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Fullerton: Inland Rail to conquer road by 2030

The Inland Rail project will get more freight on rail and off roads along the east coast between Melbourne and Brisbane by 2030, according to the ARTC’s John Fullerton, who spoke at the AusRAIL conference in Brisbane last week.

Fullerton, who is the CEO and managing director of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), used his speech at the annual rail association conference to lay out the details of how the Inland Rail project would transform the movement of freight, which currently, he said, operates along “a sub-standard east-coast rail network which doesn’t service the national interest”.

One of the most important features of the Inland Rail project, Fullerton said, was its ability to produce rail freight transit times between Melbourne and Brisbane of under 24 hours – significantly below the current average of 31-32 hours – as well as providing multiple pathways for this movement, allowing for better reliance, flexibility and reliability of services for freight customers. These factors, he claimed, would help rail to move towards eventually out-competing road along the eastern seaboard.

“There are many times I can recall when the main south line between Melbourne and Brisbane gets cut because of extreme weather events and the like, and customers say to me, ‘We’ve got no alternative, we’ve got to put it on to road’,” Fullerton said.

“Road has three major interstate freeways on the eastern coast; we only have one route, and that one isn’t even continuous because of the metropolitan network in Sydney. So Inland Rail – given that we have a network of operations on that eastern seaboard – will provide that flexibility and contingency, and that shouldn’t be underestimated.”

The bisection of two of the richest farming areas of Australia – the upper NSW around Moree, and the Southern Darling Downs – would mean that these areas would be able to take advantage of this productivity enhancing infrastructure, and, according to Fullerton, shows the project’s impact extends far beyond Melbourne-Brisbane transports.

“Inland Rail is not just about an engineering project and is not just about Melbourne to Brisbane freight – what is does is that it links together our ports, our regional areas, our capital cities and all our terminals with a backbone that is world-class, is efficient, and can deliver big benefits to our customers,” Fullerton told the conference audience.

He then outlined how the Inland Rail project had encouraged various companies to plan terminal developments, particularly at the major hub around Parkes, where Pacific National has announced a $5-million-dollar investment in their land in the area to take advantage of the link between the Inland Rail along the eastern seaboard and the East-West freight corridor.

“We’ve also seen companies like SCT commission a terminal this year in Bromelton, and they are operating 5 trains a week between Melbourne and Brisbane, which is, again, a demonstration of the faith they’ve got in rail, but also in what this project [Inland Rail] will deliver,” Fullerton said.

Between Melbourne and Brisbane today, 75% of freight is moved along roads. Fullerton said that this could only be reserved if freight customer and operator demands, received by ARTC during business consultations in 2014 and 2015, were included in the aims of the project.

“They wanted train operations that were similar to those moving between the east coast and Perth, they wanted 21-tonne axle loads at 115 kilometres per hour, they wanted double-stacked freight trains, and they wanted full operability, so trains can run from Brisbane to Perth, Brisbane to Adelaide, Melbourne to Brisbane, and interchange freight at Parkes, which will become a significant node on the corridor.”

The introduction of double-stacked, 1.8-kilometre trains will double the capacity of existing trains of the coastal route, and help reverse the dominance of road in freight travel. The East-West rail link provides evidence that this is possible: there, rail has an 80% market share of land transport, and the cost of movement on rail is 30-40% cheaper than on road.

Fullerton told the audience that if the above customer service characteristics were met, rail could move from its current 25% share for freight movements between Melbourne and Brisbane, to 60%. On the other hand, without Inland Rail to achieve these figures — that is, if it were never constructed — road freight would double by 2030, significantly increasing congestion on city roads and interstate freeways.

“Someone once said to me, ‘If we don’t build Inland Rail we can save $10 billion.’ And I said, ‘Well, if you don’t build Inland Rail, be prepared to spend double that on building a road network that can accommodate the freight volumes of the future,’” Fullerton told AusRAIL.

“Everyone wants to see this project started, and we expect to be commencing construction on the Parkes-Narromine section of track that we currently own and operate at a regional level, to get that construction underway in the second quarter of 2018.

“We’re very focussed on getting that project underway, because it’s an important signal to the rest of the Inland Rail project that we’re underway and we’re on our way.”

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