Rail key to meet freight demand

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.


Industry groups welcome infrastructure fast-track, but say there is more to do

Groups representing the logistics and infrastructure sectors have welcomed the federal government’s focus on cutting approval times and increasing investment in infrastructure.

On Monday, June 15, the federal government announced an extra $1.5 billion for infrastructure projects as well as 15 priority projects, including Inland Rail, that would have approvals fast-tracked.

In his speech to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the Commonwealth had a role to play in the environmental approval of projects. With delays under this legislation costing industry over $300 million in 2019, Morrison said the government aimed to reduce approval times from 40 days on average to 30, a 25 per cent cut over the 2020 year.

“Ultimately, our objective is the streamlining of Commonwealth and state processes to a point of ‘single touch approvals’,” said Morrison.

Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham said these changes would be of great benefit to businesses that operate national supply chains.

“The Prime Minister’s commitment to addressing regulatory burdens that increase cost and compliance burdens on businesses that operate across multiple jurisdictions is especially welcome,” he said.

Coningham welcomed news that the Deregulation Taskforce will take a national leadership role in the removal of regulatory impediments from within the Prime Minister’s department.

“ALC agrees with the Prime Minister’s observation that many of our laws have not kept pace with the development of technology. There are numerous opportunities within the freight and logistics sector to more effectively deploy technology to advance the efficiency, safety and visibility of freight movement,” said Coningham.

Coningham said that ensuring continuing flexibility for freight operators will be key to the ongoing resilience of Australia’s supply chains.

Chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Adrian Dwyer highlighted that enabling works to start immediately on priority infrastructure projects is a good step, but more should be done to revive the economy.

“Fast-tracking projects that respond to population growth and sectoral transformations in energy, transport, and resource recovery should be the priority moving forward,” he said.

“If the federal government wants to supercharge aggregate demand it should use its balance sheet capacity to deploy more money into new infrastructure projects.

“The federal government can and should redeploy the $60 billion saving from its recalculated JobKeeper program into a bold new infrastructure agenda.”

ARA represents rail in Productivity Commission Inquiry on National Transport Regulatory Reform

In her column, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie highlights that in current reform discussions the establishment of a national rail safety regulator was a step in the right direction, but there is more work to be done.

The Productivity Commission is undertaking an inquiry into National Transport Regulatory Reform, the reform that established national regulators and national laws for rail, heavy vehicles, and maritime.

Many would be aware that the ARA was a strong advocate for the establishment of a National Rail Safety Regulator. So much so, that the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) recently acknowledged previous ARA CEO, the late Bryan Nye OAM, as both the “agitator” and “architect” of achieving a National Rail Safety Regulator in Australia.

Recognising the significance of the inquiry, the ARA has been deeply engaged in the Commission’s process.

The inquiry terms of reference direct the Commission to investigate the economic benefits that have been achieved through the national transport reforms, to examine the implementation of the three national regulators and identify scope for further reforms.

To appropriately respond to the terms of reference, the ARA initially ran four member workshops around the country, engaging industry safety and regulation representatives to ensure a detailed first submission was provided to the Commission in mid-2019, outlining the industry’s experiences to date and highlighting further reform opportunities that will benefit rail. Following the release of the Commissions’ substantial draft report, the ARA provided a second submission with further member input, supporting many of the draft recommendations put forward by the Commission but questioning the Commissions’ view that road and rail freight are not substitutes and seeking clarity around the funding arrangements for the three national regulators.

In early February, ARA chair Danny Broad, general manager Emma Woods, and public affairs and government relations manager Mal Larsen appeared before the Commission at a hearing in Canberra to discuss the National Transport Regulatory Reforms, the Commissions’ draft report and the ARA’s submissions.

The ARA highlighted the social benefits of passenger and freight rail as quantified by Deloitte in the ARA commissioned Value of Rail Report.

Turning to the reform that has been achieved, the ARA acknowledged that the establishment of a National Rail Safety Regulator has led to some improvements, most notably, the establishment of a single accreditation process for cross-jurisdictional operators. However, reinforcing the position put forward in each of the ARA submissions, the ARA stressed that more is needed to allow the regulatory reform benefits to be fully realised for industry.

