A rail freight bypass line would benefit everyone, writes Greg Cameron.
NSW PREMIER Mike Baird should disclose the compensation payable to Port Botany leaseholder, NSW Ports, if a container terminal is developed at the Port of Newcastle.
A cap on container movements at Newcastle limits a new terminal to little more than 15,000 per year. The NSW government is being misleading when it says the lease agreement permits development of a container terminal. The cap is concealed within confidential lease documents.
In 2010, the Grup TCB/Anglo Ports Consortium was ready to sign a development agreement with Newcastle Port Corporation for a multi-purpose terminal that included a container terminal that could handle 1 million containers a year. The former Labor government blocked the deal and the new Coalition government cancelled it.
A container terminal at Newcastle is commercially viable and would take business away from Port Botany.
All of the NSW government’s objections to a container terminal at Newcastle are removed by building a rail freight bypass line. Travelling between Newcastle and Glenfield, the line would be paid for by railing containers to a new intermodal terminal at Eastern Creek. It would enable all general freight that currently enters Sydney by truck to be railed.
In 2012, the government abolished the cap on container movements at Port Botany, imposed in 2005 because of insufficient rail capacity. But the government expects container movements to increase from 2.2 million in 2013 to 7 million in 2030.
The NSW government declines to reveal the container carrying capacity of the Sydney rail freight network. It is because the capacity is insufficient for the current number of containers let alone future growth. Even if the capacity can be increased to 2 million, this leaves 5 million to be trucked in 2030. At an average of two per truck, this suggests 2.5 million truck movements compared with 1 million truck movements in 2013.
The NSW government proposes building an intermodal terminal at Eastern Creek to handle containers railed from Port Botany, even though there is insufficient rail capacity.
There are obvious failures in the NSW government’s rail strategy: 100 per cent of containers can be railed from Newcastle.
Five billion dollars of public money is saved by not upgrading Sydney rail freight capacity and building the bypass line with private funds.
Passenger services can be increased by removing all freight from the existing rail network.
Sydney Airport can be expanded by increasing the length of the short parallel runway and shifting displaced facilities to the Port Botany container terminal site.
Removing freight from the Newcastle rail line allows for a reassessment of the city’s light rail strategy and reduced express travel time to Sydney.
Greg Cameron is a public affairs consultant specialising in regional economic development. He was BHP’s public affairs manager in Newcastle from 1994 to 1999