Scurrah addresses major national freight challenges

Inland Rail speech by PN boss takes on route design and modal competition

Scurrah addresses major national freight challenges
Paul Scurrah


In one of his earliest interventions since taking the role of Pacific National (PN) MD and CEO, Paul Scurrah amplifies the sentiment that Inland Rail will be central to the country’s economic future.

Speaking at the Australian Logistics Council/Australasian Railway Association Inland Rail Conference in Albury, Scurrah also touches on a number of national intermodal transport issues through the lens of rail freight.

Like the deputy prime minister [Michael McCormack], I’m of the firm opinion it will form the future economic backbone of Australia," he says.

Scurrah underlines PN’s expectation that its Acacia Ridge Terminal "will be the ‘northern terminus’ of Inland Rail for the foreseeable future".

Critics of the project nominate the lack of direct paths in to Melbourne and Brisbane container ports as a prime weakness in its design, pointing to the added cost in money and time of double handling and, with Acacia Ridge, what is seen as its constraints on growth.

Scurrah sees it differently.

"In the meantime, Pacific National welcomes the Australian and Queensland governments joint initiative to undertake detailed studies to identify and preserve a dedicated future rail freight connection to Port of Brisbane," he says.

"Indeed, urban intermodals and rail port-shuttles are an incredibly effective way for governments to improve road safety and reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.

"They have the effect of acting as ‘pressure valves’ along supply lines to help relieve tension and congestion in the overall transport network."

In Melbourne, he spruiks Truganina, in Melbourne’s west, against the competing claim of Beveridge to the north.

"PN estimates more than 60 percent of interstate rail freight volumes flow southwest of Melbourne through to Adelaide and then Perth," Scurrah.

"Furthermore, the area west of the port at Truganina is a key location for major freight forwarders, shippers, and their customers.

"Developing a major intermodal terminal more than 50 kilometres north of the port will result in perverse social and environmental outcomes, including more than 400 extra daily truck movements on Melbourne roads; notably on the Hume Highway.

"And once trucks are travelling north on the highway out of Melbourne, they will simply continue all the way through to Sydney.

"This is a classic example of how governments need to be acutely aware of the dynamics of local, regional, and interstate freight movements and how they interact and impact on the broader transport and logistics network."

On the route itself, he nominates key points to allow Inland Rail to be a success:

  • an alignment that allows a transit time between Melbourne and Brisbane of less than 24-hours – a trip which can currently take up to 36-hours. This would help rail "compete on a level playing field with road freight", especially given the truck-boosting Newell Highway upgrades.
  • a relatively straight track that can handle 25-tonne axle loads at 80km/h, with future proofing for 30 tonnes. Scurrah points out that twists and bends are not ideal when you are running freight trains almost two kilometres in length. "I congratulate ARTC for also future proofing the design to one day allow the operation of 3.6-kilometre freight trains like in North America," he says.

Read SCT’s Geoff Smith’s take on the coastal shipping challenge, here

In common with intermodal operator SCT, Scurrah voices concern at the competitive impact on Australian rail brought by global shipowners unconstrained by various nationally accepted conditions, seeing it as but one of a number of moves unencumbered by deep analysis or strategic, harmonised national policy development.

He notes that "any further regulatory relaxation of how internationally registered cargo vessels access and operate in Australian waters will invariably see rail mode share decline on critical east-west and north-south freight corridors, including the future Inland Rail.

"During the height of the pandemic when movements of foreign flagged cargo vessels were severely impacted, domestic land-based freight operations played a critical role in ‘plugging the capacity gap’, notably hauling much-needed volumes across to the west.

"As a former CEO of a stevedore, I understand and appreciate the ongoing critical role of coastal shipping in the overall freight transport mix.

"However, it cannot be promoted at the expense of domestic freight operations which must comply with Australian safety, employment, and labour laws."


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