ALC

Improving rail’s share of freight task starts with policy settings: ALC

CEO of the ALC Kirk Coningham writes that significant efficiencies can be found without massive spending.

Among the many disruptions wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic was the need to defer the 2020-21 Commonwealth budget, which will now be handed down some five months later than originally scheduled.

As always, ALC made a submission to the federal government ahead of the originally planned date. This was well before the full effects of the pandemic reached Australian shores and our industry faced the challenge of keeping essential supplies moving, despite unprecedented restrictions on movement and the effect of state and territory border closures.

All of us – governments, industry and the wider community – have learned lessons as a result of the COVID-19 experience. Perhaps more than ever before, communities now understand the very real and immediate impact that supply chain disruption can have on their daily life.

As consumers witnessed empty supermarket shelves as a result of unprecedented demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a clear need to ensure that logistics operators are given the flexibility to they need to meet increased and changing demand.

This is equally true right across the supply chain – from deliveries into supermarket loading docks through to the movement of freight trains across state borders.

Perhaps the single most effective government action taken during the pandemic to address supply chain disruption did not involve massive expenditure, but simply the removal of operational curfews through non- legislative ministerial action.

Industry has called for the removal of such operational restrictions over many years. With many of them suspended for the duration of the pandemic, both government and the community have been able to see the benefits.

As the Prime Minister himself noted in June this year: “Trucks were allowed to resupply along roads and during hours where they were previously banned. And the sun came up the next day. It was extraordinary.”

This goes to the heart of the key point ALC has made to the federal government ahead of this year’s Budget.

With the pandemic having placed the nation’s finances in a challenging position, this is the time to focus on regulatory reform that may not cost big money – but can nevertheless have a profound impact on supply chain efficiency.

The need for such regulatory reform was a key focus of ALC’s pre-budget submission in January – and the urgency of that task has been underscored in the supplementary submission provided to the federal government in August.

In the rail space, this includes supporting the development of a National Rail Plan that will finally establish a single set of consistent national laws to regulate the movement of freight by rail in Australia that address environmental regulation, workplace health and safety, workers’ compensation and drug and alcohol testing.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated border closures have put a spotlight on the disruption that can be caused by inconsistent regulatory approaches between jurisdictions. The upcoming federal budget is the place to start work that will finally make the changes needed to overcome such disruptions.

Budget should target new projects and upgrades: ARA

New projects and upgrades to existing technology should be considered for funding as part of the federal budget, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie has said.

With the budget to be handed down on October 6 and early announcements already coming out, Wilkie said that rail was ready to contribute to Australia’s economic recovery.

“There is a significant pipeline of rail investment that could be fast tracked to generate more jobs and opportunity to support our economic recovery,” said Wilkie.

“This is work that will make a difference right now while leaving a lasting legacy for the cities and towns that benefit from new rail projects.”

A number of rail projects are awaiting federal funding to take the next step. The Melbourne Airport Rail Link will proceed once final funding from the federal government confirmed, as can the resumption of the Murray Basin Rail Project, with a business case sitting with Canberra.

In addition to new construction, funding for technology upgrades such as the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s Advanced Train Management System, would provide long term benefits. Infrastructure upgrades such as level crossing removals are another way the federal government’s funding to rail would conitrbute to wider economic outcomes.

“At a time where we desperately need more people in jobs and more certainty for those rebounding from the economic hardships of the pandemic, we need to see more projects started sooner to build the country back up again,” said Wilkie.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack has indicated that major infrastructure projects will be part of the 2020 budget, however no particular projects have been tipped yet. The federal government has indicated that money allocated to the states for infrastructure will be needed to be spent quickly and may be a condition of further funding.