Speech to Australasian Rail Association Dinner
August 27 2008
The Lobby- Canberra
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government
Leader of the House
Federal Member for Grayndler
Thank you for the introduction Bryan.
This is my second dinner with the Australasian Rail Association since I became Minister and it’s great to hear about the exciting developments in the industry.
The Rudd Government understands that we face a huge transport challenge in this country.
We know that the freight task will double by 2020.
We know that congestion is set to cost $20 billion by 2020 if no action is taken.
And we know about the enormous costs of inaction on climate change.
To tackle these great challenges, we need a comprehensive, national approach.
It’s not about road OR rail, it’s about road AND rail – working together in an efficient, seamless system.
It’s not about freight OR passenger transport. You can’t have a strategy for moving freight without a strategy for moving people.
The Rudd Government understands this, and in our first nine months we’ve taken significant action to reform our approach to infrastructure.
Tonight I want to touch briefly on two key issues for rail.
First, how can we best target our infrastructure investment to unclog the key bottlenecks on the rail network?
And second, how can we get more out of our existing infrastructure through technological improvements and regulatory reform?
One of our key achievements this year has been the establishment of Infrastructure Australia.
Infrastructure Australia is an independent statutory advisory council that brings together all levels of government and the private sector to audit and prioritise our future infrastructure needs.
Infrastructure Australia represents a real change. It takes infrastructure out of the electoral cycle and allows us to take a long-term, national approach on transport, energy, water and communications infrastructure.
With the establishment of Infrastructure Australia the Rudd Government provided the way to better infrastructure – and in our first Budget we provided the means with the $20 billion Building Australia Fund.
The Building Australia Fund sets aside the proceeds of today’s prosperity to invest in our future.
And our initial down payment of $20 billion shows just how serious we are about addressing an infrastructure backlog that is costing us 0.8 per cent of GDP annually. But we also know that there are some bottlenecks that so desperately need to be cleared, we need to get started now – and that’s what our AusLink 2 election commitments were all about.
In terms of rail freight, I have received the message loud and clear that we need to break the Sydney bottleneck whereby passenger trains lock freight trains out of the system – leading to potential dwell times of up to 10 hours.
This is a restriction that road freight does not face. But it is a problem that we have a comprehensive plan to overcome.
First, my colleague Peter Garrett recently gave environmental approval to the $280 million Southern Sydney Freight Line.
Work will be underway shortly. Second, we have committed $840 million towards construction of a dedicated freight line from North Strathfield to Gosford – essentially a Northern Sydney Freight Line.
Third, we are providing $150 million towards Port Botany road and rail access and handling improvements.
Combined, these projects could deliver up to four rail freight paths an hour for 22 hours a day between Sydney and Newcastle – a huge improvement on the current two paths an hour over just 16 hours a day.
Together with the future development of a major intermodal facility at Moorebank, to which we have committed $300 million, these projects will go a long way towards clearing the biggest bottleneck on the east coast line.
But as I said earlier, it’s not just about improving freight lines.
Most people’s everyday experience of the rail network is the suburban system that takes them to and from work and connects them with their community.
Investing in a better freight network does free up space for passenger trains.
But we need to do much more than this.
My main criticism of the past approach under AusLink is that it did not pay enough attention to the big challenges in our cities and was interested primarily in the movement of goods, but not people.
We changed this in our first Budget, signalling clearly that the Commonwealth is back in the business of investing in our cities by funding a series of urban transport feasibility studies.
And rail is at the centre of much of this work. For example:
In Melbourne, we are investing $12 million to assess projects arising out of the East-West Links Needs Assessment, including a cross city rail tunnel.
In Sydney, we are contributing $20 million towards a detailed feasibility study for a Western Metro rail connection between Parramatta and the CBD.
In Adelaide, we have committed $3 million towards a Transport Sustainability Study that will focus specifically on the extension and improvement of the rail network.
These are the sorts of projects that could change the face of our cities and tackle the crippling economic and social cost of congestion.
TECHNOLOGY AND REGULATION
But this Government also understands that it’s not just about building new infrastructure, it’s also about getting more out of our existing infrastructure.
And better technology can make a big difference.
It is simply unbelievable that up until this year, trains between Sydney and Brisbane had to stop approximately every 20kms to receive a token for permission to continue along the track.
This 1890s system was operating until just a few months ago.
But with the smart investment by the Australian Rail Track Corporation, a train travelling on this corridor can now save 45 minutes a trip.
This is a huge efficiency gain – and more can be done.
The Government has committed more than $69 million for the ARTC’s 3G Train Communications project.
This project will convert the existing multiple and disparate communications systems into one.
The construction of new base and repeater stations to extend the 3G network for rail will also extend mobile phone coverage for the public.
The ARTC is also trialling the Advanced Train Management System, which has the potential to safely reduce the headway between trains and significantly improve the capacity of the existing track.
I urge industry to continue to work together to ensure that in the area of communications we do not see a modern version of the gauge problem. As new technology is developed we need to roll out systems that are either consistent or, at minimum, can talk to each other.
To support further innovation in the rail industry, my colleague Kim Carr today officially launched the Cooperative Research Centre for Rail Innovation.
The Rudd Government is contributing $21 million towards what is expected to be a $100 million CRC. This will be the single biggest research program in Australia’s history and is expected to generate benefits to the Australian economy of up to $6.5 billion.
In addition to ongoing innovation, we also need to ensure that we have the best possible regulatory framework for rail.
Through the Australian Transport Council, which includes all the nation’s transport ministers, we are pursuing the development of a single national rail safety regulator and investigator.
The current disjointed, state-based arrangements are inconsistent and involve significant duplication.
The industry considers the introduction of a single national system could lead to productivity and capacity gains of up to 30 percent
The National Transport Commission is currently developing a regulatory impact statement for a single, national rail safety system, and they will be consulting with the industry throughout this process.
Importantly, our emphasis is on raising the safety bar, ensuring the independence of regulators and investigators and maintaining a strong presence on the ground.
Transport Ministers will be in a position to consider the National Transport Commission’s report early in 2009 and make a decision on this issue once and for all.
When we were elected to Government, we inherited some significant challenges including:
- A rapidly growing freight task;
- A lack of a national transport policy;
- Ever increasing urban congestion; and
- An urgent need to act on climate change.
Rail has the potential to be a significant part of the solution to all of these challenges.
Let me assure you that the Rudd Government is responding to our transport needs by planning carefully and establishing national frameworks.
We are up to the challenge – and I look forward to working with the industry to achieve success.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.