Concerted freight front needed on policy: Della Valle


Pacific National boss sees shift in attitude to task, especially amongst the young

Concerted freight front needed on policy: Della Valle
Dean Dalla Valle

 

In the midst of a ringing endorsement of rail future and before a New South Wales announcement of two line upgrades, Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle says he detects a shift in the public’s view of the freight sector in general.

Speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) lunch in Sydney this week on the topic ‘Drivers, demand and disruption in freight’, Dalla Valle argues that the public’s freight transport myopia is giving way amongst younger Australians.

"Even though freight, whether by road, rail or sea, is the bedrock of our economy, a phrase I have often heard since joining the industry, is ‘freight doesn’t vote’," he says.

"I believe Australian voters are much smarter than that. Every day they see and indeed interact with the movement of goods and services, particularly on our major motorways and highways.

"Furthermore, in New South Wales alone, more than half a million people work in freight and logistics, equivalent to more than 14 per cent of the state’s overall employment.

"Combined with a generation of consumers now passionate about where their goods and services are sourced from, I also sense more people want to know how their items reach them."

He also sees this as an opportunity for rail to argue its corner on safety, congestion and environmental grounds.

The flip side of this public mood is that the freight transport industry as a whole must be active in raising and keeping awareness of its value to the economy and society, Dalla Valle insists.

"The industry  . . . must not only tell the story, it must sell the story," the former BHP chief commercial officer emphasises.

"It’s incumbent on us to make sure Australians understand the benefits of efficient and well-planned supply chains and, dare I say, the benefits of putting more freight on rail.

"By their very nature, freight supply chains are large, complex and technical – our industry must become more sophisticated in our messaging to communities and the media."

Political effort

That effort needs to have a political dimension as well, to give certainty essential to private sector investment.

Here, the sector should make use of what should be natural allies.

"We must better mobilise our customers – they must become our strongest allies and advocates throughout the community," Dalla Valle says.

"Anyone who has experienced the wrath of a regional exporter facing delays and disruptions in hauling produce from paddock to port understands my point very well."

This was important to avoiding unintended or negative policy outcomes, given that governments "often underestimate how disruptive poorly designed regulations can be".

"Regulation, in general, should take a risk-based approach that is outcome driven; not prescriptive," Dalla Valle says.

"The rail freight sector needs to be regulated to actual risk, not perceived risk and certainly not outdated historical risks."

Modal shift

Dalla Valle, who also chairs the Freight on Rail Group of Australia (FORG), says he is not anti-truck and acknowledges trucking’s centrality to the transport task but questions its preponderance in longer routes.

He notes 90 per cent of Melbourne-Sydney freight is trucked.

"We need to seriously ask ourselves if this share of road freight is sustainable," he asks

"Likewise, where are the best locations for intermodal freight hubs in our cities to help seamlessly move freight from road to rail and then to port and vice versa?

"If we get these drivers right, we can help reduce disruptions like severe traffic congestion in our major cities."

He adds: "The road freight task between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane is forecast to reach around 140 billion tonne kilometres by 2030, up from around 60 billion tonne kilometres.

"That’s roughly the size of France’s current entire road freight task.

"As you can see, our major motorways and highways are at risk of becoming a conveyor belt of trucks.

"Trucks will always dominate ‘last mile’ trips to distribution centres and supermarkets, but as a country we need to do better to shift freight to rail over longer distances.

"I believe this is a disruption we must have."

NSW view

For the state government’s part, Transport for NSW freight, strategy and planning deputy secretary Clare Gardiner-Barnes tells the audience the state’s unprecedented infrastructure spend is aimed at accommodating the impending growth in both population and freight transport burdens, along with road safety imperatives at a time when truck-related fatalities are rising there, and that shifting cargo to rail in Sydney is a priority.

On trucking, access arrangements were high on the agenda.

"Some of the issues identified throughout the consultation process for our Freight and Ports Plan included the need for greater alignment and cooperation throughout all levels of government, particularly with local councils.

"We know we need to better understand and recognise the demands of the freight sector in the planning process and the impacts of this decision in the supply chain. And the need for consistency in the heavy vehicle access arrangements.

"The Plan will align with the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy that’s now being developed.

"And the need for collaboration with industry and other jurisdictions is critical to make sure that freight movements of the future align across the states."

"In many cases, it means we need to get out of the way.

"Less regulation and more flexibility."

The last point is particularly focused on emerging trends and technologies and Gardiner-Barnes says Transport for NSW now sees itself as "a technology business".

"If we think about the rise in small deliveries to consumers, increasing congestion and exposure to road safety risks in densely populated parts of our state, our Transport Coordination Division is at the coalface of trying to manage this."

The department is also examining the use of areal drones for congestion-busting and efficiency raising ‘last-mile’ freight delivery.

It will bend the recently announced Future Transport Digital Accelerator (FTDA), which allows for industry and public input, to the planning task.

Asked about freight links to the Badgerys Creek airport precinct, or ‘aertropolis’, Gardiner-Barnes says consultations are underway on paths including for a proposed ‘Outer Sydney Orbital’ route past the airport along with a future intermodal facility to link with the Western Sydney Freight Line. Submissions for that end on June 1.

The proposal is for an eight-lane freeway with a two-track rail line in the middle.

When questioned on modal shift as one solution to the road-safety issues facing the state, Gardiner-Barnes notes that councils are underfunded for the task of keeping heavy vehicles moving efficiently now and in the future.

 

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