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Freight and logistics groups have called out the NSW government’s undermining of its own mode share target for containers carried by rail into Port Botany.
The Australian Logistics Council (ALC), Freight on Rail Group of Australia (FORG), Freight and Trade Alliance (FTA), and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) along with individual port rail freight operators are questioning the wisdom of allowing more high productivity vehicles on Sydney’s roads.
“By incentivising HPVs, government is perversely derailing their own policy to grow rail’s mode share target – at a time when Sydneysiders want safer roads and less traffic congestion and vehicle emissions,” said ALC board member and Qube managing director Maurice James.
The NSW government has been issuing permits for high productivity vehicles to access the Sydney road network and major motorways such as WestConnex. By allowing trucks which can carry two containers to travel within Sydney, this reduces the competitiveness of rail for the metro import container market.
The NSW government has set itself the goal of having 28 per cent of the container trade through Port Botany being handled by rail by 2021, however just 17.6 per cent is currently hauled by rail.
Instead of having each mode compliment each other, with rail for longer distances and trucks for the first and last mile, road transport was monopolising container traffic, with impacts on the local community, said FORG chair and Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle
“Today, many HPVs are doing ‘every mile’ of the freight task in Sydney, placing heightened pressure on traffic congestion, road safety and vehicle emissions,” he said.
Dalla Valle advocated for a measure such as the Western Australian government’s Port of Fremantle container incentive scheme was needed in NSW.
“Prior to introduction of the incentive scheme at the Port of Fremantle in 2006-07, rail mode share was a meagre two per cent. The scheme underpinned growth of rail’s mode share which is now above 20 per cent – the highest in the country,” said Dalla Valle.
Director of the FTA and secretariat to the Australian Peak Shippers Association Paul Zalai said that governments should encourage importers to use rail services.
“Governments must maximise port assets and manage our trade gateways through incentivisation of rail usage for imports to metropolitan sites and importantly, streamlined connectivity to regional areas to cost effectively reach export markets.”
ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie said communities would be feeling the brunt of the lack of rail transport.
“The balance has tipped so far we run the risk of Sydney’s roads being over-run with trucks unless there is urgent action to use more rail.”
The Freight on Rail Group has called upon the federal government to fund the resumption of the Murray Basin Rail Project.
The coalition of rail freight businesses, chaired by Dean Dalla Valle said that with the Victorian government committing $48.8m in funding, the Commonwealth needed to come to the table as well.
“This commitment from the Victorian government is welcome – as a nation we need to get this rail freight network humming again. Given we could see another bumper crop next year, industry encourages the Commonwealth to also commit extra funding to help get the network back on track,” said Dalla Valle.
Getting the project back on track would improve the productivity of the Victorian rail network, and with forecast bumper grain harvests, the need for investment is critical.
“Due to well-documented problems with rail infrastructure in the basin, I’ve heard almost 70 percent of export grain this season will be transported by truck to Victorian ports – this is an extremely poor outcome for society; and certainly not good for regional councils already struggling to repair and maintain large road networks,” said Dalla Valle.
Since stalling in 2019, the partially completed project has led to a decline in freight carried by rail in the region. Groups including farmers, grain haulers, and now freight rail businesses are highlighting the importance of an efficient freight network.
“Inefficient transport supply chains corrode the core fundamentals of state and national economic productivity; destroying jobs and increasing cost of living pressures for millions of Australians,” said Dalla Valle.
The opportunity to reinvigorate the Murray Basin rail network had positives on a number of fronts, said Dalla Valle, beyond agricultural productivity. Moving more freight by rail would make roads safer for passenger vehicle by reducing accidents and wear and tear on roads. Additionally, as rail freight is less emissions intensive than road freight, Australia could reduce transport emissions. According to a 2017 Deloitte Access Economics report, for every kilometre of freight transport, rail produces 16 times less carbon pollution than road freight, and 14 times less accident costs.
Rebuilding the network would also provide a boost for regional economies and the Australian supply chain.
“Just imagine all the Australian-made steel that will be used in upgrading and standardising the network with new track – additional support for this project should be of the highest national priority,” said Dalla Valle.
The first section of Inland Rail, linking Parkes and Narromine in the NSW Central West, has been completed.
A ceremonial opening of the line was held today, September 15, at Peak Hill, where the first shipment of steel was delivered to begin the project in January 2018.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that today marked a historic point in the project.
