Opinion: Inland railway – politics of disaster

Everald Compton

Back in the days of his prime, Barnaby Joyce announced that the Coalition Government had allocated 9.5 billion dollars for the construction of the Inland Railway.
He had demanded this from Malcolm Turnbull as the price for National Party cooperation at the time of Turnbull’s coup to topple Abbott.
Turnbull reluctantly agreed, but insisted that it had to be funded ‘off balance sheet’, ie, not taken from general taxpayer revenue in the next Budget, but funded by loans to be taken out by the Federal Government’s own railway company, ARTC (Australian Rail Track Corporation) against its balance sheet. Future revenue would pay back the loans.
This was mentioned only in the fine print of the public announcement. Most voters think it is being funded by regular government grants.
In other words, Barnaby Joyce proceeded with the project without allocating one cent of government funds to it. This means that his in-depth commitment to it has been Nil. It was simply a vote getting stunt.
It still is a very shallow commitment by those who have followed him and it will cause future governments huge pain when, inevitably. they are forced to pick up the large tab.

Based on current planning, it will take a full decade or more to build the railway from Melbourne to Brisbane via Parkes and Toowoomba.
Interest on the ever increasing ARTC loans will rapidly multiply over those years.
Then, it will take another ten years for freight traffic on the railway to generate enough revenue to start repaying the loans, while, in the meantime, huge operating losses will add onto those loans.
The venture will bankrupt ARTC.
The facts are that the Inland Railway can only ever attain viability if it is funded totally without debt and this was known to both Turnbull and Joyce when the deal was done.
Their actions represent one of the most irresponsible decisions in Australian political history and could easily have been avoided.
It has always been possible to run freight trains from Melbourne to North Star, which is north of Moree. All that is needed is to build a 300k standard gauge railway on from there to Toowoomba which can act as a freight hub for the whole of South East Queensland without the track going any further. It can also send airfreight from Toowoomba’s International Airport.
All that is needed is three billion dollars in tax payer funding. This would make it possible for revenue generating freight trains to run from Melbourne to Toowoomba and return, many years ahead of the current plans.
All of the creation of short cuts and upgrading in NSW could then be progressively implemented in the years ahead with small but regular doses of taxpayer funding annually.
The proposed highly expensive track from Toowoomba to Brisbane will never be needed as it is a better strategy to build the Inland Railway on to Gladstone and open up a huge regional development opportunity on the Darling Downs, Maranoa and Central Queensland.
But negotiations between the Morrison and Palaszczuk Governments have broken down over the cancellation of promised federal funding for Brisbane’s Cross River Rail by Abbott six years ago. It would have been built and operating by now if Abbott had not done this.
So, Palaszczuk now makes a fair comment to Morrison: “You restore the Cross River Rail money and we will let the Inland Railway into Queensland.”
Who can blame her? But I am sure that Albo will fix it when he becomes Infrastructure Minister in May.
In the meantime, the current Infrastructure Minister, McCormack, is spending 300 million dollars unnecessarily upgrading the rail track from Parkes to Narromine which is in his own electorate. He had earlier announced, at a sod turning ceremony beside a rail track that has been there for 150 years, that it would cost 160 million.
It will not cause even one more freight train to appear on the line to North Star and so it is an utter waste of public funds that will send that massive overdraft soaring higher.
In addition, farmers between Narromine and Narrabri are in uproar over the proposed short cut rail track which is next on McCormack’s list for the Inland Railway. Negotiations for resumption of their land have been brutal, so 300 of them abused him mightily at a recent public meeting and there is some evidence that Barnaby, who wants his old job back, helped organise the protest.
There is a similar uproar among the farmers around Millmerran in Queensland. The public relations skills of ARTC are totally missing.
The best that can be said today is that the creation of the Inland Railway, a great national development project, is in the hands of gross political and bureaucratic incompetents who have turned it into an unbelievable farce at huge cost to the nation.
It must not be destroyed by irresponsible vandalism.
Everald Compton was a founding director of ATEC Rail Group in 1996 and served as chairman for 18 years. He now serves as a consultant to the company.