The ARA went on to highlight three key issues in response to the Commission’s draft report:

  1. Support to address Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) derogations but concern that the industry has been through this process recently without a national outcome;
  2. The Report’s claims that road and rail freight cannot be substitutes, and the Report’s disproportionate focus on further road productivity and road access reforms, without addressing long standing discrepancies in regulation and access charging that give road freight an unfair advantage over rail freight. The ARA believes this is a detrimental outcome for our national freight task that will make it more challenging for rail to compete in the freight market; and
  3. Clarity around government funding of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), and ONRSR.

The ARA tabled its support for the Commission’s recommendation that the National Transport Commission (NTC) undertake a review of the derogations from the RSNL but highlighted that while there are more than 80 derogations to the RSNL, the three priority derogations that will provide the greatest benefits for industry if rectified are:

1. A nationally consistent, risk-based approach to drug and alcohol management;

2. A nationally consistent, risk-based approach to fatigue management; and

3. The removal of the mirror law legislation in WA.

Noting that ONRSR recently completed reviews into drug and alcohol management and fatigue, both of which were resource- intensive for ONRSR and industry alike, and did not achieve national consistency because the current structure permits state governments to maintain their own arrangements, the ARA supported recommendations for the NTC to review derogations but expressed concerns as to whether this will achieve regulatory consistency.

Before delving into the Commissions’ draft report claims that road and rail freight cannot be substitutes, the ARA was overt to state that it does not perpetuate the old-style road versus rail debate but rather, must take a national approach with all modes working together to deliver an integrated freight market. The ARA then cited several examples where road and rail are clear substitutes, such as Inland Rail project, where the ARTC business cases forecasts two million tonnes of agriculture will switch from road to rail and that 200,000 trucks will be taken off roads per annum from 2050; the Darwin to Adelaide rail link which now has 90 per cent of the market share of freight movements; the Melbourne to Perth and Sydney to Perth rail links which both have 80 per cent of the freight market and the Moorebank Intermodal terminal which will provide a direct link to the interstate freight network and Port Botany and once at full operation, will have the capacity to shuttle more than one million shipping containers annually between Port Botany and Moorebank by rail taking about 3,000 heavy truck movements off Sydney’s road network every day.

Drawing on these examples, the ARA asserted that road and rail freight are proven substitutes on many routes and trades and should be subject to equal treatment in terms of access pricing and the role of productivity in safety regulation.

The ARA also spoke on the issue of fatigue management, productivity opportunities for rail freight, the need to ensure the Australian Transport Safety Bureau provides value by improving the timeliness of its reports, and how to improve interface agreements.

The Productivity Commission will finalise its report to deliver to government by April 2020.

ONRSR hails a decade of progress on safety

Chief executive of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and national rail safety regulator, Sue McCarrey, has highlighted that over the last 10 years the rail industry is “making great progress” on rail safety.

“I’m very confident that Australian rail networks are now safer for the people using and working in railways and while like everyone in this business I’m very keen to see the next reform and to capitalise on the next opportunity, it doesn’t hurt to stop and contemplate what’s been achieved, which is really quite extraordinary,” said McCarrey.

In 2009, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) decided to establish a national rail safety regulator and in the decade since, national legislation has been drafted and passed in all states and territories.

In addition, the national regulator has been set up and is operational around Australia.

“To establish national law that facilitates the removal of barriers to safety and efficiency that have existed for more than a century is significant enough. But when you consider we’ve then been able to consistently apply that law right across the country – that’s worth commemorating.” said McCarrey.

In the standardisation of rail safety regulation across Australia, the ONRSR as replaced seven different regulations with a single law. This has led to a single accreditation process and nationally consistent data sets.

Implementation has been conducted through an annual national Rail Safety Report, 65 guidelines and specialised guidance for major rail projects, and a risk-based national work program of safety audits.

At the end of 2019, the decade was capped off with the full transition of the rail safety regulatory role in Victoria to the ONRSR. This followed transitions in jurisdictions beginning in South Australia, then NSW, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory, with the ACT, Western Australia, and Queensland following.

“There is obviously still plenty of work to be done as we enter a new decade but we are, as a risk-based regulator working under a co-regulatory model, making great progress in delivering on the outcomes and objectives of improved rail safety and seamless national safety regulation,” said McCarrey.

In 2020, the ONRSR will improve the use of data and look to make the industry as efficient, productive, and safe as it can be.