Investigations begun and completed into freight rail incidents

Investigations into two freight rail incidents have begun and been completed this week.

The completed investigation targeted the dewiring of over a kilometre of overhead powerlines in 2018. In this case, the ATSB investigation found that the collapsible walls of the flat racks were not secured by personnel at the Acacia Ridge terminal.

When passing through Cooroy on the North Coast line in Queensland, the rear end wall of the top of a stack of flat racks was extended, leading to it becoming entangled with overhead line equipment (OHLE), including copper wire. The wires were dragged along the platform at Cooroy, where luckily no one was present, however a south-bound train was due to arrive in 30 minutes.

Another concern in the incident was train crew entering the three-metre exclusion zone around the OHLE, before the wires were isolated and earthed. Although de-energised, the cables were not electrically safe.

ATSB director transport safety Mike Walker said the incident showed the need for effective processes for emergencies and in freight terminals.

“This occurrence has highlighted the importance of having checklists for rarely conducted tasks and emergency response tasks in the rail environment, and ensuring these checklists are readily available and used by operational personnel,” said Walker.

Aurizon, which operates the Acacia Ridge terminal and the train in the incident, has updated its safety processes in response to the incident and investigation. Network manager Queensland Rail has also mandated a network control officer checklist for OHLE emergencies.

Another investigation has been opened into a freight train derailing near Lake Bathurst. The Pacific National-operated service, a loaded garbage waste train, derailed after a wheel bearing assemble on the trailing axle of the lead bogie of one of the wagons failed.

The derailment lasted for a distance of roughly 2,500m. No one was injured however there was damage to the wagon’s bogie and frame and minor damage to track infrastructure. The NSW Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI) is conducting the investigation on behalf of the ATSB.

Fremantle port shuttle to move more freight via rail

A new port shuttle rail service between Fremantle Port and the Perth Freight Terminal in Kewdale could take over 20,000 return truck trips off roads in Fremantle and Perth each year.

Pacific National began the port shuttle rail service last month and is looking to ramp up volumes on the route in September. Up to five port shuttle services are on offer each week, with each train having the capacity to haul 100 shipping containers from the North Quay Rail Terminal at Fremantle Port to Kewdale.

Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle said that there is the potential to move up to 26,000 shipping containers from trucks and onto rail each year with the service.

“Daily train shuttle services between Fremantle Port and Perth Freight Terminal are by far the safest, most efficient and environmentally-friendly way to haul large volumes of freight,” said Dalla Valle.

Getting more freight from Fremantle Port to Kewdale will be essential to avoid Perth’s roads being clogged with large trucks. Container volumes at Fremantle Port are expected to increase to over 1.2 million TEUs by 2031, near double 2016 figures, according to the Perth Freight Transport Network Plan.

Significant increases are also expected in iron and steel imports, agricultural and other machinery, and motor vehicles.

Demand for rail freight is expected to increase by 50 per cent over the next two decades.

The Western Australian government hopes to move more freight via rail through upgrades to infrastructure, such as track duplication, and improved efficiencies on the existing network.

The need for effective and efficient freight networks with rail as the backbone has only come to more prominence since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the first time in a long time, people have started to understand and appreciate the finely tuned nature and criticality of our nation’s freight supply chains. They are the arteries supplying our economic lifeblood,” said Dalla Valle.

“Shifting haulage of large volumes of containerised freight from road to rail benefits the broader WA community. It results in fewer road accidents and fatalities, reduced traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, and less wear and tear on local and state roads.”

ACCC seeks to take Acacia Ridge sale to High Court

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has sought leave to appeal to the High Court Pacific National’s purchase of Aurizon’s Acacia Ridge Terminal.

In May, the Full Federal Court, on appeal, found that the sale would not substantially lessen competition in the rail freight sector.

If the ACCC’s appeal is successful, it will be the first time that the High Court has heard a case with Australia’s merger laws.

Pacific National has criticised the ACCC’s pursual of the case, which had been heard and ruled upon twice at the Federal Court level.

