Jun 25, 2008

Discussion on the Installation fo the Latest Digital Signalling Technology

Discussion on the Installation fo the Latest Digital Signalling Technology between Brisbane and Sydney

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,

Regional Development and Local Government

Leader of the House

June 25 2008

Subject: The Minister and David Marchant,CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation discuss the lastest digital signalling technology

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks everyone. I’m here today to talk about reform in the transport sector with David Marchant of the ARTC.

What we have here is cent…is not last century’s technology, but technology from the century before. This is 1890’s technology, which meant that three times on the Sydney to Brisbane rail link, a driver had to stop the train, get out, manually go through this system recording that they were at a particular point, then manually enter, by hand into a log-book, the details of the time and of the, the particular route that was being conducted.

What we have here with new technology,  is twenty-first century technology that will take some 45 minutes off the trip from Sydney to Brisbane by itself. It is extraordinary that rail, in the twenty-first century, was being conducted with technology that was two centuries old.

What we need to do, as part of our climate change strategy, is to boost rail. What we have today are also figures that show that in May more freight was moved around Australia than for any month in our history. Most of that was on the east-west line. What we need to do is make sure that we get the north-south engagement also moving forward.

Now today I’ve also chaired this morning  a meeting  of the working group of the Australian Transport Council. And what that’s looking at is regulatory issues. It’s looking at getting a National Road Safety Council. It’s looking at a National Rail Safety Regulator. It’s looking at a national system for heavy vehicles licensing, registration and regulation, which we hope to have in place by 1 July 2009.

This is all part of Labor’s big COAG agenda. And nothing can symbolise the need for reform more than this 1890’s technology which meant that trains were stopping three times on the Sydney to Brisbane line.

I might hand over to David Marchant from the ARTC who might want to make some comments too.

DAVID MARCHANT: Thanks minister. The – this token is actually a token of change to a much more digital age. This is the movement of rail from the old technology to the digital economy and in a framework of 45 minutes here, is only one example of the major changes that need to take place in rail.

On top of this program, the Australian Government’s joined with ARTC in a $75 million investment for digital train radio from Brisbane through to Perth. This communications could never enable it. That can and the roll out of digital communications will actually help the rail industry to become much more efficient. Forty-five minutes between Casino and Acacia Ridge. But across Australia, it will actually make a magnificent difference to the way rail can move from the old to, in fact, a more efficient new framework.

QUESTION: Surely this is 1890’s technology. Surely there was something in-between 1890 and 2008? I mean what happened to the middle century’s technology? Why didn’t we have that at least?

DAVID MARCHANT: There were in other parts of the network. The signal systems which were mechanical and that is you’d have a – you’d grab a handle and you’d push and the signal would change and effectively this technology rested in most of New South Wales and the southern section of New South Wales from Sydney to Albury, until last year where, in fact, we replaced it with a CTC signal system.

QUESTION: That’s a joke [indistinct]…

DAVID MARCHANT: [Interrupts] This is the last of – this is the last of this system on the main line, but we’re still replacing signalling systems with that digital technology.

QUESTION: Every government stands, stands – a laughing stock about this don’t they, including Labor Governments in the eighties?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I don’t think that any government can be proud of not taking action on this. I think it speaks for itself and that’s why, across the transport sector, we have to get efficient. We have to promote reform. We have to make sure there’s cooperation between the Commonwealth and the State Governments and with authorities such as the ARTC. And I’m very pleased that upon coming to this job I’ve been sitting down with David and the ARTC and supporting the work that they’re doing.

It is absolutely extraordinary that 1890’s technology can still be operating in 2008. This is about making rail competitive with road and that is absolutely critical if we’re going to have reductions in our emissions. It also is critical in terms of reducing costs of those who transport freight on rail.

This will lead to the more efficient the rail system, the lower the price to consumers in the supermarkets and that’s why this reform is being supported so strongly by the Rudd Government. We’ll continue to – we, today, are announcing the Sydney-Brisbane link. We’ll be completing the Sydney to Melbourne link, where we remove this 1890’s technology from it. And if you look at the success stories that can be done, the east-west rail improvements – whereby, you now have largely because of that, that’s where the big improvements have been made, through use of new technology by moving from the dinosaur age into the digital age – have been made. You can actually make sure that freight becomes an efficient, viable option for moving our freight.

And the fact that we have record numbers of freight movements around Australia, in May, superseding any other month in our history, is great news. It’s great news for the rail industry. But it’s also, I think, great news for the Australian public. There’s a great deal of, I think, support out there for the rail industry from the Australian public. That’s the feedback that I get.

QUESTION: Should transport be included in the emissions trading system as Mr Albanese told parliament yesterday?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I didn’t tell parliament, yesterday, that, so the premise of the question is wrong.

QUESTION: What did you tell parliament?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What I told parliament, very clearly, was that transport had to be a part of any climate change strategy. Now part of making transport efficient and, thereby reducing emissions, is the announcement that we’ve had today.

What I’ve also said, is that an emissions trading scheme, in terms of the breadth in which it covers; the narrower the base, the harder it is for those sectors of the economy that are included in the emissions trading scheme. So in the design of the scheme that the Rudd Government is currently undertaking – and we’ll have a green paper out next month – we are very conscious of that fact, that there is an argument to have as broad a base as possible, because that is the way of not concentrating the cost on those sectors which are included.

QUESTION: Will Mr – has Mr Marchant – have you got a state…have you got an opinion on it?

DAVID MARCHANT: Oh, 100 per cent support – transport, especially road and rail transport – being part of the emissions trading scheme.

