Pacific National spruiks Omicron rail solution


Scurrah highlights mode’s efficiency advantage in present labour crisis

Pacific National spruiks Omicron rail solution
Paul Scurrah

 

Pacific National has taken risk advantage of using long-haul rail freight as trucking struggles with the pandemic’s evolving impacts.

The intervention is timely for the mode as long-distance road freight battles to fix an ageing driver profile, opposition to vaccine mandates, a lack of skills and fewer young entrants and imported labour, with reforms such as the new apprenticeship very much a longer-term fix.

 "The Omicron outbreak has again highlighted the innate benefits of hauling large volumes of goods and commodities over large distances by rail," Pacific National CEO Paul Scurrah, who is also a member of the Freight on Rail Group (FORG), said.

"A typical 1,500-metre interstate freight train operating between Melbourne and Sydney hauls 215 containers and is equivalent to 90 cross border truck trips.

"Where 90 truck drivers are needed, only two train drivers are required to move the same volume of freight.

"Since March 2020, Pacific National has put in place rigorous systems and processes to ensure social distancing and stringent hygiene standards to reduce the risk of our freight train crews and terminal staff being exposed to Covid.

"Among our employees we only recorded a handful of positive Covid cases over the course of 2020 and 2021, despite having terminals located in major Covid hotspots.

"Because of these protections, our workers have continued to provide 800 services each week across the mainland to help keep freight flowing.

"Today, less than 10 per cent of our 2,300 frontline workforce is furloughed due to Covid, allowing us to continue to service the freight needs of our 400 customers.

"As a business we are finding transmission of the virus is largely occurring out in the community, rather than within the workplace.

"Omicron impacts on workers who service supermarket distribution centres and retail stores is currently the weakest link in the national supply chain.

"As we see in daily news bulletins, keeping shop shelves stocked has become a real challenge.

"Road freight has also been harder hit than rail freight."


Read Scurrah's take on the nation's freight challenges, here


He also noted the importance of individual Covid testing in reducing infection risks within the company. But he also underlined serious need for more testing units.

"A critical issue facing the national supply chain is securing adequate numbers of Rapid Antigen Test [RAT] kits," he said.

"For context, a 24/7 national operation the size of Pacific National with 70 terminals and depots spread across the mainland, screening frontline rail workers three times a week, can consume approximately 7,000 RAT kits each week.

"I’m relieved to say we had the foresight to secure supply of an additional 30,000 RAT kits before Christmas, but as you can imagine we are currently chewing through them at a rate of knots. Rationing of RATs is now the new norm in the national supply chain.

"We understand the Australian government is bending over backwards to secure more RAT kits from around the world, but this could take weeks.

"Currently it’s a major challenge for business to source RAT kits and we need to address this immediately for the sake of public health outcomes and the economy.

"Like many other countries around the world, once RATs arrive on mass, National Cabinet must commit to providing free kits for all essential frontline workers. The current system is creating unnecessary angst among essential workers and distorting daily supply chain operations.

"One thing is obvious, going forward, National Cabinet must start learning more from the experience of other countries where new Covid variant outbreaks have hit.

"There were clear signs around the world as early as the middle of last year that RAT was increasingly going to be relied on as a key frontline defensive tool to help combat Covid.

"As a country we have fared better than most, and that’s a credit to our political system, but we must keep striving to stay ahead of the global pack."

 

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