Improvements in rail means better productivity for Australia

Improvements in rail will assist Australia’s productivity, competitiveness and performance, a CEDA audience has heard in Melbourne.

Improvements in rail will assist Australia's productivity, competitiveness and performance, a CEDA audience has heard in Melbourne.

Australasian Rail Association, CEO, Bryan Nye said integrated planning for freight, combining rail, ports and roads, is a major challenge for Australia.

To move forward, he highlighted we need to replace our ageing rail fleet and infrastructure as the average age of the regional rail network is 50 to 60 years old.

"Our freight is not competitive and our competitiveness is waning," he said.

"Road and rail pricing is not the issue. We need to change how we deliver our goods.

"Every passenger train takes 500 cars off the road. Every freight train takes 150 trucks off the road - it's (rail) cleaner, more efficient and cheaper to operate."

He commented that over the next 12 to 15 years freight between capital cities will double. If rail doesn't improve, more freight will be transported on roads and highways in large 60 tonne trucks.

"Congestion costs our economy $21 billion every year, that's going to grow to $30 billion," he said.

QR National, Commercial and Marketing, Executive Vice President, Paul Scurrah emphasised Australia is too tied up in bureaucracy and this adds to our productivity and capacity constraints.

"We have seven safety regulators, 46 pieces of state, territory and commonwealth rail related legislation, and a population of 22 million. Contrast this to the US, with a population of 312 million and only one rail safety regulator," he said.

Mr Scurrah emphasised that the objective must be to enhance productivity across supply chains and to drive better outcomes both for the economy and for consumers.

"We need to sustain the national competitiveness of our exports through low cost efficient transport and logistics from mine to port or from a grain perspective," he said.

To achieve productivity, he told attendees Australia needs:

  • Long-term and strategic infrastructure;
  • To cut red tape and regulation; and
  • Find the "sweet spot" for customers.

Although there is pressure for continual improvement and expansion across the entire supply chain, he said the future is bright.

There is an opportunity to integrate the existing network and leverage capacity, he said.

"Rail corridors in their nature are highly scalable to deliver expansion efficiently and cost effectively," he said.

He also emphasised there is an opportunity for new players and investors to drive rail development.

"With a lot of growth, we emphasise the need for multiple solutions, and multiple parties to fulfil future infrastructure and haulage requirements moving forward... stronger competitive outcomes is good for customers and good for the industry," he said.

Siemens Ltd, Executive Manager, Matt McInnes noted that for Australia to maintain economic development, high speed rail (HSR) is necessary to combat congestion, urbanisation and population growth.

He acknowledged that there were strong examples of HSR already constructed overseas.

The Barcelona - Madrid and London - Manchester routes are similar in length to Melbourne -Sydney and have good punctuality and reliability.

AECOM, Vice President of Global Transit, Peter Humphreys said the Melbourne - Sydney corridor is the fifth busiest in the world and this adds to congestion at Sydney airport.

To ease congestion and ensure HSR is successful, he highlighted HSR requires a dedicated standard gauge track with one operator.

Due to the distance between Australia's major centres, he predicted trains would need to operate at 350 kilometres per hour.

Mr Humphreys said an option for Australia is to include additional passenger services on HSR with trains running slower at 200 kilometres per hour, which can be slotted in between high speed trains to provide commuter services.

Both Mr McInnes and Mr Humphreys referred to the Federal Government's proposed HSR network stretching along the east coast of Australia, from Melbourne to Brisbane in the High Speed Rail Study - Phase one as a viable option.

Mr Humphreys outlined effects of HSR including:

  • Reduction in domestic air travel between cities, providing rail pricing is competitive with air travel;
  • Reduction in carbon emissions;
  • Increased reliability of travel with efficiency of more than 99.7 per cent;
  • Increased connectivity to rural towns - based upon demand;
  • Improved commuter services to major cities by introducing other high speed trains in between major services; and
  • Reduction of regional passenger services with increased freight capacity on conventional lines, with HSR providing another avenue for passengers and opening the other lines for freight.

Mr McInnes acknowledged that Australia could lead the world in new technology for HSR and the case for HSR needs to be made more strongly.