Prime Mover Magazine

Rail freight on life support as B-doubles dominate major interstate corridor

Road transport operators on the nation's busiest freight corridor are having a major impact on rail carriers according to Australia's biggest rail freight operator.

Less than one per cent of 20 million tonnes of palletised and containerised freight is moved by trains between Sydney and Melbourne said Dean Dalla Valle Pacific National CEO in a statement.

“Australia’s busiest freight corridor by volume has become a conveyor belt of 700,000 B-double equivalent return truck trips each year along the Hume Highway,” he said.

A build up of red tape and excessive government charges applied to rail freight services was restricting the supply of goods on rail between Australia's two biggest cities.

“Bizarrely, at a time when Australians want safer roads, less traffic congestion during their daily commute, reduced vehicle emissions, and properly maintained roads, government policies are geared to rolling out bigger and heavier trucks on more roads,” said Dalla Valle.

Dalla Valle said trucks were not the root cause of most accidents, but the sheer size, weight and momentum of a truck crashing with a car often results in casualties or fatalities.

With the duplication of the Hume Highway Dalla Valle suspected governments would permit even bigger commercial vehicles such as A-doubles and B-triples access on major arterials.

Access costs for hauling a 20-foot container were skewed in favour of a B-double according to Dalla Valle.

Pacific National claims a freight train is charged $94 per container compared to $55 for a B-double.

“In terms of accessing the freight corridor between Melbourne and Sydney, that’s a massive 70 per cent cost penalty for rail – this rips the guts out of our industry,” he said.

Dalle Valle viewed government funding for roads by road users as an offset for operational charges, something rail freight wasn't at liberty to benefit from.

“To achieve a minimum 50:50 freight volume share between rail and road, government access charges must be abolished on the rail corridor between the two cities,” he said.

Pacific National estimates increasing the rail freight share between Melbourne and Sydney to 50 per cent would help save four lives and $300-million in road accident costs on the Hume Highway each year.

Grain supplier, Viterra, as part of a cost-effective initiative to compete internationally, bucked the current trend of major logistics operations moving to trains over trucks to move freight in June when it announced it would supply grain entirely by road transport.

Rail infrastructure conditions and the restrictions it imposes on operations made it less efficient the company said in a statement.

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