“Pacific National was looking forward to completing the transaction and adding the Acacia Ridge Terminal to its network of efficient freight terminals, and this will once again be delayed while the ACCC seeks to further appeal what Pacific National considered was a comprehensive and correct decision by the Federal Court,” said a Pacific National spokesperson.

Aurizon has said in a statement that it would continue to operate the Acacia Ridge terminal and expected the leave application to be heard and decided before the end of 2020.

The ACCC has been pursuing the case as it sees the case as a test of Australia’s merger laws. In addition, the ACCC is attempting to seek a finding as to whether a court can accept an undertaking after finding a proposed acquisition is anti-competitive.

“We are seeking special leave to appeal to the High Court because it is vital for Australian businesses and consumers that competition laws are effective in protecting the competitive process,” said Simms.

Pacific National had offered to make an access undertaking which the Federal Court had initially accepted. On appeal the Full Federal Court found that the undertaking was not needed.

Simms said that the Full Federal Court’s decision did not recognise the impact of Pacific National’s purchase of the Acacia Ridge terminal.

“We believe that the Full Federal Court’s decision does not recognise the full impact of the proposed acquisition on competition in this vitally important industry.”

New construction and freight jobs for Western Sydney

Up to 80,000 truck trips will be taken off Sydney’s congested motorways each year, while 230 jobs will be created in Western Sydney, as part of a combined investment value of up to $100 million to shift freight off the city’s road network and onto rail.

The NSW government has approved construction of a new freight hub in the heart of Western Sydney, allowing shipping containers to be hauled by freight trains from Port Botany to St Marys rather than transported by thousands of truck trips on busy Sydney motorways.

Pacific National’s CEO Dean Dalla Valle said St Marys Freight Hub will shift up to 301,000 shipping containers onto rail each year, removing 70,000 to 80,000 truck trips off Sydney’s congested motorways annually, helping to improve road safety and the daily commute of thousands of motorists.

“By shifting more freight onto rail between Port Botany and Western Sydney, the number of truck trips on the congested M4 and M5 motorways will be reduced by 8.7 million kilometres each year, that’s equivalent to 23 trips to the moon,” he said.

Dalla Valle said St Marys Freight Hub will allow more people to live and work locally, rather than commuting around 130 kilometres each day between Western Sydney and Port Botany.

“With Western Sydney’s population forecast to grow by another 1.7 million people by 2036, freight will be in high demand as will the need for new skilled employment in the region,” he said.

Dalla Valle said under the development consent for St Marys Freight Hub, Pacific National has a year to start construction with early works expected in coming months. This project will play an important role in helping to boost the NSW economy as it recovers from the deep shocks of the coronavirus crisis.

“With the COVID-19 global pandemic creating the most testing employment conditions since the Great Depression, the St Marys Freight Hub will create 60 construction jobs during the building phase and more than 170 full-time jobs once fully up and running,” he said.

Dalla Valle said St Marys Freight Hub was ideally located to process large volumes of containerised freight, with many of Australia’s major retailers and wholesalers operating national warehousing and distribution centres within 15 kilometres of the new intermodal facility.

“Imported shipping containers will be hauled from Port Botany to St Marys Freight Hub by train, then transported to nearby warehouses and distribution centres by truck to be unpacked,” he said.

Pacific National has partnered with port logistics operator ACFS who will manage and operate the St Marys Freight Hub and deliver shipping containers the ‘last mile’ by truck to retail and wholesale customers at surrounding warehouses and distribution centres.

ACFS Port Logistics CEO Arthur Tzaneros said St Marys Freight Hub will be a game changer for commercial and industrial areas and facilities in Western Sydney where the majority of large-scale customer warehouses and distribution centres are located.

“The strategically located 43-hectare hub – initially 10-hectares in size – will increase reliability and cost efficiency of freight movements for ACFS customers. It is located outside of Sydney’s road toll zone and will help ensure freight deliveries are not delayed in traffic congestion on the city’s motorways,” he said.

Dalla Valle said contents of shipping containers include everything from food, medical supplies, building products and household items like TVs, washing machines and furniture.

“To put this in perspective, a single shipping container can hold approximately 25,000 rolls of toilet paper, 55,000 cans of tinned food or 1,500 cases of beer,” he said.

