope, time, cost or quality expectations”.

Particularly concerning for the Auditor General was the way that the project had been handled.

“From a project and program management perspective we identified deficient project planning, cost estimation and scoping by the Department of Transport’s (DoT) predecessor agencies. V/Line Corporation’s (V/Line) inadequate contract and project management has also contributed to project delays and cost overruns for the MBRP Stage 2 works,” wrote the Auditor-General.

Rail industry figures have encouraged both the Victorian and federal governments to continue with the project, with the many benefits flowing to hard hit areas, said Pacific National CEO, Dean Dalla Valle.

“Governments of all political persuasions must be acutely aware how vital regional exports are to the overall health of the nation’s economy. With the current coronavirus outbreak, domestic and international trade are facing significant headwinds, now is not the time to neglect key transport supply chains in Australia,” he said.

Rail Futures Institute president, John Hearsch, echoed these statements.

“Until the project can be brought to a successful conclusion the rail industry and its operators are being disadvantaged in terms of service and cost and that impacts their competitiveness.”

The current works have left the network with extensive speed restrictions and roundabout routings, with the objective of improving axle loads not met. Rectifying this would see significant benefit for regional communities said Dalla Valle.

“Upgraded rail lines result in operators like Pacific National being able to run heavier freight trains at increased speeds. Upgraded lines also enhance safety across the network. This means safer, more cost-efficient and reliable rail haulage services to port; hence regional producers and exporters benefit. By extension a significant workforce in regional Australia benefits, including train crews, primary producers, farm workers – the list is long.”

The Rail Freight Alliance (RFA), a grouping of regional councils in Victoria, said that it is essential that the project is completed.

“With Victoria’s freight task estimated to treble by 2051 the Andrews government owes it to industry and Victorians to fix and complete the Murray Basin Rail Project to its original scope, as promised, and now is the time to do it.” RFA chair councillor Anita Rank said.

Currently, the Victorian government is finalising an updated business case for the remainder of the project, said Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan. Once completed, the revised business case will be submitted to the federal government for consideration, which had contributed funding to the initial stages.

“We’ve been disappointed with the performance of the previous contractor and the management of the project previously by V/Line and that’s why some time ago the project has moved across to be delivered by Rail Projects Victoria,” said Allan.

According to the DoT, the MBRP remains a “priority project”.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project has already delivered benefits for the freight industry, but we know that there is more work to be done. That’s why the Victorian Government is working with the Commonwealth government to progress the business case,” said a DoT spokesperson.

In its report, the Auditor-General issued a number of recommendations, including recommending that V/Line expedite finalisation of all unfinished works in Stage 2 of the MBRP, improve its contract management of major infrastructure projects, and expedite assessment of the reason for temporary speed restrictions on the re-opened standard gauge line from Yelta to Ararat.

The Auditor-General also recommended that V/Line and the DoT both develop a sustainable funding approach for regional rail freight lines and improve network reliability and performance standards. The report also highlighted the need to identify regional rail freight needs, and ensure compliance with project risk management processes for all major capital projects.

Both the DoT and V/Line accepted all the recommendations, and in an action plan the Department of Transport noted that it would review the original MBRP business case by engaging with industry, and complete detailed modelling of the Murray Basin rail network. The Department pointed to the recently formed Rail Freight Working group as a method by which government and industry will work together on rail freight infrastructure projects.

Work completed on the rail network to date includes updating the Mildura and Murrayville to Ouyen lines to standard gauge, as well as the Maryborough to Ararat line. A junction near Ararat station will have its signalling upgraded in the coming months.

Dalla Valle highlighted that work to build a staging area for standard-gauge freight trains at Maryborough could act as a “pressure valve” for the network.

“The Murray Basin is the economic lifeblood of northwest Victoria, with regional rail veins pumping exports worth hundreds of millions into the state’s ports. Thousands of country and city jobs are supported by this freight and logistics ecosystem,” he said.

Inland Rail sparks discussions for rail-road-air intermodal hub in Toowoomba

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation have entered into detailed discussions for a major logistics hub at Wellcamp Business Park, in Toowoomba.

The announcement is tangible evidence of the $13.3 billion in benefits that the federal government estimates Inland Rail will bring to regional communities along the alignment.

The two companies are looking to build a 250ha logistics hub at the site next to the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, said Pacific National CEO, Dean Dalla Valle.

“The proposed 250-hectare Wellcamp Logistics Hub also has frontage to the future Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project, allowing extensive future intermodal operations for freight to be transferred between trains, planes and trucks,” he said.

The future Wellcamp Logistics Hub would include 2.7km of frontage to the rail corridor, allowing for 1,800m long freight trains to operate. Daily cargo jet flights operate from a fully licensed and bonded international air cargo terminal next door, and the site has the potential to process up to 350,000 shipping containers by 2030, and up to half a million by 2040.