Chevin expands its global team with new appointments in Australia

Chevin Fleet Solutions has announced the appointment of thirteen new team members across Australia, Europe and North America.
Laura Jones, joining as financial controller, will be responsible for managing the company’s accounts across the entire global operation.
Darren Trueman, Neil Robinson, Michael Kowalewicz and Cristian Tobol have been appointed as software developers alongside product developers Arun Purewal, Sam Hufton, Athanasios Kaloudis. Bringing young talent into the team, Alex Bright and Jay Smith take on the roles of IT apprentice developers.
Chris Cooper has joined as a junior business analyst and Simon Haley as a Project Manager. Audrey Guillet joins the marketing team as Marketing Executive on a six-month internship from France. Audrey’s role will support communications activity across the company’s French operation.
“We are very fortunate in being able to bring onboard such experience to the team. The company is entering another exciting growth phase following recent contract wins and these new appointments will support the existing teams in helping drive the business forward. I am delighted to welcome them to the team,”  Ashley Sowerby, Managing Director, said.

Townsville Port opens to shipping after $40.7 million upgrade

The Port of Townsville’s Berth 4 container and general cargo facility has officially opened upon completion of a $40.7 million upgrade.
The two-year project has resulted in a full upgrade of the inner harbour berth so larger vessels can be accommodated and efficiency improved.
The project has doubled the capacity of Berth 4, allowing an additional 2 million tonnes of product per annum, delivering a 20% increase on current total port tonnage throughput capacity.
The upgrade will lead to more jobs in North Queensland due to the economic boost it would provide the region. Member for Townsville Scott Steware said: “The upgrade itself generated 100 local jobs, and the next phase, which involces crane investment and cargo infrastructure, will generate 35 direct jobs during construction. Berth 4 operations will also support ongoing jobs once the project is complete.”
Port of Townsville CEO Ranee Crosby said that the successful completion of the project by local company CivilPlus Constructions demonstrated the capacity for large projects to be carried out by local companies.

ALC welcomes Infrastructure Priority List

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has praised the Infrastructure Priority List released by Infrastructure Australia (IA) last week. The list confirms an ongoing need for investment in freight infrastructure projects that will enhance supply chain efficiency and safety, ensuring Australia remains internationally competitive.
“As an industry leader, ALC has always been among IA’s most enthusiastic supporters, because we have long believed that the best way to ensure effective infrastructure investment is for an independent umpire to make evidence-based assessments of projects, which can then be used by governments to inform decision-making,” said ALC Managing Director, Michael Kilgariff.
“The release of the 2018 Infrastructure Priority List comes at a crucial moment, as the Commonwealth continues to develop the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy – an initiative which is again included as a high priority initiative on this year’s list,” continued Michael.
The key freight initiatives identified in the list are:

  • the Sydney Gateway connecting WestConnex to Port Botany & Sydney Airport;
  • the Port Botany Freight Rail Duplication to boost port efficiency;
  • the Chullora Junction upgrade to enhance Sydney’s freight rail network;
  • Preserving the corridor for the Western Sydney Airport fuel pipeline;
  • Preserving the corridor for Western Sydney Freight Line and Intermodal Terminal access;
  • Improving connection between Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway and CityLink;
  • Inland Rail and a dedicated freight rail connection to the Port of Brisbane; and
  • Implementation of the Advanced Train Management System on the ARTC network.

