Weekly News – Inland Rail, Electronic Work Diaries, Improved Access

INLAND RAIL MOVES A STEP CLOSER

The Federal Government has released a Delivery Plan for the construction of the Inland Rail Project that will span 1,700km linking Melbourne and Brisbane. The Plan outlines a 10 year construction timeframe, including 600km of new track, at a cost of around $10bn.  Once fully operational, the inland rail will be capable of accommodating 3,600 metre trains with containers stacked two high.

Inland rail is designed to compete directly with road transport and is expected to remove 200,000 trucks or 5.4 billion net tonne kilometres of freight from the roads each year. However, road transport operators need not worry.  The total amount of freight is still expected to triple to the year 2030 so there will still be plenty of work to do.

Ideally, multi-modal freight options should complement one another. From the perspective of the rural transport sector, taking a good proportion of the inter-capital freight off our rural and regional roads highways is a smart move.

EWD LEGISLATION PASSES QLD PARLIAMENT

Electronic work diaries are set for official recognition by the NHVR with new legislation passing the QLD Parliament this week.
It is important to note that EWDs will be available on a voluntary basis only. Operators will be able to choose between using an EWD or the traditional paper work diary.

EWDs can certainly reduce red tape and paperwork for those that choose to use them, but they are more costly and expose users to a stricter regulatory regime.  While traditional paper diaries operate in 15 minute blocks, EWDs are accurate to the nearest minute interval with only an 8 minute tolerance for small work time breaches over a 24 hour period.  There is no tolerance for rest breaches.

The ALRTA considers that the 8 minute tolerance is woefully insufficient to cater for all of the unexpected things that might happen on the road and we welcome the news that this rule will be reviewed after the first two years of data collection.

PLANNING UPGRADES TO NORTHERN BEEF ROADS

The ALRTA is very pleased that the Australian Government is moving quickly to plan for $100m investment in improving beef roads in Australia’s north.   Following on from the recent commitments in the Northern Australia and Agricultural Competitiveness White Papers, the ALRTA has been invited to roundtable meetings in Rockhampton and Kunnanurra next month to identify the highest priorities.

Proposals will be analysed using the CSIRO’s TRANSIT model to narrow down the field and make sure the industry gets the best bang for the buck. It’s refreshing to see such an objective approach to infrastructure decision making.  What happened to the pork barrel?

NHVR NOTCHES UP ANOTHER WIN ON ACCESS

The ALRTA welcomes the news that road train and b-double routes have received pre-approval to service several feedlots and rural businesses in Western Downs Regional Council in Queensland.

The development means that access applications can now be made directly to the NHVR without needing to also wait for approval from the Council.  Consent is still required from the Department of Transport and Main roads however where there is interaction with state roads.

Stakeholder discussions were championed by ALRTA Vice President Graeme Hoare who brought together industry, the NHVR Director for Access, the Mayor, and the local member for Condamine.

The pre-approval routes include Aronui Feedlot (from Dalby), Bottle Tree Feedlot, Sandalwood Feedlot (from Dalby) and large rural enterprises in the Auburn area of Western Downs including the Auburn Road to Council Boundary, Hawkwood Road, Andrews Road, Knudsens Road and Canns Road.

IMPROVED HML ACCESS IN SA

There was more good news flowing from the South Australian 90-day Review into Agricultural Transport last week with the announcement that HML access has been approved for 18 Viterra sites across SA.

The 90-day project was an initiative between Primary Producers SA, Primary Industries and Regions SA and the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure and led to the release of the report A Modern Transport System for Agriculture: a new partnership approach in March.

LRTASA President David Smith has welcomed the latest announcement.

“We have been steadily chipping away at the list of 184 issues raised in the report.  This decision will significantly improve transport efficiency and farm productivity for South Australian businesses this coming harvest” said President Smith.

“It’s another win for the whole State and there is still more to come”, he said.

Other key reforms from the 90-day project to date include:

  • The approval of quad road train combinations between Port Augusta and the Northern Territory border
  • The introduction of tri-axle dollies for use in road train combinations
  • Reduced driver logbook reporting red tape
  • Simplifying systems for registering multiple farm vehicles

ROAD USER CHARGING

This week I attended a very interesting workshop on road user charging hosted by the Australian National University School of Government.  Joining me were the “who’s who” of decision makers from Australian Governments and industry.
The key message of the workshop was that roads are the last remaining infrastructure network in Australia that is not yet subject to ‘user pay’ charging.  As you would expect from a room full of bean counters and economists, the general view was that user charging will deliver much more efficient and responsive infrastructure to service Australia’s needs into the next century.

Good in theory but will it work in practice?  Well, we really don’t know.

There is certainly some good case studies showing that congestion taxes do actually reduce congestion and everyone knows that tolls can influence behaviour.  However, no country in the world has yet gone the whole hog and introduced a comprehensive user pay system on every part of the network.

The ALRTA’s chief concerns about time/mass/distance/location charging has been the necessary complexity that it brings and possibility of it disadvantaging regional Australia. After all, there are older studies indicating that rural roads could cost many times more or just not be funded at all.

Workshop participants were presented with alternative modelling that takes a new perspective on this issue.  This data indicates that the regional sector is in fact subsidising road infrastructure in more populous areas and that user pay pricing would result in lower charges.  This certainly accords with what many in the bush have been thinking – their taxes are not spent back in the communities in which they are levied.

There are however various opinions on this matter and I think the debate is far from over.  Why would the government need to impose a service guarantee on Telstra if it was actually cheaper to provide network services in regional areas?

Overall, the take-home message is that technology, modelling and political positions are all rapidly evolving in this space and the pressure to implement a user-pay system that influences supply and demand behaviour through price signals will only grow as our cities become more congested.  That will flow on to all parts of the network and heavy vehicles are the obvious low risk political target for trialling technology that could be extended to all vehicles.

Trials will soon be underway in South Australia…..watch this space.

FEDERAL NATIONAL PARTY ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Over the weekend I observed the Federal National Party Annual Conference.  One thing that was quite striking in the debate on the proposed motions was the sheer pace of social change within the party, primarily being pushed by the younger members.  If you’d been parachuted in blindfolded you might have thought you’d landed in a conference for one of the other major parties with a more socially progressive reputation.

I have no doubt that this is a result of the much improved communication and connectivity options being enjoyed by our rural populations.  In my youth in regional NSW, we had a very limited number of TV radio options and certainly no internet.  A trip to Sydney was a big deal and Dad’s opinion on things didn’t seem to differ much from Grandad’s.

Today’s regional youth are a whole lot more connected to the rest of Australia….and indeed to the rest of the world!  They get the same news and media as everyone else and think nothing of flying to and from a capital city for the weekend.

So I shouldn’t be surprised to find strong support among many of them for government funding of SBS, more open-minded sex education in schools, income splitting for couples or access to superannuation to buy a first home.  It will be very interesting to watch where the next 10 years takes the Party’s agenda.

ALRTA MEETINGS

Members are advised that the next ALRTA Council Meeting and Special General Meeting will be held in Brisbane on 22 October 2015.  Contact the ALRTA Secretariat for more information.
The ALRTA Executive Committee met on Wednesday this week to discuss a range of issues including the national Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual (which is currently under review by the NHVR), new AFM templates and the proposed Road Safety Remuneration Order

Our National Animal Welfare Committee will meet next Tuesday.

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