Rail at a crossroads: ARA

Rail is at a crossroads and needs greater investment and renewed commitment to realise its full potential, the ARA argues

Rail is at a crossroads and needs greater investment a renewed commitment after years of neglect to realise its full potential, the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) argues.

ARA Chairman Don Telford has lamented the lack of investment in the transport mode, saying more funds are needed to promote rail as a safe, clean and labour-efficient mode of transport.

Telford, who is also Chief Operating Officer of Asciano with responsibility for Pacific National, says governments must focus more on rail because roads are at capacity and are ill-equipped to deal with the surge in the freight task.

He says the $20 billion Building Australia Fund should be used to bankroll key infrastructure projects and upgrades.

"The Building Australia Fund presents an excellent opportunity to rectify 50 years of under-investment in rail," he says.

But he says state governments, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, operators and property developers alike must all play a role if rail is to play a greater role in the freight task.

Telford has criticised the NSW Government’s decision to defer passenger rail projects in Sydney, saying it is unfortunate because the road network is at capacity and traffic congestion is affecting business productivity.

Telford says rail is three times more efficient than road and while the drop in oil prices takes away some competitive advantage, that is offset by other benefits.

"Rail is safer, cleaner and more labour-efficient. One train from Sydney to Melbourne replaces 70 B-doubles, saves 45,000 litres of fuel and 44 tonnes of carbon emissions," he says.

The ARA is reiterating its comments on rail’s environmental benefits as the Rudd Government moves toward an emissions trading scheme.

Telford says the trucking industry emits 14 percent of greenhouse emissions "and it is getting worse". He says action on rail investment must be taken now if Australia is to meet its commitments under any carbon-cutting scheme.

In saying that, Telford wants the Government to renege on its commitment to the trucking industry to offset any fuel price rises on a cent for cent basis for the first year of the scheme.

"The Green Paper on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme excluded road transport for 12 months. If that were to continue I don’t think we’d ever meet the targets set by the Government," Telford says.

The ARA is lobbying the government to push the benefits of rail, while calling for greater technological commitments because the industry is "coming from well behind".

"We lack a national plan. Even the rail line that runs between Perth and Brisbane has four different owners that have four different ideas and unfortunately they can’t coordinate that plan," Telford says.

The ARA wants new signalling technology to increase fuel efficiency, but it is unlikely to gain any results immediately due to the cross-border differences.

"I think it’s very unfortunate and very reminiscent of the different gauge problems that came from our forefathers," Telford says.

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