Renewed focus

This article appeared in the February/March 2018 issue of Logistics & Materials Handling.
Australia’s rail freight industry has been in the spotlight in recent months, with the Inland Rail project on track to bring back the mode’s visibility – and, importantly, its viability. AusRAIL PLUS 2017 looked to champion the mode’s successes, and potential.
All governments recognise the importance and benefits of rail to Australia,” said Danny Broad – CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), as he opened the ARA’s annual event, AusRAIL PLUS 2017, in Brisbane. “Investment in rail made in the national interest will enhance rail’s contribution to the economy through greater efficiency in both public transport and supply chain networks – all Australians will be the beneficiaries.”
With forecast investment in both new rolling stock – or rail vehicles – and rail infrastructure of $100 billion over the next 15 years, and Inland Rail and a national rail industry program securing $20 million in funding in the FY17 Federal Budget, “rail certainly is the place to be,” he noted.
“An important era lies ahead of us – it is a pivotal time, and the implementation of the national rail industry plan is essential.”
Darren Chester, then-Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, echoed Broad’s comments, noting that the federal backing for the Inland Rail project and other key rail infrastructure is a clear vote of confidence in the future of the industry.
“[This is] the most exciting time in the past 100 years to be in involved in rail,” said Chester. “Australia needs Inland Rail – without it, we won’t be able to cope with a projected doubling of our nation’s freight task.
“Currently, about 25 per cent of Melbourne-to-Brisbane freight is carried on rail, and around 75 per cent is carried on road. This project will help to even the ledger.”
Seeing the value
The ARA commissioned consultancy Deloitte to produce a report looking at future strains on passenger and freight rail networks, rail safety, rail’s benefits over road, and environmental considerations for modal choices. Broad released the Value of Rail report at the event, noting that it highlights the significant role the rail industry will play in enabling Australia to cope with future challenges.
“Australia’s population is increasing at a rate of 370,000 people per year,” he said. “By 2060, both Sydney and Melbourne populations will have grown by approximately three million people.
“Freight is likely to grow with gross domestic product (GDP) rather than the population growth – with a potential 88 per cent increase in kilometres travelled by 2050, and an increase in vehicle stocks of about 2.5 million trucks and light commercial vehicles.
“To manage these challenges, Australia will have to develop its multimodal transport systems, with light rail and heavy rail at its spine.”
The report found that Australia’s population will double by 2075, reaching almost 45 million people. It notes that rail currently contributes approximately $26 billion to the Australian economy each year, while offering lower emissions and safety and congestion benefits compared to other transport modes.
“Significant investments are being made into Australia’s rail infrastructure,” the report continues. “In some sense, these investments are making up for a prolonged period of underinvestment.”
Dealing with disruption
Change was a central topic at the conference – in particular, uncertainty about the pace and extent of change to work, technology and population.
As Craig Rispin, Business Futurist and Technology Guru at The Future Trends Group, explained, the ability to obtain and analyse data will be key in the years ahead.
“Data is the new oil, and artificial intelligence (AI) is the new oil,” he said – since the ability to collect data means nothing without the ability to analyse it.
By 2028, he shared, the world will be far removed from the one we live in today. Fifty per cent of jobs will have been replaced by machinery, the majority of cars will be driverless, and six in ten people will be living in cities – with one in three aged over 100. The significance, he said, is businesses cannot expect to continue to keep working the same way while the world changes around them.
He pointed to the rise of the start-up culture as one risk to established companies, with organisations such as Airbnb and Uber enabling individuals to do what entire companies used to do. While competing with new, lean rail start-ups, the industry will also have to remain mindful of advances in emission-reduction technology in trucks, allowing them to travel from Melbourne to Sydney in one charge, recharge and head back again. “Be part of the future,” said Rispin. “Or try to avoid the inevitable.”
Port partnership
For ports to handle the incoming onslaught of freight, they will need to increase their reliance on rail, shared Jonathan Lafforgue, General Manager – Operations and Environment at NSW Ports.
“The 2016–2017 ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) Stevedore Monitoring Report came out [in early November 2017], stating that Port Botany is now Australia’s largest container stevedoring port,” said Lafforgue. “While we welcome that news, we’re more excited about the potential capacity we’ve still got in our port to grow – right now, we’re handling a little under 2.5 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) per annum. The port itself has the capacity to grow to 7.5–8 million TEU– meaning we have enough key lines, berths, and land behind that to facilitate that volume of freight.”
He noted that the only way NSW Ports will be able to put that much freight across the key lines of ships is by getting 40 per cent of containers on rail. “Right now, we’re proud of the fact that it’s about 20 per cent – but we need to double that to reach that next-level capacity.”
The majority of Port Botany’s freight is regional rail at present, and 80 per cent is delivered within a 40km radius of the Port.
“To get to that next step, we’ll need to start targeting the import freight, rather than the export freight – and to do that, we’ll need the intermodals,” said Lafforgue.
One voice
According to Priscilla Radice – Principal and Australasian Business Leader at professional consultancy Arup, the privatisation of Australia’s ports has had an unexpected effect on the conversation around freight in the country.
“With the privatisation of the ports, I don’t think anyone predicted how strong a voice [ports would] have,” said Radice, adding that their input in creating a strong supply chain is key, since ports are mode agnostic. Now, privatised ports are contributing to the conversation.
Radice noted that oppositional conversation about freight in unhelpful, especially in the government space.
“Having worked alongside governments, looking at light rail, passenger rail, road and inner-city shaping policies, I see that the oppositional speak of freight – road versus rail, freight versus commuter – I don’t think [it] helps,” she said. “Governments are shifting more and more towards city shaping, understanding their current ecosystem – they need the freight industry to provide a coordinated ‘one’ voice that is very clear […] so the supply chain does not happen in isolation.”
Radice advocated a holistic and united approach to infrastructure planning, noting that rail freight will always have to jostle for its slice of the pie after passenger rail.
“NSW Ports, your target of 40 per cent freight on rail is potentially in direct conflict with the densification of population along freight lines,” she said. “Look at what the freight piece is in the wider context for cities – you’ll never beat the commuter push. Governments need to know that the population is going to double, by getting smarter around all the technology freight will be what that looks like in terms of its infrastructure. You can’t continue to be oppositional.”
The rail freight industry has been handed an opportunity to prove itself viable as an alternative to road transport, though the years ahead will not be free of challenges. Key will be industry development focused on remaining competitive, speakers noted, whether that be through the development of intermodal freight terminals, sophisticated route planning and tracking technology, autonomous capabilities or otherwise.
With the nation’s rail experts already strategising for the various unknowns, the rail industry could be on the right track.

