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Report proposes focus on reducing Australian rail freight emissions

The report says that too much focus has been put on reducing road transport emissions through trucks rather than through rail

A recent report by University of Wollongong associate professor Phillip Laird has proposed that rail could be the way to cut emissions. 

The report, which was originally published on The Conversation, found that road freight emissions are expected to grow from 37 to 42 million tonnes while rail freight emissions are expected to remain stable at four million tonnes by 2030. 

Laird says that while both rail and road freight has grown since the 1970s, too much attention in Australia and overseas has centred on lowering truck emissions due to the enormous amount of non-bulk freight such as consumer goods. 

Laird says that there are other methods ways into reducing road transport emissions outside of trucks, including through transferring freight to rail. 

Laird says that the Victorian government is looking into this method through its green freight strategy. The strategy will be assisted by new intermodal terminals that allow containers to be offloaded from long-distance trains to trucks for the last part of their journey. 

“The second way is to improve rail freight energy efficiency,” Laird says. 

“Western Australia’s long, heavy iron ore freight trains are already very energy efficient, and the introduction of battery electric locomotives will improve efficiency further.  

“Our interstate rail freight on the eastern seaboard is much less efficient. 

Laird says that the Inland Rail project is a step in the right direction and that if complete in the 2030s, it could potentially cut Australia’s freight emissions by 0.75 million tonnes per year. 

Laird says that while the project is under construction, upgrades to the existing Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane rail corridor need to take place. 

“To make this vital corridor better, there are three main sections of new track needed on the New South Wales line to replace winding or slow steam-age track,” Laird says. 

Among the new upgraded sections in southern NSW include 40km of track between Macarthur and Mittagong, 70km of track from Goulburn to Yass and 80km of track from Yass to Cootamundra. 

Laird says that if these upgrades on the steam-age track were to happen, it could cut two hours from the freight transit time between Melbourne and Sydney. 

“One thing is for sure: business as usual will mean more trucks carrying freight and more emissions,” Laird says. 

“To actually tackle freight emissions will take policy reform on many fronts. 

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