New data has revealed that underinvestment in the rail sector is resulting in mounting costs for consumers, prompting calls for urgent improvements to the rail freight network. 

A joint submission by the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and the Freight on Rail Group (FORG) to the Federal Government’s review of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy shows freight outages have cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

ARA CEO, Caroline Wilkie, said that at a time when cost of living pressures are hitting millions of households, the price Australians are paying for a lack of investment in rail freight is simply too high.

“With more extreme weather events impacting the freight network, there is an urgent need to invest in resilience projects to improve efficiency and keep supply chain costs low so consumers are not unnecessarily impacted by rising prices,” Ms Wilkie said.

“A major outage on key interstate routes can cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars, leaving consumers to pick up the cost.

“In a state like Western Australia, where 80 per cent of land-based freight arrives by rail, road alone cannot keep supermarket shelves stocked and costs low.”

The submission has called for a greater focus on resilience and decarbonisation as part of the national strategy, with rail freight generating 16 times less carbon pollution than road.

Research conducted by the ARA and FORG confirmed the significant costs of a lack of investment in rail freight:

  • Washouts on the east-west rail line in regional South Australia in 2022 cost the economy $320 million, resulting in severe product shortages and empty supermarket shelves
  • Flooding in New South Wales in March 2022 led to a total of 200 days of track outages, with 26 return services impacted each week, costing the economy $35 million
  • Flooding in the Parkes region from October to December 2022 resulted in multiple track washouts, 90 days of closure and 18 areas of required repairs, costing the economy $37 million
  • Flooding near Inverleigh in Victoria resulted in a train derailment in November 2022, closing the line for 7.5 days, cancelling 84 services and costing more than $16 million to the economy

Upgrading the interstate rail network would not only improve climate resilience, but also reduce speed restrictions and weight limits and provide greater capacity for longer, heavier trains – driving down freight costs and improving road safety.

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