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Rail Freight Transport in NSW

Rail Freight Transport in NSW

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 8/2009 by Holly Park

The freight task in NSW has grown rapidly over the last decade and will continue to grow, fuelled by population and economic growth and coal exports. The majority of freight in NSW is transported by road. This is due in part to the historical inequity in the funding of road and rail infrastructure, but is also related to the superior efficiency and flexibility offered by road transport.

The NSW Government has committed to significantly increase the amount of freight transported by rail. There are a number of grounds for this. The volume of Sydney freight movements is expected to more than double between 2005-2025, and freight on the Sydney-Brisbane corridor is expected to almost triple over a similar period. An increase in freight transport by rail will help limit the increase in road freight transport, with associated road congestion and road safety benefits. There are also significant climate change and air pollution benefits of transporting freight by rail. The greenhouse and other air pollutant emissions from rail freight transport are substantially less than the emissions from road transport for an equivalent amount of freight.

Whilst the environmental benefits of transporting freight by rail are significant and widely recognised, there are also associated environmental impacts. The environmental impacts are largely localised and include: operational rail noise; noise from construction and maintenance activities; and air pollution. A range of measures have been implemented, or are being developed, to address the noise and air pollution impacts of the freight rail network. However, it is very much still a work in progress.

In recent years, there has been a strong focus on improving the efficiency of rail freight transport in NSW. Numerous rail infrastructure projects are proposed or currently being constructed. The majority of these projects are being undertaken by the Australian Rail Track Corporation, a federal government owned corporation responsible for managing the interstate and Hunter Valley freight rail networks in NSW. Key projects include the Southern Sydney Freight Line, the Hunter Valley Investment Strategy and the North-South Improvement Strategy.

Disused rail lines have also been the focus of much attention in NSW recently, with the introduction of the Transport Administration Amendment (Rail Trails) Bill. The Bill would permit the Government to dispose of rail corridors or rail corridor infrastructure without requiring an Act of Parliament. The purpose of the Bill is to allow community groups to establish rail trails for cycling and walking in disused rail corridors. The Rail Trail organisation in Australia has commended the Bill for bringing NSW into line with other Australian States and permitting the development of rail trails. However, the Government’s admission that the Bill would allow rail corridor land to be sold for other purposes has generated criticism.

Amidst discussion of turning disused rail corridors into recreational rail trails, farmers and regional communities across NSW have been lobbying to have disused regional rail lines reopened to freight transport. The Federal Government’s recently released NSW Grain Freight Review has made a series of recommendations concerning regional freight rail lines used for grain transport. The recommendations support the retention and maintenance of the majority of regional rail lines considered in the Review.