Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Divided Opinions On New Rail Freight And Truck Infrastructure

Opinions Polarised as Australia Moves Forward
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – The current government policy here is to plan for the growth in road and rail freight which most industry observers feel is a certainty rather than a possibility. Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese was happy to veto plans to increase passenger flights at Sydney’s Bankstown Airport last week but cargo carriage is a whole different matter.

The feeling in Government circles is that the last time the country experienced an export boom Australia under achieved due to lack of facilities and services. Now, by investing in new rail links and intermodal depots or ‘inland ports’, Julia Gillard’s Labor party mean to push through development of a freight friendly environment, on every level.

This means that the newly constructed highways will see the transit of the massive B Triples and Super B Double trucks which are currently only allowed on more restricted routes. This is where many of our haulage savvy readers will recognise the old arguments regarding bigger trucks with more axles pulling bigger loads equalling less, or more, in the way of damage to the environment, dependent on your standpoint.

The proposals counter some of the environmental arguments by aiming to ring fence rural route development to ensure no urban creep occurs around the newly developed routes. Double stacked rail containers and bulk cargo trains need access to ports and currently many rail freight movements are forbidden except at night, the Government have said previously they wish to seperate freight and produce an independent high speed passenger network whilst pushing ahead freight enhancing schemes like widening the M5 corridor. 

The draft document outlining the new national strategy has been compiled by Infrastructure Australia and the National Transport Commission and, inevitably, has walked straight into a crossfire of criticism. The Government stand accused of ‘playing at’ their green credentials, their chief adviser on climate change Professor Penny Sackett quit after two and a half years and revealed this week she had never met with the Prime Minister and only once with her predecessor, nor was she consulted prior to the Copenhagen summit, this at a time when the environment was supposedly top of the agenda.

Mr Albanese now has the job of convincing individual state officials of the benefits to their regions if he is allowed to push through the many developments required. After due consultation he hopes to extend the agreement that he recently reached with them for a national ports strategy to encompass such things as dedicated rail freight corridors, a must for a nation who produce so many bulk cargoes from grain to coal.

One of the big problems he faces is the need to wrest control of the transport industry regulations from individual states and transfer them to Federal charge. This is the same problem which the US has had so much trouble in enforcing in many areas but realistically will be essential to ensure that the revived transport infrastructure pays back the level of investment which will be required.

Opponents say the cost of such a radical redevelopment will be beyond possibility whilst Government supporters argue that only a complete overhaul can bring freight rates down to reasonable levels if the expected upturn in tonnage occurs.