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Making Short Haul Rail Work in Australia

PublishedMay 16, 2014
Making Short Haul Rail Work in Australia
TasRail Chief Executive Officer Damien White’s address to the inaugural Short-Haul Rail Conference in Hobart on May 15 2014:

“The fact that we have so many people here today suggests that there’s more than a little interest in the subject of Short Haul Rail.

“And when we look at what can be the competitive advantage of Short Haul Rail – that it can be nimble, agile, responsive – you’ll see that we’ll get through in one day what the average rail conference would take two days or more to get through!

“If you’ve got some spare time, dial up the Google machine and see if you can get a consistent view of what Short Haul Rail is.

“My view for what it’s worth is that Short Haul Rail is pretty well everything that’s not Heavy Haul and not Interstate freight. And perhaps the name’s not important, but personally I have a preference that the term we should be using is Regional Rail – something that resonates with regional industries, regional economies, and regional communities – something that those stakeholders can call their own. 

“When we look at the investment in Heavy Haul and Interstate Freight networks we can see the fruits of that investment; a growing modal share in the case of Interstate Freight, and in the case of Australia’s Heavy Haul railways literally world’s best practice.

“However, Regional Rail continues to remain a challenge – and it’s almost as if the traditional view of Short Haul Rail being uneconomic becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By and large there has been long-term underinvestment, therefore there’s old technology, and therefore the ability to provide attractive logistics solutions in an environment where road has continued to advance in technical innovation, and where road continues to receive significant government funding it is even more problematic. But you know what they say; anything that’s easy is probably not worth doing.

“There are rays of hope and opportunity:

  • Regional and council roads are in the main underfunded;
  • Generally there’s strong community support to get trucks off the road;
  • The freight task in regional Australia is continuing to grow;
  • Technological advances in rail means that such innovation is now more affordable for others;
  • Small rail businesses should be more nimble, innovative and responsive to customers’ needs.

“The real challenge for Regional Rail is to be relevant;

  • relevant for investors in the rail infrastructure;
  • relevant for customers;
  • and relevant for other stakeholders.

“The role of departmental bureaucrats isn’t to “promote” or “sell” projects – this is well and truly the Rail Industry’s role, and it’s not something that the ARA can do single-handedly.

“In an environment where governments have so many competing demands, where rail is not seen as sexy; even the most compelling business cases need to be communicated with some simple, key messaging. 

“And there’s also no reason why governments shouldn’t also be investing in privately owned Regional Rail infrastructure as many of the benefits accrue to government. 

“In terms of being relevant to customers, we need to be developing simple solutions. In my experience, price is always important for customers, but increasingly so is ease of doing business a key issue for customers – supply chain solutions need to be “no fuss” solutions. 

“And Regional Rail can develop such solutions – unlike larger and more complex organisations, Regional Rail can be nimble, agile, customer intimate, have Operational Excellence, and so on. 

“And Regional Rail needs to be relevant to the many other Stakeholders;

  • Regional Councils;
  • Farmers & Graziers;
  • Developers of Regional Freight Hubs;
  • And the Coles and Woolies of the world.

“In an environment where there is increasing pressure on regional road networks, where there is community opposition in regional areas to more and larger trucks, where fuel costs will continue to rise, where there will continue to be some form of carbon pricing – there is an opportunity for Regional Rail to be playing a much more significant role in transport solutions. 

“And can I suggest that we also need to combat the myths that many people have about rail generally – again with a common set of simple messages - at TasRail we have a standard set of “myth busters” that we use whenever we talk to key stakeholders about our business – to overcome the very well-founded but now historical misconceptions that people have about our business. 

“So, don’t assume that our stakeholders understand our industry’s value proposition, and assume that they’ve got old, misconceptions about our industry. 

“At this conference we have a great range of presenters and also a wide range of attendees that will have a great opportunity to contribute throughout the workshops – I guarantee that this will not be a talkfest, and we’ll have some deliverables that will ensure that we can continue the good work that I expect will come out of today.”

Damien White

TasRail CEO

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