Rail at the crossroads: Telford

Australasian Railway Association chairman Don Telford has urged the Australian Government to put an end to 50 years of under-investment in rail.

Mr Telford said the biggest obstacle to rail’s technological development was not the shrinking financial market, but persistent neglect and the lack of a national plan.

“Even the rail line that runs between Perth and Brisbane has four different owners that have four different ideas, and unfortunately they can’t coordinate that plan.

“To introduce new technology, which is certainly important with regard to signalling and making our trains more fuel efficient, we’re unable to do that because of this same break-up,” he said.

Mr Telford, also chief operating officer at Asciano with responsibility for Australia’s largest privately-owned freight rail operator Pacific National, said among bulk, intermodal and passenger rail components, bulk was especially at risk.

“With intermodal, there may be some slowdown, but I doubt it will be very much because most of the shipments are made from eastern states to Western Australia.

“There will be some lag time with many of those projects that have already started – I see that growth will continue,” he said.

With Australia’s transport growth exceeding GDP growth, he said upgrading rail was imperative in order to redirect Australians from the near-capacity road network to more efficient rail.

“The Building Australia Fund presents an excellent opportunity to rectify 50 years of under-investment in rail,” he said.

However, he said the fund alone would not solve the problem, and state governments, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, operators and developers should all provide input. 

He said rail was three times more efficient than road and while the continuing drop in oil prices might take away some competitive advantage of rail, other benefits were big enough to offset the fall.

“Rail is safer, cleaner and more labour-efficient. One train from Sydney to Melbourne replaces 70 B-doubles, saves 45,000 litres of fuel and 44 tonnes of carbon emissions.

Mr Telford said without including road transport in the emissions trading scheme, Australia would never be able to meet the emissions targets.

“We must take action now if we are going to meet the targets the Federal Government has set. Rail must be included in any agreements going forward.

“The green paper on the carbon pollution reduction scheme excluded road transport for 12 months. If that were to continue, I don’t think we’d ever meet the targets set by the government,” he said.

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