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Getting 30 per cent of freight on rail will boost NSW economy

Australasian Railway Association 3 mins read

Shifting 30 per cent of NSW freight on to rail would deliver far-reaching benefits to the economy and community, an industry submission to the NSW Government’s reform program says.

In a comprehensive submission to the NSW Government’s Freight Policy Reform Program, the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) said increasing rail’s mode share was critical to meeting future demand.

Among the 44 recommendations by the ARA is the need to establish the mothballed Bureau of Freight Statistics to enable regular, public reporting by NSW agencies of freight performance and progress on delivering the renewed freight strategy.

The submission also said the current passenger priority and peak curfew requirements on the metropolitan shared rail network are “challenging and excessively restrictive”.

ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie said it was vital that NSW developed a coordinated, strategic approach with specific targets to increase the use of rail freight.

NSW Ports figures show that just 17 per cent of freight arriving at port for export is on rail, despite numerous strategies to increase mode share. ARA research shows only two per cent of freight on Australia’s busiest corridor between Melbourne and Sydney travels by rail.

“The poor utilisation of rail in the NSW freight task has been an issue for decades and strategies to date have not resulted in rail being any more competitive in the containerised market,” Ms Wilkie said.

“This is despite the obvious, and enormous, economic, safety and environmental benefits that getting more freight on rail delivers to the community.

“An urgent overhaul of the NSW freight strategy is critical to support the efficiency, productivity and competitiveness of rail freight services and position rail to thrive as an important part of NSW and national supply chains.”

ARA research shows that a 10 per cent mode shift away from road to rail between major capital cities in Australia will reduce the social costs, crashes and accidents and health costs from emissions, with total estimated benefits of more than $700 million per year.

“For NSW to play its part in reaching net zero emissions targets, it is essential we ease pressure on the state’s congested roads and enable more freight to travel by rail, which is 16 times less carbon intensive than road freight,” said Ms Wilkie.

The ARA submission said freight policy responsibility is “scattered throughout various bodies in the NSW government, which has prevented the development of meaningful rail freight policy.”

It cites the 2021 NSW Auditor-General’s Rail Freight and Greater Sydney report that concluded NSW will struggle to meet increasing demand for freight movements unless a more coordinated approach is taken to increase rail’s mode share with targets to improve efficiency and capacity.

“The industry believes that the Auditor-General’s report, combined with similar experiences in other jurisdictions, provides a clear indication that policy settings need to change for rail freight to play a greater role in meeting the growing freight task at our ports,” the ARA submission states.

“The inflexible application of passenger priority and peak curfew requirements is also challenging and excessively restrictive. They have the effect of increasing the cost of rail freight services by reducing rollingstock utilisation and ability to maximise use of rail network capacity, and reduces reliability by creating additional delays for freight trains.”

Current share of the NSW freight task on rail is high when considering mining and agricultural bulk exports, but modest across contestable freight markets, including containerised freight.

The rail industry says NSW should immediately prioritise supporting the national aim of achieving rail system interoperability of operating rules, infrastructure and operational standards and systems to improve the efficiency and safety of the network.

The submission states: “Rail freight in Australia is considerably constrained by the differences which exist between jurisdictions and intra-state networks. A lack of interoperability across the country is the single most significant drain on productivity for the rail freight sector, directly contributes greatly to the cost of operating rail freight services, reduces operational efficiency and flexibility, dampens the uptake of new technology and pace of innovation, and ultimately hampers the ability to compete with other transport modes.”

Key recommendations in the ARA submission include:

  • 30% of contestable freight volumes to be moved on rail;
  • Prioritise rail system interoperability across NSW;
  • Address high priority harmonisation-related constraints, including actions agreed to under the National Rail Action Plan;
  • Require NSW agencies to publicly report on freight strategy delivery every 6 months;
  • Commission an investigation into the most effective rail freight coordination model;
  • Review passenger priority access to create a more flexible and transparent system;
  • Complete the Western Sydney Freight Line Business Case;
  • Investigate opportunities for existing rail infrastructure to deliver better freight performance, including Inland Rail connectivity, and Hunter Valley and Port of Newcastle utilisation;
  • Develop standard reporting to monitor on-time running;
  • NSW to support national decarbonisation of rail freight operations.

To read the full submission go to

For data and access to the Future of Freight report go to



Contact details:

Natasha Wallace

Senior Manager – Strategic Communications, 0499 272 672,


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