AusRAIL, Market Sectors

VIEWPOINT: 13 years on and what?s changed?

<span class="" id="parent-fieldname-description"> Looking back to my Viewpoint columns in the very early days of Rail Express, it’s interesting to see how many of the issues of the day back then are mirrored by the same industry concerns we have today, and in some cases provide a sad reflection on the lack of progress the industry has made in these areas, Mark Carter writes. </span> <div>Clearing out some family archives recently, I came across the Viewpoint column I wrote for the second ever edition of Rail Express back in April 2000. It touched on a number of subjects including the Inland Route, a Sydney freight by-pass, progress in rail regulatory reform and imbalances in road funding, amongst others.<br /><br />Back then the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Route was costed at around $1 billion and Everald Compton’s ATEC consortium was promising its completion within a matter of years and at no net cost to government.&nbsp <br /><br />Luckily the government of the day was not sucked in by that latter pledge and progressively over a number of years has slowly wrested ownership of the project way from ATEC.<br /><br />The down side of this is that 13 years on, and several reports later we are not that much closer to the seeing this project becoming a reality. <br /><br />I for one am not convinced by the new Coalition Government’s promises in this regard, which apart from rearranging a few dates is little different to the previous government’s policy and any moves to privatise Australian Rail Track Corporation as is being speculated would further complicate matters.&nbsp <br /><br />Continuing with my column, the NSW Government had just committed $800m over six years towards realignment works between Hornsby and Warnervale to reduce freight transit times. That funding appears to have down the rounds a few times, but thankfully a number of projects are finally underway, although the money may not stretch quite so far thirteen years on.&nbsp&nbsp <br /><br />April 2000 saw the Federal Government’s response to three separate Inquiries into the rail industry: Tracking Australia (the Neville report) Revitalising Rail – The private sector solution, (the Smorgon report) and Progress in Rail Reform, prepared by the Productivity Commission.<br /><br />At the time I noted that the Government had overlooked that all three of these reports had called for a more balanced and integrated approach to rail and road funding. <br /><br />Nothing new of course, but the fact that no less than three reports had come to the same conclusion within a short space of time should have generated a more immediate and appropriate response. <br /><br />Finally in February 2006, the Council of Australian Governments got around to instructing the Productivity Commission to develop proposals for efficient pricing of road and rail freight infrastructure through consistent and competitively neutral pricing regimes.<br /><br />The Commission found that the argument that road is subsidised relative to rail was not compelling and since then the wider us of B Doubles and Triples has further unlevelled the playing field.&nbsp&nbsp <br /><br />Many in the rail industry have always felt that the terms of reference were too prescriptive and that the report failed to acknowledge many of the external costs generated by the road transport industry. <br /><br />The rail industry still raises its concerns on a regular basis, but the these days it seems that any campaign to redress the imbalance has run out of steam. <br /><br />To be fair to the Productivity Commission, among the key recommendations in its Progress in Rail Reform report, it identified a need for the Commonwealth to facilitate ongoing harmonisation of regulatory arrangements.<br /><br />And another 13 years later at the beginning of this year we finally got that with the establishment of the National Rail Safety Regulator at the start of the year.<br /><br />However, anyone who has the future well-being of the rail industry at heart would not have been encouraged by the story in last week’s Rail Express Newswire where industry leaders were asked for their views on the establishment of the new national regulator.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp <br /><br />The general consensus was that while the establishment of the new regulator is a major positive, its impact has yet to be felt throughout the industry.<br /><br />Angus McKay, director, Pacific National Rail says it is absolutely the right direction, but that it is taking too long and that more must be done to accelerate the process.<br /><br />Brookfield Rail’s, noted that as legislation has not yet been passed in Western Australia, and likely won’t be until early next year, Brookfield Rail had not yet noticed a relaxing of the regulatory burden.<br /><br />Disappointingly, Graham Sibery from the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, South Australia was quoted as saying, “the benefit will probably become more evident over time for long distance operators crossing several former jurisdictions. It is the right way to go but these things take time to develop.”<br /><br />13 years since the idea was floated at an executive level and several years since actual moves were made towards turning it into a reality, and we still need more time?<br /><br />Surely you’re ‘avin a larf?