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).

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.

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