The rail industry has called upon governments around Australia to look at the bigger picture when considering the ongoing operation of rural rail lines.
Chief Executive Officer of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Bryan Nye expressed his concerns on the issue saying that the governments must decide whether or not they want more and more trucks forced onto already congested rural highways and roads.
Mr Nye explains that viable grain and other agricultural rail lines right across Australia are being forced to unfairly compete with other transport modes, which do not pay their fair share of infrastructure maintenance costs, leading to situations where impasses over maintenance costs can cause rail lines to close unnecessarily.
The rail system offers several advantages: For instance, the average freight train takes 110 trucks off the road, reducing truck movements by around 49.7 million truck kilometres a year or 3100 times the distance between Sydney and New York. Rail is also the safest form of land transport. On average, there are over 1500 road fatalities and more than 30,000 road injuries costing Australia $35 billion every year. Rail, in comparison has around 40 fatalities and 130 injuries annually.
Even after paying substantial ongoing access fees and high upfront capital costs for the world’s best new rolling stock, rail operators can still deliver the cheapest transport option in many markets around Australia.
However, the lack of an equitable and consistent model across Australia for funding track maintenance can still threaten the operation of otherwise perfectly viable rail lines.
The Australasian Railway Association encourages all parties to consider the best interests of each community when considering the funding of rail maintenance into the future.