“Inland Rail is nation-building and today recognises a great milestone in this transformational infrastructure,” he said.
“Inland Rail is an investment in Australia – in our economy, in our regions and in the capacity of our future freight network.”
Industry welcomed the breakthrough on this stage of the project, which when complete will link Melbourne and Brisbane by rail in under 24 hours. Chair of the Freight on Rail Group Dean Dalla Valle said this would improve the competitiveness of rail.
“In the past, trucks would do the ‘first and last mile’ between rail terminals and ports, warehouses, distribution centres and manufacturing plants. Today on some key transport corridors – notably between Sydney and Melbourne – trucks are doing every mile,” he said.
“A typical 1,500-metre interstate freight train can haul up to 220 shipping containers – equivalent to approximately 180 B-double return truck trips.”
CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie said that with this section complete, the rest of the project should soon follow.
“The promise of Inland Rail has already generated significant activity in the Parkes region as the community readies itself for the opportunities better rail freight connections will bring,” she said.
“It is now critical that the project’s swift progress across the rest of the route is supported so even more communities and businesses can benefit in this way.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the 1,700km freight rail link would improve Australia’s entire freight network.
Long-haul rail is cheaper, safer and more reliable than road, that’s why the Australian Government is enhancing the national freight rail network through our investment in Inland Rail,” Cormann said.
“The shift from road to rail builds resilience in our freight network – not only will Inland Rail deliver a long-term freight solution for Australia to meet the needs of our growing population – it is also a critical investment supporting an efficient Australian economy.”
A focus for the Parkes to Narromine section has been the involvement of locals, with 760 contributing to the project and $110 million spent with local businesses. Work on the project included a rebuild of almost 100km of existing rail track and a new 5.3km connection between Inland Rail and the Broken Hill line.
Steel for the project came from South Australia, concrete sleepers were sourced from Mittagong and culverts came from Tamworth. The final ‘golden clip’ which McCormack hammered into place to signify the completion of the project was one of 365,000 sourced from a supplier in Blacktown, Sydney.
Construction is expected to commence on the Narrabri to North Star leg before the end of 2020 with a contractor to be confirmed soon.
State, territory and federal infrastructure and transport ministers have released an enforceable code for the border control of freight movements; however, differences remain.
The code follows the previously released protocol and specifies the measures that states and territories will enforce to ensure freight can keep moving during COVID-19 while ensuring the virus does not spread.
The code aligns previously disparate measures that individual states and territories had adopted, particularly after the outbreak of a second wave of COVID-19 in Victoria, said Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz.
“Aligning state and territory measures through this Code will help reduce delays in the supply chain, ensuring our freight operators can keep moving safely and efficiently.”
Under the code, states and territories will not require freight workers, including rail crew, to self-isolate when travelling across a border, although workers are advised to keep contacts to a practical minimum.
Other common measures include the requirement for a valid border permit and record keeping by the driver and operator of a freight train of recent contacts.
Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham said that the alignment of requirements across borders was welcome.
“The confirmation that workers will not need to go into quarantine or formal self-isolation in any jurisdiction is also especially important in minimising disruptions to freight movement. ALC also welcomes the Code’s commitment to the mutual recognition of COVIDSafe workplans between jurisdictions,” said Coningham.
Testing requirements remained an area of difference. While Queensland has mandated tests on a seven day rolling basis for those coming from hotspots, Victoria will not provide testing for asymptomatic freight workers. In WA, tests are mandated on a seven day rolling basis for those crossing the border and in NSW tests are encouraged. Upon arrival into a state, testing requirements also differ, with testing mandated within 24 hours in South Australia and within 48 hours after entering WA.
Conginham said that the federal government may be required to step in to assist testing in Victoria.
“With the extraordinary pressures on Victoria’s testing capacity at present, it may be appropriate for the Federal Government to provide the state with some additional support to help make this happen, in the interests of national supply chain efficiency,” he said.
“ALC remains deeply concerned that not providing testing for asymptomatic drivers in Victoria will make it extraordinarily difficult for freight workers to meet border requirements imposed by other states and could lead to supply chain disruptions.”
Chair of the Freight on Rail Group (FORG) Dean Dalla Valle also welcomed the protocol and code and the efforts of governments to enable freight to continue moving on rail.
