May 21, 2018

Opinion Piece – Rail must be at the Centre of Freight and Supply Chain Strategy – Monday, 21 May, 2018

The freight and logistics sector is the lifeblood of the Australian economy.

It is critical that the Federal Government support the sector with appropriate infrastructure investment, while also providing policy leadership and working with industry and other levels of governments to facilitate the efficient movement of goods around the nation.

In that context, it is good that the Federal Coalition Government is working on a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, to be finalised later this year.

However, it must be noted that the former Federal Labor Government produced such a strategy  – the National Land Freight Strategy – in 2012.

Developed by Infrastructure Australia with input from the National Transport Commission, industry and the states and territories, it was a blueprint for a streamlined, integrated and multimodal transport system. It also complemented the National Ports Strategy which we had published that same year.

In 2013, the incoming Coalition ignored the strategy, before deciding three years later to start afresh.

Putting aside the waste of five important years, it is right thing for the Commonwealth to finally seek to provide leadership in this important area of economic policy.

Getting freight distribution systems right boosts productivity and that drives economic growth and, most importantly, job creation.

Australia’s existing freight and logistic network is struggling to cope with the demands already being placed on it, let alone the added demand that’s expected in the years ahead.

Australia’s population is expected to grow by 400,000 people a year.

That’s a lot of extra consumers who will expect the shelves of their favourite shops and local supermarkets to be filled with the products and brands that they enjoy.

Then of course there will be the growing demand from industry to supply the raw material and capital equipment required to make those consumer goods in the first place and for exporters to get their products to market as quickly as possible.

As the work load increases, we must look rail to lift its share of the freight task compared to other modes of transport.

That is not to diminish the indispensable role of road transport. Road, air and seat transport will all play their part.

But when it comes to moving large volumes of freight over long distances, rail
has significant advantages that we must exploit in coming decades.

Rail does the job at a lower cost and more safely.

It is also the most energy-efficient mode of land transport, meaning less pollution and a smaller carbon footprint.

In fact, rail produces three times less harmful carbon emissions than road.

Having more freight carried by rail also translates into lower highway maintenance costs, less congested urban arteries and fewer road accidents.  Just one 1800 metre can replace as many as 100 trucks.

When you add up these competitive advantages, it is clear that a growing role for rail must sit at the centre of the new freight strategy.

That makes it critical that we get the planning right for projects like the Inland Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne.

We must also continue to invest in clearing bottlenecks that hold back productivity.

The former Labor Federal Government focused heavily on rail, delivering the biggest investment in Australia’s freight rail infrastructure in more than a century.

We rebuilt a third of the interstate Network – or some 3,800 kilometres of track.  This work included re-railing, installing new passing loops and extending existing ones, and replacing the ageing timber sleepers with 3.4 million Australian-made concrete sleepers which don’t buckle on hot days.

But we also invested in eliminating bottlenecks.

In Sydney, for example, we built a new 36 kilometre dedicated line between Macarthur and Chullora, thereby separating freight from passenger trains.

Previously, freight trains endured frustrating delays getting into and out of
Sydney due to limited tracks and the priority given to passenger trains, particularly during peak periods.

This $1 billion piece of infrastructure tripled the capacity of this vital rail corridor.

We made further investments in Sydney, such as the Moorebank Intermodal, and in other cities around the nation.

I’m proud of that record. But more needs to be done.

We need to invest in new lines, continue to eliminate bottlenecks and be prepared to use technology to improve the efficiency of existing lines.

The modernisation of the nation’s rail freight infrastructure is a project that serves the national interest. It must continue.

This is an edited transcript of Mr Albanese’s speech to the Australian Logistics Council’s Forum 2018, delivered in Sydney on March 7, 2018.

This appeared in the May-July 2018 edition of Track and Signal Magazine.


MONDAY, MAY 21, 2018