Sensible approach needed on rail maintenance: ARA

The rail industry has called upon federal and state governments to look at the bigger picture when considering the ongoing operation of rural rail lines. 

Chief of the Australasian Railway Association Bryan Nye said viable grain and other agricultural rail lines right across are being forced to compete with other transport modes, which he says do not pay their fair share of infrastructure maintenance costs.

Nye explained this leads to situations where impasses over maintenance costs can cause rail lines to close unnecessarily. 

Nye said governments need to decide whether they want more trucks on the road, stating that rail held many advantages over other transport models.

He said an average freight train takes 110 trucks off the road, reducing truck movements by around 49.7 million truck kilometres a year.

The ARA said rail operators deliver the cheapest transport option in many markets around the country, even with high upfront maintenance costs for new rolling stock.

However it says a lack of consistent funding threatened operations on otherwise viable rail lines.

Rail industry Worker system launched

In a move aimed at cutting red tape for rail employees and employers, the Australasian Railway Association have launched an industry led solution to managing worker competence that complies with national legislative requirements.

By law, every contractor and staff member working on the network must be able to provide proof of competency.  The Rail Industry Worker competency management system and the resultant card have been designed to provide a single point of reference for competency management in the rail industry.

The program commenced as an initiative of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and RailCorp to address these requirements under the Rail Safety Act.  The opportunity to progress a competence management system for contractors evolved.

Building on and replacing the Rail Safety Worker program which was implemented in 2012, the industry new industry led solution has been designed to meet national regulatory requirements in the most efficient way.

ARA CEO Bryan Nye said the new system will be easier to use.

 “Developed by the rail industry for the rail industry, the card will be much quicker and easier to check worker competency on-site, allowing employers piece of mind and allowing employees to get on with their work,” Nye said.

“Registration is simple; details are entered online with current documentation uploaded. The information is always live, so it can be easily updated at any time,” Nye explained. Once the documents have been uploaded and identity confirmed through a 100 point identification check at approved Australia Post outlets, the Rail Industry Worker card arrives via registered post.

Using the latest smart technology, cards can be scanned by smart phones and tablets to securely access the appropriate data.  All information coded on the anti-counterfeit card is kept in a secure database. Full functionality of the cards will be progressively rolled out over the coming months.

The ARA said the although registration for rail safety contractors remains the priority for the initial phase of the program, the Rail Industry Worker system has the inbuilt capacity to extend to other areas of the rail industry. Supported by the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board, the ARA said new system is set to play a vital role in the future of the rail industry in Australia.

Workforce development manager for ARA, Vikki Stewart told LMH the new system has been well-received in the industry.

“The launch on 6 march was well received and support for ‘Rail Industry Worker’ is growing with 2,108 companies and 18,671 workers now registered on the system,” Stewart said.

Stewart said that participating organisations were meeting regularly to achieve greater outcomes for the system.

“The industry led governance committee is meeting monthly and collaboration has been very positive; with consideration given to the requirement of each state and organisation to achieve outcomes that will work for all parties across Australia.”

ARTC in the gunsights

One of Australia’s leading rail companies has taken aim at the Australian Rail Track Corporation, saying its role as a cash-cow for the government is detrimental to rail’s development.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) mandate should be to maximise freight on rail rather than make a profit, SCT Logistics chief executive Geoff Smith said.
"Any diminished profitability of track access is trivial compared with benefits to Australia of ensuring that rail infrastructure is used as efficiently as it can be," he said.
Speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) event in Melbourne entitled Rail Reform: Getting freight back on track, Mr Smith said that the ARTC was "a corporation with profit accountability".
He said the February 2008 decision to increase track access charges on the east-west corridor by 10 per cent while decreasing track access on the north-south corridor by 10 per cent was retrograde. This had led to an increase in freight rates to Perth.
Mr Smith said rail’s share of the north-south freight market cannot grow without major improvements on the line.
"If we are to swing volumes from road to rail on the eastern seaboard, that will be driven by a more competitive pricing structure," he said.
"To reduce prices we need a network which facilitates optimum trains and that’s where the government’s investments can allow us to do that.”
Australasian Railway Association CEO Bryan Nye said the sorry state of the country’s grain rail infrastructure meant that if the drought were to break, farmers would struggle to get their harvest to the ports.
Mr Nye also noted that the average age of Australian locomotives generally was 34.5 years as opposed to eight years in the USA, and rolling stock was also aging and in short supply.
National Transport Commission CEO Nick Dimopoulos has also slammed government inaction and “short-term fixes” on rail policy, and called for immediate action saying “it’s time to stop talking and get on with the job!”
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Carbon trading sparks war between modes

Conflict between rail and road groups continues over the government’s emissions trading handouts.

Thirty representatives from Australia’s transport groups have met with Federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong at a forum to discuss how best to curb climate change.

While rail groups argued rail is an environmentally friendly transport mode that deserves a bigger boost, the trucking sector called for more protection for their businesses and consumers under the emissions trading scheme.  

Chief executive of the Australasian Railway Association Bryan Nye said the impending scheme favoured road transport by recommending an immediate cost offset for road use, but completely disregarded rail and its environmental benefits.

“It’s giving concessions to the trucking industry,” Mr Nye told AAP. “That defeats the whole reason for having a greenhouse program. Why not give a climate change credit to encourage people to use cleaner and greener forms of transport such as coastal shipping and rail?”

The green paper has recommended fuel for heavy vehicles to be exempt from price rises under the scheme until 2011, with petrol to be exempt until 2013.

While trucking groups wanted the fuel exemption to be extended, Mr Nye said he opposed to the move.

He has previously been quoted as saying: “It is bizarre that someone catching a train to work will have to pay more under the scheme, while car users causing pollution, congestion and health impacts will be compensated.”

The shipping and aviation sectors were also worried that the scheme could give their international rivals a competitive edge as it would force up domestic fuel and ticket prices whilst international players remain unaffected.

Senator Wong said Australia had no option but to cut its emissions, and there was no easy answer.

“We’ve said in terms of the carbon pollution reduction scheme, we’re willing to talk to business about the best way to design it,” she said.

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