Freight group issues election priorities

The industry group representing Australia’s largest rail freight operators and infrastructure owners has released its policy priorities for the forthcoming Federal election.

Freight on Rail Group (FORG) members contribute more than $11 billion to Australia’s economy each year, employ almost 20,000 people, operate 1600 freight locomotives and manage 23,000 kilometres of rail track. They include Pacific National, Australian Rail Track Corporation, One Rail Australia, Aurizon, Qube Holdings, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, Watco Australia and Southern Shorthaul Railroad.

Rail-based freight and logistics operations perform a vital role for Australia’s export industries and in domestic markets. FORG recognises the importance of efficiently meeting future freight demand and continuing to improve the competitiveness of freight supply chains. As Australia moves rapidly to decarbonise the nation’s supply chains, rail will have a pivotal role given the major safety, environmental and other community benefits it delivers, including reduced road congestion.

Prioritise rail infrastructure resilience
FORG welcomes the current Review of Road and Rail Supply Chain Resilience. With “once in 100 year” events happening more regularly it will be important that:
• Resilience priorities are identified across Australia’s rail freight network, including regional rail infrastructure and focusing on where the existing network requires improvement.
• The use of technology to detect when a network or particular sections of a network require mitigation and protection actions.
• Ensuring that rail networks are well prepared to undertake efficient recovery works when required.
The findings of the Review of Road and Rail Supply Chain Resilience need to be a key priority for the first six months of the new Federal term of office.

Inland Rail Project
Inland Rail will provide step-change improvement in the domestic and export supply chains for industries that are vital for Australia’s economic prosperity.
A key infrastructure priority for an incoming Federal Government should be the delivery of the Inland Rail project, with a focus on supporting the large private sector investments that will be required to realise all the economic and regional benefits of the supply chain services that will use Inland Rail in the future.

Provide a level playing field for rail and road with infrastructure pricing policy
On freight corridors where rail and road compete to transport general freight, the current policy of Federal and State Governments has resulted in in favourable road user charges for trucks that are not cost reflective.
FORG recommends the Federal and State Governments introduce equivalent policies for rail and road infrastructure pricing, and achieve this by one of the following options:
• Road pricing reform that introduces cost-reflective user charging for heavy vehicles, as previously agreed by the Federal and State Governments
• Alternatively, the introduction of a rail freight utilisation incentive program, potentially linked to the value of the emissions reduction benefits of freight transported by rail.

Utilise rail freight to reduce transport sector greenhouse gas emissions
Too often the emissions reduction strategies are compartmentalised to the specific mode of transport, road or rail, and handled separately. There is an opportunity for governments and industry to think across the different transport modes and to increase the utilisation of rail freight to reduce overall transport emissions, given that using rail freight produces 16 times less carbon pollution than road freight per tonne kilometre.
FORG recommends that emissions reduction programs should provide an incentive for future freight volumes to be carried by rail, recognising the environmental and community benefits from using rail. A rail freight utilisation program could also be linked to the larger infrastructure access costs paid by rail compared to road.

Coastal shipping regulation
Coastal shipping regulation for the transportation of domestic freight should recognise investments in land transport operations and provide for efficient utilisation of land transport modes where infrastructure and services are available.
Coastal shipping regulation should not provide unreasonable competitive advantages to foreign flagged ships to enter and participate in Australia’s domestic freight services market where ships compete with land transport supply chains. FORG recommends that transport policy and regulation should better protect the sovereignty and security of Australia’s domestic supply chains against foreign-flagged ships.

Focus on improving the productivity of rail freight
FORG recommends a nationally coordinated focus on improving the productivity of rail freight that involves the following priorities:
• Addressing impediments to rail freight productivity including those that are identified by the Review of Rail Freight Productivity chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson.
• Making targeted investments in improving the productivity of existing rail infrastructure.
• Integrate rail-based supply chains with other transport modes so that the benefits of rail in carrying larger volumes of freight are realised, including ‘first mile’ and ‘last mile’ connections to production or distribution sites and end destinations.
• A coordinated Federal and State Government approach to consistently identifying and overseeing the implementation of rail freight productivity improvement priorities that is integrated with overall supply chain development programs.

Transport infrastructure investment proposals to recognise externality impacts of transport modes
FORG recommends that transport infrastructure investment assessments should be required to consider and recognise the externality impacts of transport modes, including safety, environment and congestion benefits.
These benefits should be identified and considered in relation to infrastructure investment priorities, including investments aimed at improving the productivity and utilisation of existing infrastructure.

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.