“Rail has central role making cities more livable and environmentally friendly”, originally published in Track & Signal January-March 2016. Written by John Anderson, Chairman of ACRI.
Australia is one of the most urbanised countries on Earth – but we also have very large distances between our major urban centres.
Much of the talk coming from federal and state governments recently has been about making our cities more efficient and livable and making transport between our cities more efficient and environmentally friendly.
In those discussions rail has a central role. Within cities, rail offers a way of moving vast numbers of people more quickly and efficiently than does road.
The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is obviously a big fan of public rail transport. His first ministry included a brand-new ministry: Cities and the Built Environment. The Minister, Jamie Briggs, is likely to be looking at transport within and between cities and how rail can contribute to achieving the vision of more efficient and livable cities.
Of course rail is not a total solution, but it is still an essential part of making cities more efficient and livable. To the extent that rail can provide more of the journeys people need to make within cities, especially commuters, it frees up the roads for other users, particularly those moving goods and services and, importantly, those using other public transport like buses and taxis.
Primarily, state governments have responsibility for public transport, especially within cities. However, the national government has a major role in providing transport links between cities and a role in co-ordinating those links with transport within cities.
A good example is the Moorebank Intermodal Freight Precinct (pictured) in south-west Sydney. it will help integrate freight movement between sea, air, rail and road. If freight is moved more efficiently from Port Botany to western Sydney it will alleviate congestion on the roads, making Sydney more efficient and livable.
The first contracts for stage three of the federally funded Port Botany Rail Line upgrade have just been awarded. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Warren Truss, welcomed the reduced impact on motorists provided by cross-metropolitan container rail shuttle services.
Perhaps of more importance to Sydney will be the Inland Rail project, even though it will not pass through Sydney. This is because much of the Melbourne-Brisbane freight will no longer have to go through Sydney. Moreover, the direct inland Melbourne-Brisbane rail route will make rail more economic than road freight. One train will take the freight of 108 B-double trucks and use just a third of the fuel.
The removal of those trucks will make journeys between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and all the places in between safer. The more efficient freight movement will be a great improvement for small business and for household relying on cheaper freight.
As Australia looks more to rail to meet the escalating freight effort in the future, it is important that critical freight corridors are preserved. It is to be hoped that the new cities ministry under Jamie Briggs will provide the co-ordination between the three levels of government to achieve that.
As Australia proposes and builds new infrastructure to make our cities more livable and efficient, it is imperative that a robust cost-benefit analysis is made for each project. Without that, public support will be hard to maintain.
With it, public support will follow and nationally important projects will not be jeopardised in favour of inefficient, politically popular pet local projects and will survive changes of government at both the state and federal level. The Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) is well placed to undertake that analysis.
Another important point about new infrastructure is that it can use the latest in technology and be a spur for greater innovation.
Finally, as we approach the holiday season we must be alert to safety. Rail plays a major role in that by reducing road traffic, but it must do and is doing through ACRI the research to make sure the intersection between road and rail is made as safe as possible with the resources available - again contributing to making our cities more livable and the journeys between them safer.