Original article: Rail lines not necessarily the answer in 2019 - published 24 June 2019 in The Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga).
Letter to editor:
Ironically enough I would suggest Keith Wheeler’s observations around road and rail are exactly why Inland Rail is being built (‘Rail lines not necessarily the answer in 2019’).
Inland Rail is connected to the Port of Brisbane and, yes, Inland Rail will carry inter-capital freight which underpins the business case for the project.
But what does that mean for the regions besides significant local investment?
Inland Rail is expected to transfer more than two million tonnes of agricultural product on to rail, precisely because it delivers higher axle loads and the ability to take longer trains that offer greater efficiency.
Mr Wheeler compares small, single-product, regional rail lines in South Australia with trucking – but he would be better placed to look to ARTC’s own Hunter Valley rail network. It is a great case study of how rail is delivering better returns at the farm gate on the back of a high volume, mixed-use rail network.
He also references the Adelaide-Darwin rail line but does not mention how it now transports over 90 per cent of the freight between South Australia and the Northern Territory because of its big trains.
The CSIRO recently published a pilot study on how Inland Rail would benefit agricultural supply chains.
They forecast a significantly larger cost-saving than previously understood with an expected saving of more than $60 per tonne for horticulture and post-processed foods (such as meat, rice and dairy products) when transported on Inland Rail.
Products familiar to the Riverina.
Of course, the savings estimated in the Pilot will vary for the type of product, journey and related loading costs. But it demonstrates the case for Inland Rail is real.
While Mr Wheeler would have us spend billions on the Newell, Hume and Warrego Highways – our view is that reliance on a single mode of transport (road) against a growing population and a doubling of freight volumes, is a recipe for disaster.
For our farmers – a future without Inland Rail would mean less choice, reduced competition and fewer pathways to domestic and export markets.
That drives costs up, not down.
Those costs eventually hit the hip pocket of local families. Because an expensive supply chain means a more expensive weekly shop, more congested and less safer roads.
And more trucks on the road means increased road maintenance costs – that puts pressure on Council rates, as being experienced by many Shires around the country.
Crucially, Inland Rail doesn’t mean trucking is no longer important. It is and always will be a vital part of the supply chain.
But we need to ask what type of freight future do we want for our kids and grandkids?
Industry and the community are both calling for rail and want to see it happen. Building more roads and putting our head in the sand won’t solve the problem.
The good news is grains, wine, paper, cotton and more are already successfully railed out of the Riverina.
We can’t continue to pass on the burden to future generations – that’s why we are getting on with building a future on the back of Inland Rail.
John Fullerton – CEO and Managing Director, Australian Rail Track Corporation