The wider Darling Downs region is not only part of the South-East Queensland food bowl, but a hub for manufacturing and resources industry. The idea for an intermodal terminal in here was sparked by another intermodal terminal connected to the Inland Rail line, said John Wagner, non-executive chairman of Wagner Corporation.

“When Wagner Corporation attended the October 2019 opening of Pacific National’s logistics terminal in Parkes – also located on the Inland Rail alignment – it gave us an exciting picture of what could be achieved with future rail freight services at Wellcamp,” he said.

Dalla Valle highlighted that the benefits would extend beyond the industry to societal and environmental outcomes.

“Integrated with Inland Rail, a future Wellcamp Logistics Hub would help reduce road accidents and fatalities, traffic congestion, vehicle emissions, and road ‘wear and tear’,” he said.

“Picture this – at a minimum, an 1,800-metre-long freight train hauling shipping containers is equivalent to removing 140 B-double return truck trips from our roads.”

Toowoomba has been a centre for discussions about the future of rail in South East Queensland, with the Inland Rail agreement signed there, and fast passenger rail options being explored.

It takes a village

Getting the community on board for a major transport project can be hard, but Pacific National found the people and businesses of St Marys to be their staunchest advocates.

As the January day began to heat up, David Trist OAM, stood by an unused rail siding in St Marys and began peeling back the history of what will soon become Pacific National’s new intermodal freight terminal.

“The historical significance of the area goes back to the third governor of Australia, Governor Philip King. He left Australia at the end of his term to go overseas and left his wife and children here. They each received a land grant from the incoming governor and Mrs King got this area and the children the areas around.”

Trist is referring to the semi-urban region that lies between Blacktown and Penrith, in Sydney’s West, which now alters between housing, industrial estates, and grassland.

“The King family ended up with 7-8,000 acres of land and as Mrs King came from a place in Britain called Dunheved, she built a homestead, and that name has gone on and this is the Dunheved Business Park.”

With this layer of substrata uncovered, Trist proceeds to the more recent use of the site, adjacent to the main Western Line out of Sydney.

“In wartime, in 1942-1943, this was taken over by the Commonwealth government and a big munitions factory was built and this rail line was part of the military rail that went out to Ropes Crossing when they had the munitions factory,” recalls Trist, who served in the armed forces during World War Two.

“When WWII concluded in 1945 and the government decided to sell off and within about 15 years there was something like 500 new businesses set up in this area.”

What happens next is of great concern to Trist, a lifelong resident of the area, as well as his fellow Rotary Club members, local business owners, and the wider St Marys community. As the sun begins to beat down on the gravel and dirt of the planned St Marys intermodal facility, Trist describes how the area is at a literal and figurative crossroad.

“The plans for the future are that there’ll be rail links from here to the Nancy Bird Walton airport, road links to the very rapidly growing suburbs in the north west and to south west centres. So, St Marys is the hub of a lot of this rail and road activity.”

As the secretary of the Dunheved Business Park Development Committee, Trist is glad that rather than erasing what is here, Pacific National hope to preserve the history of the site.

“The Dunheved name is going to be continued with this industrial estate and I think Pacific National have already shown that they’re interested in local history.”

OPENING UP A DIALOGUE

According to project director of Pacific National’s proposed freight hub, Leigh Cook, there is a requirement for community engagement in the planning process, and having Trist, as well as half-a-dozen other members of the community at the yet to begin construction site, was a key element of the project from the start.

“There is a requirement for industry to communicate,” said Cook, “We have had a comprehensive strategy to engage with community and to be open and transparent. If people raised a concern or an issue, we would address that in person. We wouldn’t just write to them, we would actually meet them in person, show them the proposal and that’s how we got involved with David.”

Another attendee that January morning was Emmanuel Stratiotis, whose family own the adjacent petrol station.

“I saw the application, I thought the way they designed the routes of the truck movements was a bit of a mistake going in and out of the property,” said Stratiotis. “There’s nothing wrong with the Forrester Road exit and this is what I proposed to them, they should come in from one side and exit from the other.”

With a key concern of the local planning authority being the number of truck movements in the immediate vicinity due to the intermodal terminal, Cook and the project team were open to hearing these kinds of ideas from the community.

“We basically said look it’s our preferred route, it’s actually 290,000 truck kilometres each year less that way and three less intersections so it was a great idea,” said Cook. “We built that into our plan and did some further studies in terms of noise, environmental impact, emissions etcetera and that came back the most positive route.”

While the back and forth of the planning process is to be expected with any major project, having begun with the community in mind from day one has meant Pacific National could work alongside the St Marys community during the planning stage.

