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.

Truck tax reform should be passed: ARA

The rail industry is set to pressure the Australian Parliament to pass the much-debated heavy vehicle charges reform bill, in a bid to redirect freight from road to rail.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has called on its members to make submissions to the senate inquiry into interstate road transport charges by November 10.

The reform proposes to lift road charges for trucks to 21 cents per litre of diesel from 1 January 2009. The bill was introduced into parliament in September, and is now before the senate committee for report by November 21.

The trucking industry, along with the Opposition, attacked the scheme, saying the automatic indexation scheme was “a tax by stealth” and it should include provisions for 500 extra rest stop areas on the national road network.

The ARA argued the bill should be passed as it would ensure proper transport pricing for effective infrastructure use and transport system optimisation.

It said currently trucks underpaid an estimated $168 million per annum and the cost of road damage was paid by taxpayers.

“Continued undercharging of road transport attracts freight to road resulting in more trucks on major highways and less freight on safer and more environmentally efficient rail transport,” the ARA said.

“Undercharging means that everyone pays more through other taxation.”

It added the Productivity Commission’s independently audit found the proposed charges were ‘conservative’ compared to international practice.

The ARA said it also favoured mass-distance location charging as part of future reform, as recommended by the Productivity Commission, the National Transport Commission and the Australian Transport Council.

Submissions can be made at www.railmates.com.au

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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