Pacific National warns NSW on Port Botany rail link

By: Rob McKay

Presented by
  • Plant & Equipment

NSW ‘risks losing exports and jobs’ without focus on reform and infrastructure



Rail freight operator Pacific National has warned the New South Wales government it risks losing future export container volumes to the ports of Melbourne and Brisbane if critical rail freight infrastructure is not upgraded or built within the next four years.

Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle said the efficient running of regional freight trains in and out of Port Botany needs to be a top priority for the NSW government in its third term, stating, "It’s now or never.

"I’m confident the re-elected Berejiklian-Barilaro government has the will, expertise and funding to fix a longstanding problem for rail freight movements in NSW," Dalla Valle says.

"The concern is that running a container freight train in country NSW over the Great Dividing Range into Sydney will become too inefficient, unreliable and hence costly within four years, forcing many regional exporters to bypass Port Botany.

"Without timely upgrades to the state’s rail freight network, containerised goods and commodities from the Riverina will be more efficiently hauled to Port of Melbourne, while produce from northern and north-western NSW will be transported to Port of Brisbane."

Once Pacific National’s Parkes Logistics Terminal is fully up and running, it is expected more than 450,000 shipping containers from around Australia will be consolidated in central NSW.

"From Parkes, these containers can make their way to the port of Melbourne or Brisbane," Dalla Valle says.

"The future Inland Rail will make these haulage operations even more efficient.

"The NSW government needs to be acutely aware of these future competitive dynamics."

He argues that the equation is very simple for freight – it flows along the path of least resistance; both in terms of cost and reliability of train services.

"If a freight train delayed by congestion misses a loading window for containers at Port Botany, then exporters suffer financial penalties and a loss of goodwill with clients," he says.

Pacific National estimates for every 1,000 shipping containers, measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU), gravitating to ports in Victoria and Queensland, up to 10 jobs in NSW are lost.

Asked how the equation is calculated, a PN spokesperson points to NSW government and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) figures.

The 2015 NSW Ports Master Plan states on page 23 that Port Botany, along with bulk-focused Port Kembla, support more than 26,000 jobs, while container throughput at Port Botany for 2017-18 was 2,762,465. So, 2,762,465 TEU divided by 26,000 jobs equals 104. Therefore 1,040 TEU equals 104 jobs.

Jobs associated with freight and logistics, including running a port, include train and truck drivers, container lift operators (quayside cranes and straddle carriers), fork lift drivers, stevedore staff, freight forwarders, warehouse administration, tradespeople and suppliers.

Dalla Valle says the NSW government has several infrastructure and policy levers that must be pulled quickly to protect jobs and unleash the full potential of the state’s rail supply chain, including:

fast-track duplication of the remaining 2.9km section of single line between Mascot and Botany. "This requires ongoing close collaboration between NSW government agencies – notably Transport for NSW and Department of Planning and Australian Rail Track Corporation [ARTC]."

construction of extra passing loops on both the Country Regional Network and Metropolitan Freight Network to help trains (both freight and passenger) overtake and run separately. "To its credit, the NSW government has commenced this process by delivering two new passing loops between Lithgow and Blayney at a cost of $21.5 million."

removal of "steam-age era" rules which dictate the operational requirements of freight trains on the NSW rail network. "A 4,000-tonne regional freight train hauling 160 export containers to port can be stopped dead in its tracks by a single piece of red tape."

pricing reform for freight trains accessing the Sydney rail network to help shift more freight from road to rail. "Australians want real trains, not road trains hauling more freight to help reduce traffic congestion, vehicle emissions and road accidents."

establishing a system whereby rail freight operators have greater transparency and certainty of access to tight delivery windows at Port Botany stevedore terminals.

Pacific National notes that because the Sydney rail network is so busy and congested – and because cargo ships wait for no one – freight trains are forced to ‘thread the eye of a needle’ to hit a small window to deliver containers to port.

"If the needle is moving about too much, or if the eye of the needle suddenly contracts, then operating an efficient freight train service to and from port becomes a logistical nightmare," it says.

Actively support the establishment of a network of intermodal freight hubs (where trains and trucks meet to exchange containers) in Western Sydney; a region with a high concentration of distribution centres and warehouses.

Dalla Valle says freight hubs act as circuit breakers to free up container flow to and from port, allowing rapid-fire train shuttles to service stevedoring terminals on the waterfront.

"In a positive development for future freight hub operations, NSW Ports is investing $120 million to improve ‘on-dock’ rail infrastructure capacity at container terminals at Port Botany," he adds.

"There are green-shoots popping up throughout the rail supply chain – it’s time for the NSW Government to work hard with industry to make them flourish."


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