“The community has been good,” said Cook. “We did not get one objection from the public and that’s the first time that has happened. We also had stalls at the major shopping centre, we ran advertisements in the local newspaper telling people what we’re doing here, we have a website, a hotline we’d always respond to people and I think that’s what people liked. They’d speak to the project director or the head of corporate communications. We met with all the local politicians from both sides to know what’s going on, it’s been a very positive experience.”

A NEW LINK

Today, the 10ha site feels poised, awaiting the arrival of earthmoving plant and machinery to begin transforming the site. Cook himself has the bottled-up energy of a front-rower awaiting the call to “engage”.

“We’re ready to start construction as soon as we get the development application approved,” he said.

Pacific National has been in talks with the local and state governments to turn the site into Sydney’s latest intermodal freight hub. Once complete, the site will provide a route for imports to come from Port Botany, 58km away, and then be unloaded of rail shuttles and sent to the ring of distribution centres in St Marys and nearby logistics parks. In the future, the St Marys terminal will be a node in the national network Pacific National is building, particularly with its direct connection to Parkes – located on the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail.

As part of the planning process, Pacific National have studied the site’s impact
on the traffic flows in, and found that the terminal will alleviate pressures on local and regional roads.

“The scientific studies prove beyond reasonable doubt that we’re taking 8.7 million truck kilometres each year off Sydney’s congested motorways,” said Cook. “That has a significant impact on traffic congestion from Port Botany to the Penrith region, let alone the reduction in emissions and carbon footprint.”

In managing the distribution of goods both in St Marys and at Port Botany, Pacific National have a partner in freight and logistics provider ACFS, who are also looking to the wider benefits of such a hub.

“There’s high unemployment out here and ACFS already have 70-75 per cent of their employees living in the region,” said Cook. “They have to travel to Port Botany each day to pick up their truck, drive out – backwards and forwards – and drive home and so for them they’re working where they live which means less commuter traffic”

With other intermodal terminals located in the south-west of Sydney, the businesses that sprang up in St Marys after the Second World War have been waiting for the freight rail connection that was laid down by the wartime munitions factories. Local business owner Tony Jones knows this as well as most.

“This is addressing this lack of freight connections that we’ve suffered for years.”

RAIL THE ROUTE TO REVITALISATION

St Marys is a long way from the glittering harbour of Sydney, and even under the Greater Sydney Commission’s Plan for a metropolis of three cities, St Marys sits in-between the river city of Parramatta and the Parkland city of Penrith. Stratiotis has been seeing how this location affects the vibrancy of St Marys.

“The area is going through a bit of a slump and if you look at the commercial area the shops there are dying a slow death, death by a thousand cuts,” said Stratiotis. He sees the emergence of a new logistics terminal as a way to avoid any further decline.

“These things just have to happen so you can have a bit of a hub and get people working here and spending money.”

To date, Pacific National have shown its commitment to local industry through a commitment to buying local. In addition, apprenticeships and traineeships will be offered as part of the project.

While the St Marys industrial area is home to manufacturers of building products, steel fabricators, and automotive suppliers, its further growth has been hampered by a lack of access to the Sydney freight network.

“We need to have growth in the area, because we need to find some kind of potential and tap into that,” said Stratiotis. “If you don’t utilise this space and get the maximum value or potential use out of it, then you’re not making anything in the area.”

Jones concurred, highlighting that such a service will increasingly be essential for Sydney to become the global hub it is projected to be.

“Importing is going to stimulate the St Marys economy, simply by being a centre of employment and factories like mine over the road will benefit from the increased activity in the area. I think an Industrial estate that doesn’t have that sort of investment is doomed.”

Before even the first sod has been turned, businesses nearby have been expressing interest in accessing a Port Botany shuttle service, and with containers emptied of imports once they reach St Marys, the potential for export is the obvious next step, said Cook.

“Our proposed freight hub will be an import terminal, so all the import shipping containers come from Port Botany to St Marys, and are dispatched as is.”

The spill over effects of such activity are what draws the interest of Stratiotis.

“It helps all our businesses; it helps my business to have traffic coming through with that area, so the more workers and trucks and activity there is, the more it helps every industry that feeds off them, and you’re hoping that would prop up businesses in the area.”

While grand plans abound for the potential of greater Western Sydney, the realities of moving goods throughout an increasingly congested region is keeping those plans on paper.

Without intermodal hubs like St Marys, freight leaving the factories of Western Sydney and coming into the distribution centres has to travel by road.

The folly of that approach is obvious to Stratiotis.

“These tracks that have been here for many years. These weren’t installed yesterday, they’ve been here for 60 years, more, so you’ve got to utilise these things, make them work for you. And if you think trucks are the way of the future, that’s wrong.”

As Sydney and Australia grapples with how to move increasingly large volumes of freight, perhaps listening to what those who are at the choke points are saying could provide an outlet.

Stratiotis certainly has an opinion.

“It’s something that should have been done years ago.”