Rail's fortunes worsen amid warnings over road maintenance


NSW Auditor-General urges immediate action to stem fall in rail freight volumes amid warnings of decline in road maintenance works

Rail's fortunes worsen amid warnings over road maintenance
Rail's fortunes worsen amid warnings over road maintenace
By Brad Gardner | November 30, 2011

NSW is being warned its road network will be put under further pressure unless action is taken to lift rail’s share of the freight task out of Port Botany.

In a report released today on the state’s transport and ports, NSW Auditor-General Peter Achterstraat has called for concerted efforts to stem the decline of rail freight volumes which fell almost 5 percent last financial year.

While highlighting a 10 percent increase in total trade through NSW ports in 2010-11, Achterstraat cited rail’s flagging fortunes as a significant concern.

"Rail movements through Port Botany fell from nearly 19 percent to 14 percent in 2010-11. This is a significant fall and places pressure on an already congested road network," he says.

"The $725 million Port Botany expansion will add a third terminal in 2013 and will put further pressure on our transport systems."

Achterstraat has recommended the Sydney Ports Corporation continue working with government authorities to develop initiatives for increasing rail’s freight volumes.

"The Corporation should review the underlying causes hindering growth in the rail mode and develop and implement strategies to address the unfavourable trend," his report says.

The former Labor government set a target of 40 percent of freight leaving the port on rail, but Premier Barry O’Farrell has dropped the target to 28 percent.

Achterstraat’s report also points to problems across the state’s road network, including longer travel times on key Sydney roads due to congestion.

"Morning peak travel speeds have worsened on six of the seven major Sydney roads. The morning peak’s average speed decreased from 31 to 29km/h. The afternoon peak’s overall average speed remained unchanged at 42km/h," he says.

Victoria Road was named the slowest major Sydney road, with an average morning peak speed of 24km/h and 31km/h in the afternoon.

Average morning peak hour speeds on the F3, M2 and Parramatta Road all dropped compared to the 2009-2010 financial year. Speeds in the afternoon improved along Parramatta Road and the F3, but dropped by 5km/h on the M2.

The report says the Roads and Traffic Authority, which was abolished in October and had its functions transferred to the new NSW Roads and Maritime Services, is aiming to expand motorways and implement traffic flow and technology initiatives to address road congestion.

According to the report, the roads authority "has significant challenges to maintain road service levels".

Achterstraat says the long-term target of repairs to road surfaces is unlikely to be met due to a host of issues, including funding constraints, ageing infrastructure, heavier vehicles and an expanding asset base.

"The Authority advises its ability to effectively maintain service levels and sustain road infrastructure has been severely hampered…," the report says.

The RTA blamed its failure to reach its ‘good ride quality’ target due to an increase in road deterioration from heavy and prolonged rains.

"Ride quality measures the ‘roughness’ of travel over road surfaces (including national highways) and is a primary indicator of road condition," the report says.

"The Authority achieved its 2011 targets for pavement durability, which measure road surface cracking on sealed State roads."

Achterstraat also delved into the running of NSW public transport services and found that 22 percent of bus passengers had been left standing at stops because buses were too full, did not stop or failed to turn up.

Furthermore, the report says transport workers were more likely to test positive for drugs and alcohol. Achterstraat says positive drug tests remain significantly higher than positive alcohol tests for staff at RailCorp, State Transit and Sydney Ferries.

"At RailCorp contractors consistently return much higher rates of positive drug and alcohol test results than employees," he says.




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