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Rail freight operator Pacific National is urging action on excessive government charges and red tape which it attributes to putting rail freight "on its deathbed" between Melbourne and Sydney.
Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle says less than 1 per cent of 20-million tonnes of palletised and containerised freight transported between Melbourne and Sydney is now hauled by trains.
He claims excessive government charges applied to rail freight services and a build-up of red tape are suffocating the haulage of goods by rail between Australia’s two biggest cities.
"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," Dalla Valle says.
"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.
"Now the Hume Highway is fully duplicated, I suspect governments in the future will allow access for even bigger trucks on the freeway, including A-doubles and B-triples."
Pacific National calculates access costs of hauling a 20-foot container between Melbourne and Sydney by a freight train or B-double to be $94 and $55, respectively.
It adds the Australian Government taxes operators an access charge to run freight trains on railways, which do not account for extensive taxpayer funding of roads (and hence support for trucks) compared to significant commercial demands on rail freight.
"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," Dalla Valle adds.
Pacific National quotes a 2017 Deloitte Access Economics report that, for every tonne of freight hauled a kilometre, trucks produce 14 times greater accident costs than trains.
Dalla Valle says trucks may not be the root cause of most accidents, but the size, weight and momentum of a truck crashing with a car often results in casualties or fatalities.
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 – while annual vehicle emissions along the highway would be reduced by 430,000 tonnes.
Dalla Valle says to "resuscitate" rail freight between Melbourne and Sydney, government must aim for an equal volume share of rail and road freight by 2021.
"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.
Dalla Valle says supporting more freight on rail means a healthy long-term revenue stream for government and huge benefits and savings derived from a wide range of social, economic and environmental gains.
This article first appeared on www.fullyloaded.com.au