Rapid adoption of ATMS key to freight rail competitiveness

Rail freight cannot afford to be left “in the age of steam” chair of the Freight on Rail Group (FORG) Dean Dalla Valle has said in the inaugural industry-led Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) oversight group.

Dalla Valle, who chaired the first meeting, was referring to the adoption of semi-autonomous trucks in the road freight sector, and the need for rail to adopt similar digital technologies such as ATMS.

The group, formed in May, held its first meeting on June 2 and will oversee the rapid rollout of the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) ATMS system.

ATMS will allow for more trains to run on Australia’s freight network by reducing headways and improve safety by allowed for remote control and automatic braking.

Using GPS navigation and mobile internet, ATMS removes the need for trackside infrastructure and operators will communicate with drivers via in-cab equipment. Dalla Valle said that this would shift the public perception of rail freight.

“Innovative in-cab technologies not only help enhance safety and productivity, they also allow us to better monitor the performance of networks. Smart technology to better utilise existing physical assets is often overshadowed by ‘glamorous’ big-money infrastructure projects, albeit the two need to go together.”

Dalla Valle also highlighted that the adoption of ATMS would remove the tendency towards distinct train control systems, a trend that could limit the effectiveness of the rail freight sector as the different state-based gauge networks did in the 20th century.

“Lack of harmonisation of train control systems across the country – the last count is at least 11 different systems are currently in use – is starting to act as a handbrake on safety and efficiency improvements in our sector.”

Now formed, the oversight group will deliver a business case to fast-track the implementation of ATMS. The business case will involve detailing the deployment of ATMS and its integration with existing train control systems including European Train Control System – Level 2 on metropolitan networks. A business case is hoped to be delivered to the Australian government before the end of July.

The system is currently in trials on the Port Augusta – Whyalla rail line and will soon be the primary safe working system on this section of track. The next section will be between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie, beginning in 2021.

Dalla Valle highlighted how recent events have reinforced the value of a safe, efficient rail freight network, in particular the demands on the freight network during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an Australia-developed system, ATMS will ensure that the efficiencies and advantages of rail freight are continued.

“To help recover from the deep economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic, Australia must get better at both leveraging and synchronising new and improved technologies in our transport supply chains,” said Dalla Valle.

Members of the ATMS implementation oversight group include:

  • Dean Dalla Valle – in his capacity as FORG Chair
  • Mark Campbell – ARTC CEO
  • Simon Ormsby – group executive strategy and corporate development, ARTC
  • Shane Curtin – head of project Management, Aurizon
  • Louise Collins – chief of operational planning, Pacific National
  • Ian Hall – chief operating officer, OneRail Australia
  • Chris Jones – executive general manager, Southern Shorthaul Railroad (SSR)
  • Dani Gentle – national safety manager, Qube
  • Andrew Williams – chief operating officer rail, SCT Logistics
  • Murray Cook – Arc Infrastructure CEO
  • Paul Lowney – general manager, network strategy and customer operations, Arc Infrastructure
  • Paul Hamersley – corporate affairs and marketing, WatCo Australia
  • Kerryn Vine-Camp – first assistant secretary, Major Transport and Infrastructure Division – Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development & Communications
  • Dale Merrick – chief operating officer, NSW TrainLink
  • Alex Panayi – executive general manager asset management, V/Line

Industry welcomes appointment of Inland Rail expert panel

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation have welcomed the establishment of an independent panel of experts to resolve concerns regarding flooding along the Inland Rail route.

The two companies have joined as part of an initial business agreement to develop a rail freight and logistics hub in Toowoomba, alongside the Inland Rail corridor.

“Expert advice and reassurance about flood modelling and engineering solutions is urgently needed for both affected regional communities and future potential investors,” said Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle.

The expert panel was formed in April 2020 and seeks to understand and alleviate the concerns of landholders on the Condamine floodplain, who have raised issues with the flood modelling which guided the design of Inland Rail. The panel’s draft Terms of Reference are currently available for public comment.

Dalla Valle said that the formation of the panel and the adoption of its findings is essential to realising the estimated $13.3 billion in benefits of the freight rail line.

