Freight Rail

With trucks running well at Botany, focus turns to rail

Rail line at Port Botany. Photo: Sydney Ports Corporation / Brendan Read

Ian Ackerman

Everybody knows freight is important to the economy, but the amount of freight moving throughout New South Wales is growing, and so is the task of getting that freight from A to B efficiently.

Speaking at the recent AusIntermodal conference, Transport for NSW director of transport performance and analytics Phil Bullock said freight transport is worth about $60 billion per year to the state economy, or 13% of the gross state product, and employs about half a million people.

“We’re expecting freight volumes to increase from 409 million tonnes transported within the state in 2011, which our models are aligned to, going up to 794 million tonnes by 2031,” he said.

“We expect to see increases in specific sectors and particular forms of freight like containerised freight.”

Costs are high in the freight market, with up to 30% of the price of goods sold going to transport costs, Bullock explained.

“We’re in a high cost environment; you don’t need me to tell you that,” he said.

“One of the stats is around a typical Australian importer/exporter who pays in the region of $200 to $250 more in transport costs compared to a UK or US competitor.”

The cost of maintaining and operating the network is an important consideration, according to Bullock, and Transport for NSW is looking at how to get more out of the existing network.

“When we talk about congestion and competition for network capacity, all of those issues come together in Port Botany,” he said.

Port freight traffic has to compete with commuter traffic, which is a significant issue in Sydney and around Port Botany.

“We’re looking at how transport is performing now and how it will perform in the future” Bullock said.

“It is a good case study, we’re tipping a lot of employment and population growth into that area, you’ve already got network reliability is a problem for passengers and freight in that area, and you’ve got freight competing with passengers for space.”

Bullock went on to say the government and industry has made had much success in improving the efficiency of road operations at Port Botany.

“Some operational performance measures and mandatory standards that have come in have really helped to improve the efficiency of the transport network by improving the transparency of performance to everyone, and helping initiate a stronger level of accountability to those players in the supply chain to each other,” he said.

“Truck turnaround times have more than halved over the past six years; they’re down from an average of 53 minutes in 2010 to an average of 23 minutes for the 2015/16 financial year,” Bullock said, referring to Port Botany.

“The work that we’ve been doing with industry enabled on-time performance movements at the port to remain at a level of around 95% plus, which is great.

“We’ve done our own work to estimate the financial benefits of that, and they’re significant. We’ve estimated that it provides a benefit of around $96 million over a period of 2009-2018 as the estimates were done at the time.”

Having improved road transport efficiency around the port, Mr Bullock said it was time to turn toward rail transport.

“Now we’re really focused more on the rail side of things, and we’re trying to up the ante and lift the efficiency of rail operations into Port Botany,” he said.

“This is a fairly sobering statistic, but in 2015/16 only 22% of country trains into Port Botany ran on time, and 33% for metropolitan trains; a vastly different picture, compared to the road side of things.”

The NSW Government has set a target of doubling the amount of freight moved into NSW ports by rail by 2020, and Mr Bullock said the numbers are progressing toward that goal.

“We’ve seen mode-share go from 13.5% in 2014/15 to 16.3% in the 15/16 financial year, and we’re currently at 18% for the first quarter of the current financial year. It’s tough, but it is moving in the right direction, which is positive,” he said.

“A lot of that comes down to innovation by the main stevedores and the changes that they’ve made, but we’re doing our bit, which is looking at infrastructure improvements to the landside network.”

An initiative for the cargo movement co-ordination centre at Transport for NSW has been bringing important stakeholders together with the aim of improving freight transport efficiency.

“A big initiative for us was to establish the Port Botany Rail Optimisation Group, or PBROG, it’s a group that comprises CEOs from the stevedores, the rail operators, NSW Ports, and its agenda is about providing that advice on performance standards, really important stuff like data exchange, and communication protocols between the different groups that are involved in operations, as well as those longer term policy and regulatory impediments that we in government need to think about and start to deal with,” Bullock said.

“The group has bet several times already, and there has been some positive outcomes as a result of establishing that group and some minimum benchmarks have been set around things like lift rates, minimum train lifts presented and gap time – that’s been a really positive thing for us.”

This article was originally published on Rail Express affiliate site Lloyd’s List Australia.