“The only additional measure our sector would strongly recommend in the coming days and weeks is for extra resources to be thrown at more widespread and rapid COVID testing; albeit we appreciate testing regimes in states like Victoria have understandably been stretched to the limit,” he said.
“It was therefore very pleasing to see the new national protocol includes states and territories providing pop up testing facilities at rail freight terminals/depots where they can be accommodated.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the crisis had shown how Australia relied upon the efficient movement of freight.
“The work our freight operators do keeps our shelves stocked and our local economies running,” he said.
“Streamlining the process for crossing borders will make life easier for our freight operators.”
Dalla Valle said that government had to be brought up to speed on the requirements of rail freight.
“For instance, in any given day, numerous train crews and support staff must cross state borders in light vehicles to meet interstate services or return to home base after a shift,” said Dalla Valle.
“For example, a train crew based in Broken Hill will regularly cross in South Australia by car to relieve another crew on the Trans-Australian Railway, and vice-versa. Similarly train crews in south western NSW often cross into northern Victoria by car to meet bulk grain services on the Murray Basin Rail network.”
These realities have led train crews to keep themselves isolated and follow strict hygiene practices. This has enabled rail to continue to move freight across borders and minimise the spread of COVID-19.
Freight rail personnel travelling from Victoria to NSW will have to apply for a permit, under new regulations imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The new rules were imposed on July 8 and apply to anyone crossing the border from Victoria to NSW. While freight and logistics are exempted from the ban on travelling across the border as they are seen as providing critical services, a permit is required.
A separate permit is being created to clarify conditions for freight and transport operators. This permit will allow freight personnel to travel between NSW and Victoria for the purpose of their duties, as long as their employer has a COVID-19 Safety Plan and does not require them to self-isolate.
Applications for the new freight and transport permit will be live through Service NSW by close of business Thursday, July 9.
When the border closure was initially announced and put in place, freight and logistics operators were required to self-isolate, however chair of the Freight on Rail Group of Australia Dean Dalla Valle welcomed the change to the freight and transport-specific permit.
“Rail maintenance workers, terminal staff and safety compliance officers also need to regularly cross the Victorian-NSW border in cars to service and supervise essential freight train operations,” he said.
“Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole and his key agency staff immediately understood and appreciated these nuanced, daily practical requirements of our sector. He also understood the logistical difficulty of forcing hundreds of train crews to self-isolate for 14-days each time they crossed the border on a freight delivery run.”
Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham also welcomed the NSW governments creation of the freight transport permit.
“ALC has been working with the NSW government and other industry groups over the past day to rectify the impractical requirement for freight transport workers entering NSW from Victoria to self-isolate for 14 days,” he said.
“We are pleased that the NSW Government is now creating a new permit that will allow our industry’s workforce to continue delivering essential goods to communities without being forced into self-isolation.”
Passenger rail between the two states has been halted, with the XPT service from Sydney terminating at Albury.
According to a statement from the Victorian and NSW agriculture ministers, both governments are working to ensure freight can flow across the border.
“We are working closely with our federal and New South Wales counterparts to ensure freight movements across the border can continue and our agricultural products can be delivered to market shelves across Victoria,” said Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes.
NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said that the governments will ensure that the agricultural supply chain will continue operating.
“Agriculture is critical to both our states and to the country, which is why we’ll be working to make sure there’s minimal to no disruption to this essential sector.”
Rail freight and the wider transport sector has been recognised as critical to ensuring Australians can access essential supplies throughout the COVID-19 period. When other state-borders were closed earlier in 2020, exemptions were granted for freight to continue. Coningham said that these procedures should continue.
“Our industry has supported communities right throughout this pandemic, and it’s important governments return that support by ensuring their COVID rules and regulations are practical, workable and allow us to keep delivering.”
Dalla Valle said that the efficiencies of rail had been clearly demonstrated throughout the pandemic.
“What has become crystal clear during the COVID-19 pandemic is the innate power of rail in being able to transport bulk volumes of freight over large distances and state borders in a safe and efficient manner,” he said.
“For example, a typical interstate goods train up to 1,500 metres in length can haul approximately 220 shipping containers, helping to significantly reduce the number of truck (and hence people) movements across state borders.”
Dalla Valle also said that rail was able to ensure that goods are transported via corridors and facilities that did not come into contact with the public.
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).
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.