Freight off the rails – Sydney Morning Herald

Jacob Saulwick

   Transport Reporter

More trucks on roads Government ‘embarrassment’ at network failure

More trucks are crowding onto Sydney roads despite the NSW government’s bid to push freight back onto rail.

The development, which Roads and Freight Minister Duncan Gay concedes is a ‘‘slight embarrassment’’, comes amid rapid growth in the volume of goods and commodities being moved through Sydney’s container port at Botany.

The state Coalition government wants to bolster the share of containers moved through the port from 14 per cent to 28 per cent by the start of the next decade. This is a downgrade from the former government’s target of 40 per cent, which it never got close to meeting.

But over the life of the O’Farrell and Baird governments, the rail share of containers has been stuck at about 14 per cent. Official figures for the 2013-14 financial year have not yet been released, but NSW Ports, the new private operator of the port, told Fairfax Media the rail freight volume last year was about the same as in 2012.

This means the share of rail freight moving through the port has probably slipped to about 13 per cent, given the 4 per cent increase in the volume of container trade.

The executive general manager for planning and infrastructure at NSW Ports, Marika Calfas, attributed the weakness of rail freight to slow rural exports, construction work, the lack of terminals to transport containers by rail and a lack of regulation.

An intermodal terminal at Enfield, which had been due to start in 2012, will become operational later this year. There are also plans for the construction of at least one terminal at Moorebank, though that remains some years away.

‘‘We need the facilities out there to increase capacity,’’ Ms Calfas said. ‘‘We need to be able to take the boxes somewhere.’’

Ms Calfas said NSW Ports was looking for more detail on how the government’s signature road project – the WestConnex motorway – would help move goods in and out of Botany.

Asked about the failure to move a larger share of goods by rail during a budget estimates hearing, Mr Gay said: ‘‘We believe we will do it, but we are a long way off at the moment.’’

Mr Gay, pictured, attributed the rail-share failure to improvements in truck access to the port, which started under a program set up by former ports minister Joe Tripodi. ‘‘It is success in one area that has stopped progress in another.’’

The WestConnex motorway is also being presented as a solution to congestion around the port.

Ms Calfas said NSW Ports supported the project, but needed more detail on how it would help trucks get from Foreshore

Drive near the port to Sydney’s

motorways. ‘‘At the moment it is probably fair to say we really don’t have sufficient detail to understand how the proposal as planned delivers the improvement or delivers the efficient truck access from Port Botany connecting us to the M4 and the M5,’’ she said.

‘‘We are talking to WestConnex, we are talking to other parties as well, but our primary objective in the interests of the port is to ensure efficient access to [those] M4 and M5 corridors.’’

A Transport for NSW spokesman said the state was setting up a cargo co-ordination centre to improve the performance of the roadrail network, while a program to improve the efficiency of rail freight at the port had started. Last year about 2.2 million containers moved through the port.