The trouble with Moorebank

Moorebank Intermodal Terminal Artist Impression 400

Long-time intermodal campaigner Greg Cameron says the plans for Moorebank are flawed as rail capacity is not sufficient to meet planned demand.

Under current NSW policy, Mr Cameron says, 98% of all containers will be trucked by 2030. At least 74% will be trucked through Port Botany and 24% will be trucked after being railed to an intermodal terminal.

This policy will generate 2.6 million container-truck movements between Port Botany and western Sydney by 2030, more than three times the 850,000 recorded in 2012 (based on average 2.01 TEU per truck),” Mr Cameron said.

NSW government policy supports building two intermodal terminals at Moorebank with total capacity of 2 million TEU import/export containers per year. After these terminals are full, the government supports building an intermodal terminal at Eastern Creek.

However, the NSW government has advised Moorebank Intermodal Company that rail capacity for transporting containers between Port Botany and Moorebank is around 1.2 million TEU per year. Clarification of rail capacity, obviously, is required.

When a 1.2 million TEU intermodal terminal is built at Moorebank, and with 0.6 million TEU capacity at three other intermodal terminals, total intermodal terminal capacity will be 1.8 million TEU. Of these containers, 93% will be trucked to and from the final destination.

The flaw in the government’s plan is that railing containers to an intermodal terminal at Moorebank will prevent containers being railed to an intermodal terminal at Eastern Creek, due to insufficient rail capacity.

An intermodal terminal at Eastern Creek can be scaled to handle all containers, with container movements expected to reach 3.2 million TEU by 2020, 7 million TEU by 2030 and 13 million TEU by 2050.

Land is available at Eastern Creek for ample warehousing to manage the de-stuffing/stuffing of all containers on site.

No container would enter or leave Eastern Creek intermodal terminal by truck. In other words, all container-carrying trucks can be removed from Sydney’s roads. This can be accomplished by building a freight rail bypass of Sydney and railing all containers between a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle and Eastern Creek.

Around 25% of all container movements involve empty containers. It is more efficient to rail empty containers to Newcastle, where they may be filled with export goods from northern NSW, than trucking them to Port Botany.

Whereas the Australian government is investing heavily in increasing Sydney’s freight rail capacity, little of this investment is for container transportation. The additional capacity will be used for freight entering Sydney from Queensland, Victoria and regional NSW.

$960 million was spent building the Southern Sydney Freight Line. Opened in January, this 36km single-track, bi-directional line between Macarthur and Chullora, allows up to 48 freight trains a day, compared with 16 trains previously.

$1.1 billion is being spent building stage 1 of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor. When completed in 2016, the improvements will allow 44 freight trains a day to pass through northern Sydney, compared with 29 trains now. However, more capacity is required by 2028.

Last month, the Australian government announced work was starting on an inland freight rail line, between Melbourne and Brisbane. When this line opens in 2026, there will be little benefit for Sydney because 77% of inter-capital road and rail freight on the east coast corridor between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, has Sydney as the end destination.

There are two reasons why freight is railed through the heart of Sydney.

First, there is no alternative. Second, to provide Port Botany with a rail service.

Sydney’s freight rail bypass would extend between Glenfield, Eastern Creek and Newcastle. Railing containers between Newcastle and Eastern Creek would remove the need for Port Botany container terminal. Consequently, there would be no need for a freight rail line to Port Botany.

Land must be secured for the freight rail bypass corridor. Since NSW government policy is to indefinitely defer identifying a corridor so that land may be secured, the policy intent is to prevent a freight rail bypass of Sydney.

Evaluating a freight rail bypass of Sydney would reveal the economic and environmental benefits from using all Sydney rail capacity for passenger services and removing container trucks from Sydney’s roads.

In particular, an evaluation would reveal how the extra capacity from the Southern Sydney Freight Line and Northern Sydney Freight Corridor, together with the Metropolitan Freight Line, would be better used for trains carrying people, not freight.

Funding the acquisition of land for the bypass corridor, rail line, container terminal at Newcastle and intermodal terminal at Eastern Creek, would be obtained by railing containers instead of trucking them. The funding strategy is to set a price on container movements to cover all costs, including financing.

The financing strategy is underpinned by the demand for containers and a single method of transporting them – by rail from Newcastle. (The NSW government’s decision to lease the Port of Newcastle is consistent with its policy of preventing a freight rail bypass of Sydney.)

At any time, the NSW government is free to provide its reasons for opposing a freight rail bypass of Sydney.

But by doing nothing, land for the bypass corridor will become unavailable as it is progressively developed, and will deliver the NSW government its policy objective.

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