Has Rail Freight Lost its Way Through Lack of Innovation

 
  BP4417 Deputy Commissioner

Location: Launceston, Tasmania
During the late 1950's through to the 1970's the Tasmanian Transport Department were very innovative into the methods of freight transport particularly when the Roll on Roll off Ferries were introduced.
What sort of innovation could rail come up with to lever freight from the road transport industry but not increase overall costs?

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  theesp Train Controller

A shake up in the upper region
  freightgate Minister for Railways

Location: Albury, New South Wales
How as the roll on roll off ferries work ?
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
During the late 1950's through to the 1970's the Tasmanian Transport Department were very innovative into the methods of freight transport particularly when the Roll on Roll off Ferries were introduced.
What sort of innovation could rail come up with to lever freight from the road transport industry but not increase overall costs?
BP4417
From what I know of Tasrail in the 70's I think the innovation must have been very limited.

But yes, rail almost Australia wide was mostly walked over by the trucking industry. Unfortunately while people were fighting tio keep trains and branches that are not used wasting taxpayers money, mainstream traffic and trunk routes was left in the 60's or 70's at best.

Overall, the only way rail has become more efficient and competitive with trucks is by getting longer and heavier trains, centralised loading points, which has in return forced the closure of lighter used branch lines and loss of smaller scale traffic.

Some thoughts
- I think even today rail rolling stock is still limited by its lack of multi-tasking.
- Most bulk mineral trains run empty in one direction and locos are working equally rather than more strategically. Log trucks pick up the trailer on the prime mover to make it easier to drive and reduce costs.
- I think we will see the wide scale use of hybrid trucks and buses before trains.
  new_guy Station Master

Hmmm.

"Innovation" back then was a highly regulated freight market where (limited) permits were required in order to shift stuff by road (combined with poor roads, and "agricultural" road equipment).

Today, like it or not, Australia has one of the most efficient if not the most efficient road freight industry in the world - the end result being lower prices form consumers.  They're the cards that we've been dealt with.

I agree with an earlier writer re the rail industry was simply too slow to change during the 70s and 80s - hanging on to what it thought was a monopoly.

Longer and heavier trains are great if you've got the luxury of long-haul to maximise those efficiencies, however, in our little network our "niche" needs to be high asset utilisation, fast asset turnaround, we have some reasonable work practices (ie driver only and remote control shunting) , and optimise loading in both directions wherever possible (our new log frames are one great example of an innovation that road does not/cannot have).

We also need to ensure that we're not competing in markets where we should not (ie. time-sensitive express freight), but rather ensure that our pricing, service reliability (98% on-time for our premium services over past seven months!), and safety is such that we become the mode of choice for non time-sensitive and bulk freight (enabling our freight forwarder customers to use their scarce road resources to chase the higher margin express freight).

There is also the less tangible "convenience" value we provide to industry - large volumes of capacity without all the HR/IR/safety/maint/capital, etc, etc, etc.

And then there's the whole less trucks on road thing (something that our mining customers in particular value).

And while I'm on a roll, here's some fast facts about TasRail;

- we move around 30% of Tasmania's total freight task (we think that probably makes us the biggest transport provider in the State)

- 68% of the contestable freight between Hobart & Burnie is on rail

- the value of goods we move each year is around $1.1bn

- around 2,000 Tasmanian jobs are involved in the production of goods moved on rail

- we estimate that we save Tasmanian industry around $14m each year in transport costs (as compared to moving their goods by road)

- we estimate that there are now around 140,000 less heavy road vehicle movements each year which means;

    - an estimated $5m saved each year in road accident costs
    - an estimated 55,000t of harmful emissions avoided each year
    - an estimated $4.5m of road maintenance costs avoided each year

So, TasRail now operates in a highly competitive freight market (and some on this forum would argue that the pendulum has swung too far in favour of road!), but I think we're now starting to show some good signs of what a modern short-haul railway can contribute to Industry and the Community.