NHVR welcomes new SA Transport & Infrastructure Minister

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has welcomed the appointment of Stephan Knoll as South Australian Transport and Infrastructure Minister.
NHVR Chair, Bruce Baird, looked forward to working with Knoll and the incoming South Australian government to deliver ongoing services to the state’s heavy vehicle industry.
“The incoming Marshall government has made announcements in relation to the movement of freight and I look forward to working with them to boost productivity for the local heavy vehicle industry,” said Baird.
“The NHVR has a close working relationship with South Australian transport and police agencies and we will continue to develop those relationships in the years ahead.
“I congratulate Stephan on behalf of the NHVR staff and board, and look forward to working with him to deliver an on-going agenda to reform heavy vehicle safety and productivity.”
Knoll will replace outgoing Minister, Stephen Mullighan, as a Minister responsible for the NHVR in South Australia.

New Transport Minister talks regional, infrastructure priorities

The new Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Michael McCormack, has spoken to Logistics & Materials Handling about his new role, Australia’s upcoming big-ticket projects and the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.
“Small regional communities hold a special place in Australia,” he said. “Our vital supply-chain sector, road and rail, accounts for approximately 10 per cent of GDP and plays a pivotal role in supporting enhanced productivity and economic growth.”
He noted that investment in national roads, railways, improved port access, intermodal links, and the upgrade of hundreds of ageing bridges would have long-term benefits for all those using Australia’s transport networks, including public transport and heavy vehicles.
“I look forward to working with the freight and logistics sector to build on the progress that has been made through partnerships with all levels of government and industry to deliver a sustainable, safer and reliable freight network,” McCormack added.
He also shared his excitement for receiving the final report of the Inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities from the Expert Panel, which is likely to be unveiled at the ALC Forum, which is taking place this week.
“It is pleasing to hear of the strong interest and support the Inquiry process has received from industry, and I look forward to working with my state and territory counterparts to address priorities raised through the development of a national freight strategy,” he said.
“Acting on these priorities will not only help drive the productivity improvements necessary to sustain and raise Australia’s standard of living and economic growth, but will also help to improve safety and environmental outcomes of the national freight sector.”

New Linfox CEO reveals safety agenda

Mark Mazurek, the recently appointed CEO of Linfox Logistics, has told Logistics & Materials Handling how the supply chain company intends to set an example for safe practice in Australia.
“In 2017, there were 168 fatal crashes in Australia involving heavy vehicles,” he said. “This is unacceptable and it tells us that safety requires relentless commitment.
“You can’t put an unsafe driver in a safe truck and expect it to be safe.”
He noted that Linfox implemented its own in-house strategy – Vision Zero – after realising that it would need a culture of safety in order to keep its people and the public safe. “We invest in technology to enhance that, but it starts with culture first,” he added. “We’ve reduced our LTIFR (Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate) by 90 per cent since 2006 so we’re getting something right, but we can never be complacent.
“Industry, government and road users have a role to play in creating a culture of safety on our roads.”
Mazurek added that it is crucial the Federal Government uses its influence in the best way. “The Government role is about creating consistency for the industry,” he said. “On a policy level, it is critical to align national heavy vehicle legislation across Australia to make operations simpler, more efficient and safer. This includes heavy vehicle maintenance standards, driver medical standards and heavy vehicle licencing.
“We’d also like to see greater restrictions on older vehicles and trailing equipment. We commend the work of the Australian Logistics Council and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in building momentum on this issue.”
Linfox would also like to see the Government advancing policy in mandatory telematics to assist with the management of speed, fatigue, mass and maintenance, and the development of an environment conducive to innovation, enabling technology to be trialled and implemented quickly, Mazurek shared.

