Membership of national freight industry reference panel announced

The new Freight Industry Reference Panel will provide Australian federal, state, and territory transport and infrastructure ministers with an industry perspective on the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

Chaired by John Fullerton, who recently stepped down as the managing director and chief executive officer of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, the body will provide input onto decision-making at the highest level.

“The new panel will provide industry a clear line of sight on implementation of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and annually report to Transport and Infrastructure Ministers its independent view on progress made,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

McCormack highlighted Fullerton’s 35 years of experience in the transport industry.

Fullerton is a leading figure in Australia’s infrastructure and transport industry and consistently promotes the value of rail and freight supply chains to the national economy.”

Other members of the reference panel include Nicole Lockwood, who is the chair of the Westport Taskforce Steering Committee and is on the board of Infrastructure WA.

“As a member of the Expert Panel which led the Inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities in 2017 and 2018, Lockwood is uniquely placed to bring both continuity and fresh perspectives in overseeing the Strategy,” said McCormack.

Sophie Finemore will also be a member of the panel. Finemore was senior manager – government relations at Toll Group before joining KPMG in January 2020.

“Finemore’s practical experience in navigating supply chain issues in her role with the Toll Group and her recent involvement in transport market reform will make her a valued member of the Panel,” said McCormack.

Other members include Peter Garske, chief executive of the Queensland Trucking Association and Brett Charlton, general manager of Tasmanian-based Agility Logistics and chairman of the Tasmanian Logistics Committee.

With membership now announced the panel will work with government to suggest areas for reform and the implementation of the National Freight and Supply Chain strategy.

Working groups to address skills, standards to improve safety, productivity

Three working groups have been formed to improve the productivity and safety of the rail industry, and address key issue facing the sector.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack announced the working groups, which were agreed upon by Commonwealth, state, and territory government as part of the National Rail Action Plan.

“We are improving Australia’s rail system by continuing to align and harmonise operating rules, infrastructure and operational standards and systems across the national network.,” said McCormack.

The three groups cover skills and labour, interoperability, and harmonising national standards.

“The Australian government is committed to delivering critical rail infrastructure and improving the safety and productivity of rail operations and we are overseeing a major wave of investment in rail,” said McCormack.

The National Rail Action Plan was agreed upon by state and federal transport ministers as part of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Transport and Infrastructure Council, and is implemented by the National Transport Commission.

The leadership of each of the working groups includes government and industry representatives. CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie will co-chair the skills and labour working group with Tony Braxton-Smith, CEO of the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. Simon Ormsby, group executive strategy at the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), will co-chair a group on interoperability with the NTC Chair, Carolyn Walsh. Deb Spring, CEO of the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), will co-chair a working group on harmonising national standards with Ben Phyland from the Victorian Department of Transport.

“The National Rail Action Plan will complement the 10-year $10 billion National Rail Program, which is designed to help make our cities more liveable and efficient as they grow. The plan also aims to reduce the burden on our roads, provide more reliable transport networks and support our efforts to decentralise our economy and grow regional Australia,” said McCormack.

Wilkie said that the formation of these groups will tackle ongoing challenges in the rail sector, and encourage broader economic growth.

“We have long known that a national focus is crucial to ensuring the rail industry can continue to deliver the efficiency and productivity needed to drive Australia’s economic growth. These working groups will promote collaboration and support a truly national vision for rail.”

The National Rail Action Plan notes that the large pipeline of rail investment has created challenges in terms of critical skills in construction, operations, and manufacturing.

“There is no question we will need more skilled people in rail in the coming years. The working group will be looking at how we can collectively promote the industry as a great place to work. There is a real diversity of careers available in the industry and we need to make sure there are clear pathways to encourage the best and brightest to join us,” said Wilkie.

The Plan also sets out that the multiplicity of standards for infrastructure, rollingstock and components, safe work, and communications and control systems have presented a regulatory barrier to the rail industry. Addressing this will be one of the tasks of the working groups.

“The ARA also looks forward to engaging with the working groups on interoperability and harmonising national standards. Greater national consistency would allow us to get more value out of investment in rail and further streamline passenger and freight operations,” said Wilkie. “The calibre of industry representatives taking part in these groups really highlights how important the focus on these issues is.”

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.