QUESTION: But that will raise costs won’t it?

DAVID MARCHANT: It will actually raise efficiencies, because it will actually drive more environmental sensitive management cultures to the technologies being used and will assist to get the most appropriate environmentally efficient method of transport in place, to help not only our environment, but our goods and services overall.

QUESTION: Minister can you commit…

QUESTION: Minister you’re being careful not to pre-empt the green paper and we understand that.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right.

QUESTION: But I might be stupid but what I interpret you just saying before is that you think that transport has to be in for the system to be credible. Can you just [indistinct] a little?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No what I’ve said very clearly is that – and I’ve had a long experience of looking at emissions trading schemes – is that for an emissions trading scheme in its design, the broader the base and the wider the inclusions in the scheme, the less the concentration of the cost on those industries which are included.

So the Government will bear that in mind in the design of the scheme, as we will bear in mind the need to ensure that the impact of the scheme is given proper consideration and we’re doing that. We need to have a good outcome for the environment but we also need to have a good outcome for the Australian public in terms of any costs of the scheme and the Government’s working very hard on making sure that we achieve those objectives as opposed to the opposition which when it was in Government said that transport should be included in the scheme in the policy released by the then minister for the Environment and now Shadow Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull in July last year.

And if anyone can figure out what Greg Hunt the Environment spokesperson said on AM or 7.30 Report last night where he appeared to say five different things in the same interview on this issue. Five different things in the same interview.

The truth is that the opposition have given up economic credibility in their response to the budget. They had retained some semblance of environmental concerns in the lead up to the election where they abandoned their Kyoto scepticism and they abandoned their fear campaign in order to say they would support an emissions trading scheme, and now post election they now seem to be saying well they support an emissions trading scheme, they support it being as widely as possible but they still want to run a fear campaign about the impact of that scheme.

QUESTION: Minister can you make any commitment now to establishing a competitive national shipping industry?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look I am, I’m absolutely committed to a competitive national shipping industry. That is why I’ve asked the House of Representatives Committee to do an inquiry on coastal shipping. We need to make sure that we have a viable Australian industry but one that is engaged in an internationally competitive environment. And I’m very concerned about the decline that there’s been in the Australian shipping industry over the last decade…

QUESTION: What’s your views on the second register though?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …that’s not good. That’s not good for the Australian economy. It also has implications beyond the economic, there are security implications behind an island continent such as Australia not having a viable shipping industry, and I’m very concerned…

QUESTION: Would you consider establishing a second register?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I have asked for the inquiry to be conducted. The House of Representatives Committee I have confidence in it being chaired by Catherine King and the Deputy Chair Paul Neville. I had a discussion with Paul Neville yesterday about this inquiry. He tells me as the Deputy Chair of course, Catherine King’s on leave at the moment after giving birth on the weekend, tells me that the inquiry is progressing. He’s confident that there’ll be a bipartisan report and I look forward to the committee’s recommendations.

QUESTION: Minister, the May statistics from rail does that signal the much [indistinct] doubling of the freight task by 2020?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well what it does – what it symbolises is that progress is being made, but more has to be done. We need – and today is a part of more being done. Many of these measures aren’t actually about costs when it comes to infrastructure and transport,  often people have a look at issues such as funds being created and how much money’s going to be spent. What I’ve discovered clearly is that many of the major reforms are about harmonising regulations, are about bringing industry forward into this century and that’s a critical part of the reform.

The freight [indistinct] has many aspects. This is just one but more is to be done, and I look forward to the discussions that are taking place today which will lead into the Australian Transport Council’s third meeting in five months which will take place in July in Sydney.

Now normally the Australian Transport Council would have biannual meetings, it had one last year in 2007. We’ve had three in five months because we need to push these agendas through.

QUESTION: Minister just on another rail matter, pending the outcome of the Railtrack Corporation’s feasibility study into a Melbourne to Brisbane rail line, wouldn’t it be a walk up start for funding under the Building Australia if it’s found to be viable?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look I’m not going to pre-empt of course the Building Australia Fund, and Infrastructure Australia, the reason why we’ve established it is so that you have independent cost benefit analysis done by Infrastructure Australia, which then presents reports to the Government. The idea is to take the politics out of it and to make sure that politicians don’t determine infrastructure funding based on electoral boundaries, they actually govern in a way which ensures that infrastructure expenditure goes to the areas which most benefit the national economy.

QUESTION: Is it the sort of project though that is of the National Building character that you’re thinking about unlike some of the things that your colleagues were asking for in Caucus yesterday?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look there’s no doubt that when it comes to nation building, rail has a critical role to play. In particular freight has a particular place to play and issues such as ports, urban congestion, all these issues will be considered by Infrastructure Australia. The Government’s made it clear that we support a comprehensive transport plan. Too often in the past it’s been road or rail, freight or passenger movements. Well you can’t have an effective road or rail strategy without looking at both. You also need to include shipping and aviation in that so that you have an integrated transport plan. And that’s what the Government’s working towards.

And you can’t have a plan for moving freight without a plan also for moving people. Often many of the problems for example in Sydney in terms of freight issues, the issue of a dedicated freight line would take pressure off the rail network in Sydney, the passenger rail network which would therefore free it up and enable it to take more of the load which would take pressure off the road network. We do need a comprehensive plan.

Maybe one more.

QUESTION: Minister is the Government considering phasing in or delaying the emissions trading scheme?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look the Government will be producing our green paper in July, and the Government’s position has been very clear about an emissions trading scheme. We’re working through the design of that scheme, and we’ll be releasing that in July.