Nationals appoint new Transport, Deputy Prime Minister

Barnaby Joyce has been replaced as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport by the new Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.
The new minister was sworn in on the morning of Monday 26 February after Joyce announced he would be stepping down from his position in the Cabinet.
McCormack declared his intention to run for the leadership of the National Party on Friday, 23 February, and was formally elected. National MP George Christensen contested the challenge, but said in a media statement later that he “looks forward to working with the new leader while representing the people of central and north Queensland.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement that he was delighted to welcome the appointment of McCormack as the new leader of the National Party.
Darren Chester, who until recently was Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, welcomed McCormack and thanked Joyce for his efforts.
“I welcome the election of Michael McCormack as leader of the Nationals,” said Chester. “His determination, professionalism and work ethic make him an ideal leader of our team.
“I want to acknowledge former leader Barnaby Joyce and recognise his many achievements as Deputy Prime Minister. Under his leadership, the Nationals delivered policies and projects that made a different in the lives of regional Australians.”
The road transport industry welcomed the appointment, including the Chair of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), Geoff Crouch.
“Michael McCormack will bring great drive and determination to the infrastructure and transport portfolio,” said Crouch.
“I have known Michael for more than 20 years. He is a proven advocate for small business, and regional and remote Australia. I’m confident he’ll bring this drive and determination to supporting the road transport industry.”
Crouch said that Minister McCormack had demonstrated an understanding of the importance of the road transport industry, having said in Parliament [on 14 March, 2012]: “If it needs to be carried, carted, dumped, hauled, moved, shifted or transported, there is every likelihood a truck or trailer will be the most economical, fastest and most reliable way of getting it from point A to point B.”
Crouch said the appointment of Minister McCormack was an opportunity to focus the transport agenda on improving safety and boosting productivity.
“Trucking is critical to connecting Australians with goods and exports, as Michael McCormack knows well,” said Crouch.
“But road transport must be safe, and must keep Australian businesses competitive in global markets.
“The ATA looks forward to engaging with the Deputy Prime Minister on the need for independent and expert safety investigations of heavy vehicle accidents by the [Australian Transport Safety Bureau – ATSB – ed.] on implementing the new laws on Chain of Responsibility, and ensuring our fatigue laws and rest areas are focused on saving lives.
“We also need to enable economic opportunity by boosting productivity, improving road access, building better and safer roads and eliminating over-regulation,” he said.
The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) said it is pleased that McCormack will also assume the role of Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.
“It is pleasing that the second most senior figure in the Government will retain portfolio responsibility for this crucial area, given the importance of developing transport infrastructure to support national supply chain efficiency and build Australia’s export capacity,” said ALC Managing Director, Michael Kilgariff.
“As an industry leader on freight and supply chain policy, ALC always seeks to have a cooperative and productive relationship with the key ministers in portfolio areas that impact our industry,” he said.
Victorian Transport Association (VTA) CEO Peter Anderson also welcomed the appointment. “The Victorian Transport Association wishes to congratulate Michael McCormack on his election as Leader of the Nationals, and his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport,” said Anderson. “We have worked closely with his predecessors in these vital portfolio areas, and we look forward to working with the Minister and his team to develop policies and solutions that improve conditions for freight and logistics operators throughout Australia.”

VTA, RFNSW advise operators on infrastructure surcharge hike

Stevedore Patrick recently advised road and rail freight operators of plans to increase infrastructure surcharges at its terminals from 12 March.
The new rates are as follow:
Melbourne: $47.50 per box
Sydney: $41.10 per box
Brisbane: $38.25 per box
Fremantle: $7.50 per box
The increases will apply to both road and rail transport operators for full import and export container movements at the terminals, and will be “subject to an annual review,” with any price change to apply from 1 July 2018.
Road operators will continue to be invoiced electronically via 1-Stop.
The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) has written to members to urge them to pass on infrastructure surcharge increases, saying ultimately consumers must bear the brunt of supply-chain cost increases.
“Operators continue to face unprecedented increases to infrastructure and road-user charges in and around the Port of Melbourne,” said VTA CEO, Peter Anderson.
“It is vital these and other cost-of-business increases are absorbed through the supply chain for freight businesses to remain sustainable and viable in a competitive trading environment,” he said.
“The VTA has long argued that consumers need to understand that price increases brought about by higher business and transactional costs will ultimately have to be passed on to them because businesses already operating to tight margins will go out of business if they try and absorb the costs,” said Anderson. “Consumers are the ultimate benefactors from receiving goods delivered by the transport industry, and therefore they need to be subjected to the same price increases operators and other participants in the supply chain are required to take on.”
Road Freight New South Wales CEO Simon O’Hara has responded to the fee hikes, calling for oversight, accountability and transparency to guide the actions of stevedores.
“Patrick’s infrastructure surcharge has gone from zero to $25.45 to $41.10 in less than a year,” he said. “That’s a massive increase with little justification.”

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