Damien


  Trainplanner Chief Commissioner

Location: Along the Line
Added to this has been the investment in rehabilitating the track and infrastructure and associated syatems so that the railway is better positionned to handle increases in traffic with little or no added investment needed.  The recent announced awarding of Tasrail to handle minierals traffic has to be an indication of how well Tasrail management is focussed on securing more business because it has the management, infrastructure, system and fleet to competively win such business.
  Graham4405 The Ghost of George Stephenson

Location: Dalby Qld
Hmmm...
new_guy


Damien,

I really appreciate your informative posts. A breath of fresh air to have railway management express their point of view here. Perhaps you can persuade others to do the same (that is, adopt the ideas and methods that Tasrail appears to be having success with and posting on here).
  aussie48 Junior Train Controller

Location: Melbourne
I think being an old Tassie boy and growing up in the last of the steam era the new boys on the block are doing a great job in keeping the railway alive and well.    Under the old system for road transport, owners purchased Ancy Plates (I think that's what they were called) which allowed the Vehicle to operate in certain areas only so TGR didn't have the competiotion it now has.   I assume that that system is no longer and trucks can roam freely over the road network at will.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
Yes thanks for that post Damien. It would be interesting to know what is the deemed limit available for Tasrail?

From my experience and time in Tassie the big challenge for Tasrail going forward is not so much getting past customers or load back on rail because many of Tasrail's former customers no longer exist, but finding new longterm sustainable ones to replace them.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
I think being an old Tassie boy and growing up in the last of the steam era the new boys on the block are doing a great job in keeping the railway alive and well.    Under the old system for road transport, owners purchased Ancy Plates (I think that's what they were called) which allowed the Vehicle to operate in certain areas only so TGR didn't have the competiotion it now has.   I assume that that system is no longer and trucks can roam freely over the road network at will.
aussie48
I think the trucks have had freedom for maybe 20 years now, at least. I remember the parallel freight levy being dropped in early 90's.
  BP4417 Deputy Commissioner

Location: Launceston, Tasmania
When I started this thread it wasn't to have a go at Tasrail but a genuine attempt to stimulate conversation into ideas which may generate more freight for Tasrail through innovation.
Another reason is because I travel between Launceston to Devonport via the Bass Highway weekly, every time I am confronted with line of sight heavy vehicles, now that is a lot of heavy vehicles in 100 kilometres. Returning home via the Frankford Highway is just as bad. It is a reduction of many of these vehicle movements that could be gained by rail through innovation.
Maybe innovation could be in the form of more Inter-modal depots?
When introduced Road Rail vehicles were supposed to make an impact into the way freight was delivered or collected. From what I saw in Tasmania the transition from Road to Rail and vice versa was rather cumbersome, they had a low gross, their use was very limited and there was resistance from the road hauliers. Could working through the issues have made Road Railers more effective and useful vehicles?
Would side loaders for rail work?


For those of you who like history the date railways started to lose freight to road transport was the 17th of November 1954 when the Privy Council in London, on appeal from Australia's High Court, released a decision that restricted the New South Wales Government's ability to impose charges on interstate trucking. The case centred around the interpretation of Section 92 of the Constitution that states in part "On the of uniform duties of customs, trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free". (Known as the Hughes and Vale Case). As a side considering this court case I am unsure how Melbourne Ports can impose excessive charges on Tasmanian shipping?
  12CSVT Chief Commissioner

Location: Drowning in accreditation red tape!
As a side considering this court case I am unsure how Melbourne Ports can impose excessive charges on Tasmanian shipping?
BP4417

I have discussed that issue at length with a number of influential individuals and whilst it can be claimed the Melbourne Port Charges are directly in violation of the Australian Constitution's free interstate trade provisions, the likely defence of Melbourne Ports is that the charges are a non-prejudicial recovery of infrastructure capital costs from all customers regardless of origin. Of course the fact that this predominately impacts on Tasmanian shippers is purely coincidental!
  BP4417 Deputy Commissioner

Location: Launceston, Tasmania
I have discussed that issue at length with a number of influential individuals and whilst it can be claimed the Melbourne Port Charges are directly in violation of the Australian Constitution's free interstate trade provisions, the likely defence of Melbourne Ports is that the charges are a non-prejudicial recovery of infrastructure capital costs from all customers regardless of origin. Of course the fact that this predominately impacts on Tasmanian shippers is purely coincidental!
12CSVT
Isn't that the same as in 1954 NSW charging road hauliers for road maintenance?
I think another Sir Garfield Barwick type is required to test the Constitution.

