Redefined weekly news that will ignite your attention

Revitalising Rail Freight for a Sustainable Future: A Critical Analysis

Revitalising Rail Freight for a Sustainable Future: A Critical Analysis

Trucking’s Triumph Over Rails

In the heyday of the 1960s, trains ruled Australia’s freight landscape, controlling nearly 77% of the market.

However, the advent of trucks has since reshaped the scenario, and today, rail’s share has dwindled to a mere 16.7%. Trucks, on the other hand, have surged to an overwhelming 80%.

This shift comes at an environmental cost, with heavy trucks contributing significantly to Australia’s emissions, constituting 21% of the total.

Roads Pave the Way

The growth of road freight, especially in non-bulk categories like consumer goods, has skyrocketed, reaching 163 billion tonne-kilometres in 2021–22.

This rise is attributed to expanded highway networks and high-capacity vehicles.

In contrast, rail has struggled with meagre funds, receiving just $153 million in 2021–22 for maintaining its extensive 7,500-kilometre interstate network.

Inland Rail: A Ray of Hope

The Inland Rail project, linking Melbourne to Brisbane, promises a potential reduction of 0.75 million metric tonnes of freight emissions annually, once completed in the 2030s.

Yet, its completion faces challenges, leaving the Australian Rail Track Corporation grappling with maintenance issues and a lack of resilience.

Revamping the Melbourne–Sydney–Brisbane Corridor

To make rail more viable, an urgent upgrade of the Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane rail corridor is imperative.

A strategic overhaul involves replacing outdated track sections, such as Wentworth, Centennial, and Hoare, with newer alternatives.

This move could slash two hours off the freight transit time, with an energy use reduction of at least 10%.

Benefits Beyond Freight

Beyond the freight benefits, upgrading the rail corridor could also pave the way for faster passenger trains, potentially cutting the Sydney-Melbourne trip in half.

Drawing parallels with the successful track straightening on the Brisbane–Rockhampton line in the 1990s, this underscores the transformative potential of rail improvements.

Challenges on the Horizon

However, challenges persist. Questions loom over who will undertake this critical project, especially given the recent Inland Rail project review raising doubts about the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s capability.

A Call for Reform

In the face of impending increases in road freight emissions, policy reforms are imperative to rejuvenate rail freight.

The potential benefits extend beyond environmental gains, offering faster and more efficient transportation options for both freight and passengers.

The need for change is apparent, and the time for policy reform is now.