freight

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.

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Freight industry shaping supply chain strategy

The federal Freight Industry Reference Panel has met for the first time to progress industry input into the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

According to panel chair John Fullerton, the work of the panel will cover all modes.

“Our advice to government will present a holistic, cross-network, multi-modal view and I look forward to working with these members on this critical goal.”

The panel, announced in June, will provide expertise on the delivery of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, the agenda for government and industry action in freight for the next 20 years. These actions include investment, improved supply chain efficiency, better planning, coordination, and regulation, and more precise freight location and performance data.

The plan has been developed to grapple with a 35 per cent growth in freight volume between 2018 and 2040 and the changing profile of freight to more urban freight. At the same time, freight productivity and costs have plateaued, reducing competitiveness of exports.

“As we act to respond to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, we also need to maintain our focus on meeting our long-term freight challenges to support a bigger and more productive Australia and to secure a prosperous future for this critical industry,” said Fullerton.

“That’s why we’ll be working hard to ramp-up momentum on the strategy, with each of the panel members bringing a depth of knowledge and a range of experiences from across all freight modes and supply chains.”

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz said that the shared and collaborative experience of COVID-19 for the freight industry highlighted the importance of working across government and industry.

“The strategy is important now more than ever to support this critical industry and indeed the entire nation by driving real improvements to Australia’s freight productivity, because that is good for jobs and the economy,” he said.

“The panel has an important role driving ambition for the strategy and acting as a vital conduit for industry views and providing independent advice on progress made.

“I look forward to seeing the panel’s work progress as we continue working hard to implement this critical strategy to achieve better outcomes for our national freight supply chain.”

supply chain

COVID-19 makes supply chain resilience more imperative

Kirk Coningham, CEO of the ALC, outlines why the current crisis should refocus attention on rail freight connectivity and the national supply chain.

As the effects of the COVID-19 crisis continue to unfold, the reality is that the world that emerges on the other side may look very different. In terms of the operation of Australia’s supply chains going forward, the pandemic is likely to force industry and governments to more urgently consider some key questions.

Already, there is some commentary about the extent to which Australia relies on China, both for the import of manufactured goods and as an export destination. Although Australia has concluded trade agreements with other key growth markets over recent years, including Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia, there remain opportunities to expedite similar arrangements with India and the United Kingdom.

This would stimulate further employment growth in Australia’s key export sectors, help to further diversify our supply chains and enhance their resilience.

Some of the disruptions to the global supply chain that we witnessed in the earliest days of the COVID-19 crisis may also give Australian companies reason to consider the global- local balance within their supply chains – and engineer an uptick in certain aspects of local manufacturing that, prior to COVID-19, was thought by some to be in terminal decline.

These factors should spur consideration in the rail freight sector about infrastructure projects that need to be prioritised, not only to promote employment growth, but to support Australia’s export and manufacturing efforts going forward.

These should include enhancing the connectivity of the Inland Rail project currently under construction with key ports – particularly the provision of a dedicated freight rail link connecting Acacia Ridge and the Port of Brisbane.

Similarly, increased investment in on-dock rail and construction of intermodal hinterland terminals serving major ports around Australia will help to address road congestion in many of our cities.

The level and sophistication of technology in our supply chains is likely to be another discussion with a renewed sense of urgency in the wake of the COVID-19 experience, particularly if the pandemic and its attendant restrictions endure for longer than initially forecast.

The automation and digitalisation of manual and paper-based processes will become especially important if the impacts of COVID-19 affect labour supplies in the freight and logistics sector. Progressing the implementation of the Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) on the interstate freight rail network will certainly permit the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to enhance the safety and reliability of the network, while simultaneously boosting its capacity.

COVID-19 had unquestionably had a disruptive impact on the operation of many businesses, and this will undoubtedly alter the operation of supply chains in the months ahead. However, the challenges also present a clear opportunity to boost the resilience of our supply chains through enhanced infrastructure, so that they can better serve our communities. As an industry, we should not be afraid to pursue those opportunities in partnership with governments.

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