Maybe a ship that traded to the Port of Botany and or Brisbane was not such a daft idea during a previous election campaign?
  12CSVT Chief Commissioner

Location: Drowning in accreditation red tape!
Or Port Adelaide!
  Draffa Chief Commissioner

Would side loaders for rail work?
BP4417
If you can work out an easy way to side-load a semi's trailer onto a flatbed, be sure to patent it.
Top load might be better?  Eg, via a crane that picks up the entire trailer and loads it onto the flatcar (the prime mover would stay behind, maybe head off and pick up another trailer).  End-loading is a huge waste of time.
Tasrail could, theoretically, schedule several short, fast shuttles daily (say, AM and PM) between major loading centres (Devonport-Launceston is only 100ks.  That'd be the absolute minimum distance).  Another prime mover picks up the trailer and takes it to the destination.  The track would need upgrading and straightening to allow for higher sustained speed, I would think?  Probably not worth the effort.
  Bethungra Train Controller

It is such a shame Australia's demise started with the poor planning of rail gauges which has ultimately lead to an unrecoverable downturn in the use of rail for transport.  That coupled with a complete lack of innovation across the entire rail sector and some would say across most of Australian business.  

Australia is not the smart country people thought it was.

Roll on roll off rail wagons consigned from/to Tasmania  would have been perfect for the Tasmanian network.  Unfortunately gauge issues and a lack of innovation have prevented this.

roll on roll off rail car ferries are used across the world very very sucessfully.
  apw5910 Chief Commissioner

Location: Location: Location.
It is such a shame Australia's demise started with the poor planning of rail gauges which has ultimately lead to an unrecoverable downturn in the use of rail for transport.  That coupled with a complete lack of innovation across the entire rail sector and some would say across most of Australian business.  

Australia is not the smart country people thought it was.
Bethungra
I agree with you that it was and remains an unforgivable balls-up, but remember there was no Australia when they started building the railways. Just a bunch of colonies who preferred to think they were more important to mummy country than anything else. And pretended the other colonies didn't exist. Not unlike the situation today.
  Bethungra Train Controller

I agree with you that it was and remains an unforgivable balls-up, but remember there was no Australia when they started building the railways. Just a bunch of colonies who preferred to think they were more important to mummy country than anything else. And pretended the other colonies didn't exist. Not unlike the situation today.

The decisions on rail gauges were taken back to the mother country.  In any case Australia is now lagging 25 years behind Europe in many ways and most definitely infrastructure.

The next generation will be left with a complete and utter mess on many fronts.  Tony Abbott will be seen as one of the poorest performing prime ministers of a generation.  Conservative government is now dead in this country.  They have failed us all and most importantly the next generation and probably the generation after that.

We had our 100 year boom with the mining industry.  We failed to make the most of that. Australia should have received more from the boom than we did.  Instead it went to offshore investors.

Rail organisations have been left with management who when the chips look down (Note the article on Railpage about PN's coal volumes being down) the best this pathetic management at PN can do is cut costs.  Where are the management who can build a business?  Are they now gone?

Innovate and build new rail markets. Hell it is not like PN need to invest in new tracks across the country.
  chriswoo Junior Train Controller

Location: HOBART, TASMANIA
Hey All,

Thought this fitted in a thread that was covering innovation....

Noticed outside Elphinstone Engineering at Triabunna, what I suspect are the new Intermodal containers that will carry logs.

I call them containers, but really they are a 20 foot container footprint that has fold down stanchions.

The attachments for a 20 foot container sit above the folded down stanchions so a container can be placed ontop of them on the return, previously empty trip south.

They will raise the centre of gravity of a loaded wagon a wee bit.....


They will be easy to spot...they were painted a very nice bright yellow.

Chris.
  Trainplanner Chief Commissioner

Location: Along the Line
I frequently quote the transformation of Tasrail as an excellent case study of what you can do when you have Government policy and  very motivated and forward thinking management working together to make something positive happen.  Whilst some will argue that Federal financial support has gone a long way in making this happen the reallity is that a lot of people have worked very hard to make the case for rail in Tasmania.   In contrasts starkly with several mainland states who have networks capable of tapping markets well suited to rail but there is a huge void between Government having the right pokicy levers and committment working in company with the rail operators.

It really is very encouraging to see the new traffics in bauxite and timber haulage now coming on stream.  Many of us look forward to further updates with great interest.

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