Shifting the freight load

THE continuing expansion of the State’s freight sector and its increasingly negative impact on transport infrastructure has prompted the Government to consider changes to the movement of goods around the State.

Any change to the freight network involves a number of different nodes – rail, road and sea – and all need to be considered with regard to their relationship to the city’s major freight hubs.

At the second Freight Network Congress, held earlier this year, the Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan announced a number of recommendations, in-cluding an increase in the percentage of freight carried by rail from its current level of 3 per cent to 30 per cent.

In addition to this the Government is constructing a rail loop at the Fre-mantle Port and it has undertaken to complete Roe Highway stage seven between South Street and Fremantle.

Department for Planning and Infrastructure manager urban trans-port systems policy, Steve Beyer, said there were two major issues driving the review of freight on the road in Perth.

“One is the significant increase in road freight coupled with a number of policy changes that has allowed bigger vehicles in Perth,” he said.

“And, as a consequence of allowing bigger and bigger trucks on the road network, the trucks are providing competition for loads that traditionally travelled on rail.”

Another reason for the review was the significant unresolved road network issues in and around the major freight hubs.

Ms MacTiernan had a dossier of ‘hot spots’ on the road network where communities had expressed concerns about safety, noise and pollution.

“What we tried to do was involve community, government and in-dustry representatives right from the beginning,” Mr Beyer said.

The first freight congress in October 2001 triggered a number of special studies into the freight industry. There were six major studies that looked at a range of issues, from sustainability in the freight industry to stimulating more freight activity via rail, and the growth potential of the Fremantle Inner Harbour.

“All these studies came together at the second freight congress in the middle of this year,” Mr Beyer said.

“And the congress endorsed the findings of the working groups and it came up with a view of the priority projects.”

The framework developed out of the congresses has delivered what represented a major shift in para-digm from where we were going, Mr Beyer said.

“It has provided a focus for a whole range of decisions,” he said.

“There’s basically been unabated growth in road freight.

“To give these [projects] momen-tum we’ve had to get strategic alliances between traditional road companies, traditional rail com-panies and with stevedore com-panies.

“This is the way the freight industry is moving internationally.

“What we can do is piggy back off this to achieve our strategic out-comes.”

In Sydney, the freight by rail was at about 30 per cent and there were plans to increase this to 40 per cent, Mr Beyer said.

“It started at the low end [of rail freight usage] about five years ago,” he said.

“We’re also building a new Leighton Rail Loop and what this will do is remove the shunting operation and it will allow Leighton to be developed.”

It was hoped the Leighton Loop would enable trucks to load goods almost directly, removing costly double handling at the port.

“At the moment the current access to the port is not very efficient,” Mr Beyer said. “We’re going through plans for a rail loop into Fremantle port that would bend through the industrial part of Fremantle.”

The diverse nature of the road freight industry means the biggest operator represents only a small fraction of the overall market.

“The Toll Group, which is one of the largest companies, represents only about 8 per cent of the market,” Mr Beyer said.

“Toll bought up a whole range of trucking operations and overlaid a logistics umbrella.

“A company such as Toll can much better utilise their fleet this way.

“But there are a huge number of people coming in and out of the industry.

“One of the things we’re trying to reduce [across the industry] is the number of empty trucks travelling to and from the port.”

The road network in and around the freight hubs is where the biggest cracks in the system are apparent, Mr Beyer said.

“In the long term we are looking at upgrades to Stock Road and further improvements to Leach Highway and South Street,” he said.

Given the current pressure on Leach Highway and the proximity of businesses and sensitive infrastructure such as schools, any increase in the volume of traffic on this route will have to be carefully managed.

Mr Beyer admitted the department was unsure how well Leach High-way could support an increased volume of traffic.

“The Government has ruled out developing it into a Freeway,” he said. “In this whole process we’re trying to balance social environ-mental and economic factors.”

“The challenge is to ensure it’s a workable system.

“And the industry recognises the need to move towards a more sustainable network.”

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