“Make no mistake, in the current economic climate, private sector investment along the Inland Rail route will quickly dry up if this project gets ‘stuck in the mud’ on the Condamine Floodplain.”

As a leader of a locally-based business, non-executive chairman of Wagner Corporation John Wagner said that the panel was a step in the right direction.

“I’m heartened to see the Australian Government placing a keen focus and effort on resolving any remaining hydrological and engineering issues of the Inland Rail project across the Condamine Floodplain.”

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation highlighted that once the project passes its final hurdles, the community will immediately benefit.

“Inland Rail is largely a shovel-ready project, meaning hundreds of Queensland construction workers, contractors and suppliers can be mobilised quickly to help revive regional economies hard hit by years of drought and now the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic,” said Wagner.

The partnership between Pacific National and Wagner Corporation is one example of the step change that could occur in Australia’s logistics network and supply chains. The companies are exploring the development of a rail to air intermodal terminal in Toowoomba that could export rail borne freight internationally from Toowoomba, via the Wellcamp international airport, located next to the proposed intermodal terminal. The logistics hub would also enable primary producers in the Darling Downs access to the national rail freight network, said Wagner.

“Wellcamp Business Park is the perfect place to develop a major logistics hub in south east Queensland. The Darling Downs is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Australia, while Toowoomba is an incredibly progressive and vibrant regional city.”

Dalla Valle also highlighted the community benefits that come with getting more freight on rail.

“Integrated with Inland Rail, a future Wellcamp Logistics Hub would help reduce road accidents and fatalities, traffic congestion, vehicle emissions, and road ‘wear and tear’,” said Dalla Valle.

Pacific National

Rail showcasing what’s possible in regional Australia

Smart thinking between Pacific National and Wagner Corporation highlights the many possibilities of rail freight.

News broke in early March that two powerhouses of regional transport and logistics were coming together for potentially Australia’s only rail-air intermodal terminal.

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation are now deep into discussions for a major logistics hub at Wellcamp Business Park, just outside of Toowoomba.

The two companies are looking to build a 250ha logistics hub at the site next to the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, said Pacific National CEO, Dean Dalla Valle.

“The proposed 250-hectare Wellcamp Logistics Hub also has frontage to the future Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project, allowing extensive future intermodal operations for freight to be transferred between trains, planes and trucks,” he said.

The future Wellcamp Logistics Hub would include 2.7 kilometres of frontage to the rail corridor, allowing for 1,800m long freight trains to operate.

Daily cargo jet flights operate from a fully licensed and bonded international air cargo terminal next door, and the site has the potential to process up to 350,000 shipping containers by 2030, and up to half a million by 2040. The airport in question, the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, is owned by the Wagner Corporation, and is an example of how that company has pedigree when it comes to innovative investing in regional logistics.

The family-owned property and infrastructure developer was behind the first, privately funded major airport, built on an old quarry site owned by the Wagner family. Today, the airport connects Toowoomba and the surrounding Darling Downs region not only to domestic jet services, but also direct freight connections to Hong Kong with weekly flights operated by Cathay Pacific Cargo.

Building and operating an intermodal terminal next door, at the connected Wellcamp Business Park, allows for rail freight services along in the Inland Rail corridor to connect to global freight and logistics supply chains.

While such a connection between rail and freight would be new for Australia, it has been successfully adopted elsewhere. In Germany, the Leipzig-Halle airport forms logistics company DHL’s European hub, with plans for a network of high-speed rail spanning from the airport. Despite being the 11th largest airport in Germany for passengers, the regional airport is the second largest in the country in terms of freight, and the 5th busiest in Europe.

Similarly, at the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in France, two air-rail cargo interchanges allow for air cargo to be seamlessly transported from air to a high- speed rail network connecting France, Belgium, and the UK.

Although both these projects have had a focus on moving mail and parcels, rather than bulk cargos, there is potential for rail to air freight playing a role in the movement of food and produce. Here, the Darling Downs can play its part as the food bowl of South- East Queensland, and a producer of foodstuffs intended for export to growing markets in Hong Kong and Asia. As Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) CEO John Fullerton outlined, locating intermodal freight and expert facilities close to where the food is being produced, allows for value adding in terms of advanced processing and packaging occurring locally, ensuring these benefits remain in the community.

