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Major producers in NSW’s agricultural sector will find it cheaper and easier to send their product to export markets through Melbourne or Brisbane than Sydney within the next four years, according to Australia’s biggest rail hauler.
Pacific National chief executive Dean Dalla Valle has warned that the freight major will begin routing traffic away from Sydney if the NSW government does not commit to significant rail upgrades in next week’s state budget, saying rail lines across the Great Dividing Range into Sydney’s Port Botany are becoming “too inefficient, unreliable and hence costly”.
Mr Dalla Valle told The Weekend Australian the imminent opening of the company’s massive transfer terminal in Parkes, along with construction of the federal government’s $10 billion inland rail network, meant it would soon be cheaper and easier to ship through Melbourne or Brisbane than Port Botany.
The 600ha National Logistics Hub at Parkes, of which Pacific National’s intermodal facility is a part, will be eight hours by rail from Sydney, 12 hours to Melbourne and 18 hours to Brisbane.
But Mr Dalla Valle says key industrial and agricultural exports are likely to leave the country through the latter if major upgrades are not made soon.
Port Botany moves about 2.6 million containers (or TEUs — twenty-foot-equivalent units) a year into and out of Australia. Six in 10 of the 1.3 million outbound containers leave the port empty, and Mr Dalla Valle says that proportion is likely to rise when the Parkes terminal, capable of handling 450,000 containers a year, is up and running.
“From Parkes, these containers can make their way to the port of Melbourne or Brisbane. The future Inland Rail will make these haulage operations even more efficient,” he said.
Mr Dalla Valle said running a freight train loaded with containers from country NSW over the Great Dividing Range into Sydney would become too inefficient, unreliable and costly within four years, forcing regional exporters to bypass Port Botany if they can.
“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,” he said.
“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 northwestern NSW will be transported to Port of Brisbane.”
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet will hand down his budget on Tuesday, and Mr Dalla Valle said the government of Gladys Berejiklian needed to be “acutely aware” of the emerging competitive tensions with rival ports.
Mr Dalla Valle said long-running issues slowing access on the Sydney rail network — including finishing the duplication of dedicated freight rail lines, building new passing loops along lines through the Blue Mountains and improving the transparency of delivery windows through Sydney’s increasingly congested railways — needed urgent attention from the state government in the budget.
Although Port Botany is the only major port in Australia that has rail lines running directly on to berths, drivers often have a tight window of as little as five to 10 minutes to enter the port and reach the wharf so containers can be loaded directly on to a contracted ship.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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