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ARA rail freight conference spotlight freight future

The ARA Rail Freight Conference has focused on the future of freight in Australia

The Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) Rail Freight Conference, held this week, has brought leading industry and government representatives together to outline a vision for a strong, sustainable and innovative rail freight sector.

The two-day conference held in Sydney included presentations from Inland Rail, the National Transport Commission, ARTC, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, Pacific National, Aurizon and Linfox.

Kerry Schott, who conducted the Inland Rail review and has been appointed Chair of the NSW government’s Independent Advisory Panel for the NSW Freight Policy Reform Program, provided the opening address, with NSW regional transport and roads minister Jenny Aitchison opening day two of the conference with an update on the NSW freight policy agenda servicing regional exporters and communities.

Australia’s total domestic freight task is projected to grow by 26 per cent between 2020 and 2050. Despite this, the ARA says a mere two per cent of freight is hauled by trains between Sydney and Melbourne – the busiest freight corridor by volume in the country – and less than five per cent of freight is currently moved by rail between Sydney and Brisbane.

The ARA says even the critical Melbourne-Brisbane transport corridor has a rail mode share of less than 30 per cent.

ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie says the conference provides an important opportunity for government and industry to come together to discuss ways to improve the resilience, productivity and sustainability of our rail freight sector.

“The critical role that rail plays in delivering large volumes of goods across vast distances has never been more keenly felt, with the urgent need for a focus on network resilience underscored by the pandemic and multiple flood and bushfire events that have caused disruptions over recent years,” Wilkie says.

“There is an urgent need for rail to increase its share of Australia’s significant and growing national freight task to meet future demand.

“Our freight task will continue to grow, and road and shipping alone will not be enough – we need a resilient, reliable and efficient national rail freight network to support the economy and community.

“There is also a huge environmental imperative to move more freight from road to rail. It will be critical to reducing our transport emissions and making sure we meet Australia’s net zero target by 2050.”

ARA research shows that rail freight is up to 16 times less carbon intensive than road freight.

The recently released report Future of Freight warned under-investment in the rail freight network is jeopardising Australia’s freight capacity.

The Future of Freight report was led by the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI), with input from the ARA and Freight on Rail Group (FORG), and supported by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts.

“Every time there is a freight outage, it has a long-lasting impact on the economy, businesses and the community, costing millions of dollars,” Wilkie says.

The conference program included presentations on sustainability, technology and innovation, Inland Rail, intermodal infrastructure and ports, interoperability and productivity.

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