“Inland Rail is a once in a lifetime project which will better link regional businesses to our fast-growing capital cities, farmers and producers to national and global markets, generate new opportunities for industries and regions and reduce large truck congestion on our roads.”

Inland rail leads to spark
The initial idea for the project came from another transformative Pacific National intermodal terminal, 800 kilometres south. The idea of being the private developer behind an intermodal terminal came to John Wagner, non-executive chairman of the Wagner Corporation, when he saw what other projects were underway in Parkes.

“When Wagner Corporation attended the October 2019 opening of Pacific National’s logistics terminal in Parkes – also located on the Inland Rail alignment – it gave us an exciting picture of what could be achieved with future rail freight services at Wellcamp,” he said.

The potential for rail to improve communities was also highlighted by Fullerton.

“The growth opportunities are endless, with Inland Rail unlocking job security potential not seen in decades through strategic industry investment.”

Partly due to the region’s topography, Toowoomba and the Darling Downs region had lacked interstate rail freight connections and was thus unable to access the benefits of rail transportation. Not only will the future hub improve supply chains, but lead to community benefits, highlighted Dalla Valle.

“Integrated with Inland Rail, a future Wellcamp Logistics Hub would help reduce road accidents and fatalities, traffic congestion, vehicle emissions, and road ‘wear and tear’,” he said.

“Picture this – at a minimum, a 1,800-metre- long freight train hauling shipping containers is equivalent to removing 140 B-double return truck trips from our roads.”

Freight rail delivering community benefits
The Wellcamp Logistics Hub announcement is tangible evidence of the $13.3 billion in benefits that a new report estimates that Inland Rail will bring to regional communities along the alignment.

Prepared by consultancy EY on behalf of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, the report identified the key role that intermodal hubs would play in Inland Rail’s delivery of billions of dollars of economic benefit back to regional communities over the next 50 years.

The report found two key growth pathways as a result of Inland Rail, Supply Chain Efficiencies and Value Chain Growth.

Prepared in 2019, the report accurately predicted the kinds of outcomes that the Wellcamp Business Park could deliver.

“Inland Rail may lead to a reorganisation of supply chains and fundamentally change how freight is moved in Australia,” write the authors of the report.

The findings, spread across the four regions of South-East Queensland, northern NSW, southern NSW and Victoria, point to how greater connectivity can benefit regional communities, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“Inland Rail gives these communities new ways to grow and rebuild with better connections to interstate and international markets, new jobs and a stronger case for attracting public and private investment.”

Fullerton reiterated the importance of rail in exporting Australia’s commodities.

“Without freight trains, bulk exports like grain, meat, fresh and dry produce, cotton and coal cannot be efficiently hauled to ports, the gateways to global markets.”

While the Inland Rail project itself may be focused on ensuring that the rail corridor is built, to access the benefits of such a major infrastructure project, the links between Inland Rail and the communities it serves will be essential. Demonstrating this, the EY report found that in each of the regions studied, intermodal terminals opening from 0-10 years after the completion of the Inland Rail project will be part of the first wave of investment.

As nodes within the network, Fullerton highlighted the role that intermodal hubs will play.

“Intermodal freight hubs drive increased investment, growth and more jobs across regional Australia the added safety and environmental benefits of shifting more freight volumes from trucks to trains.”

These are then expected to lead to the development of industry hubs, which take advantage of the supply chain efficiencies offered by Inland Rail and congregate complementary businesses. In the case of the Darling Downs and South East Queensland, this could see grain and cotton being transported to the Wellcamp Logistics Hub, manufactured at the Wellcamp Business Park and then shipped by Pacific National on rail to other locations in Australia or via air to the globe.

As a comparative example, EY looked to the Santa Teresa Intermodal Facility in New Mexico, as an example of how an intermodal terminal can lead to the aggregation of businesses, not only in the transport and logistics sectors, but manufacturing and professional services.