If some of us still doubt that the East-West Tunnel is primarily about commuters and not freight this forum and the impending Victorian Transport Plan effectively disabuses us of that notion. The forum’s focus was improving the productivity of freight in Victoria.
Road transport, docks and freight industry representatives, transport/freight industry peak bodies as well as representatives from community groups, including two representatives from YCAT, attended the forum.
There were three speakers; Tim Pallas (Minister for Roads and Ports), Don Hagen (Director Vehicle Management and Safety, VicRoads and Jon Clarebrough, Director Freight and Logistics, Department of Transport). Each speaker addressed specific sections of the proposed Victorian Transport Plan and an hour was allowed for open discussion to conclude the forum.
The Minister, Tim Pallas opened the forum by emphasising that productivity and efficiency were the driving force in the freight plan and that the government saw a need to go beyond the Eddington Report, which was circumscribed by limited Terms of Reference, to develop a total Victorian Transport Plan. He then indicated that this is a long term plan for Victoria’s future (2036) and that the government’s position is based on the following factors:
- Anticipated population growth in Melbourne (7.26m) and regional Victoria (5.41m) by 2036 and related infrastructure needs.
- Economic growth in the Services Sector and Intellectual Capital (the current trend) and a declining agricultural, manufacturing and related industry sectors in Victoria.
- Prosperity growth as a result of Victoria’s movement to a Service Economy with a need to import more consumer goods.
- Export Container growth due to new agriculture products being containerised and exported to new markets.
- A need to service the current and future growth in container trade at Port Melbourne, now Australia’s busiest port and ranked in the top 50 busiest ports in the world, and to facilitate container trade at the Hastings Ports and the movement between the ports.
Tim Pallas indicated that statistically 90% of freight road transportation is currently rigid, non articulated vehicles and that articulated trucks, which spend more time on the roads, do the longer trips in Victoria. This is deemed a major inefficiency and a disincentive to productivity.
Currently, the Hume and Monash Freeways are the busiest freight routes and that The West Gate Bridge, City Link and East Link are also very busy. He indicated that by 2030 it was anticipated that freight traffic on City Link, East Link and West Link would be very heavy.
Tim Pallis then indicated that the Government recognised that rail has a major role to play and that rail freight is more efficient than road and that yes, the government will move freight onto rail, gradually as the constraints relating to dual usage of rail (freight and passenger trains) and different gauge widths are overcome but that rail freight is a long term commitment and that in the short term road freight would be retained and expanded.
Don Hogben then spoke to distribution and efficiency issues in the movement of container freight and John Clarebrough spoke to the integration of rail, road and sea freight movements and productivity issues.
The need for private enterprise to be able to make a profit out of providing rail freight was emphasised as was the government’s commitment to public/private partnerships. As a consequence a two million up-grade of the Melbourne/Sydney route to provide a dual track and reduce transit time to 11 hours (currently 12 hours) was confirmed.
It was reiterated several times that the government will not be seeking federal money to standardise rail guages to facilitate the movement of freight onto rail. Tim Pallas concluded by saying that the government understood the community’s concern and respected the contribution of community organisations. He reiterated that the government had been through a long consultation process but the government had a responsibility to the economic future of Victoria and for this reason the Victorian Transport Plan would proceed.
He confimed that the government expected to complete the plan by the end of the year and that it will be released in late November or December and that there will be an opportunity for further consultations. So what does this mean……
Productivity, logistic and efficiency gains will be made by:
- Phasing out smaller trucks and Standard B-Doubles (3x20ft or 1x40ft container) on all routes.
- Phasing in Super B-Doubles (2x40ft containers at 30 meters) and B-Triples (2×20 & 1x40ft containers at 36.5 metres), which can carry the 40-foot sea containers in rural and metropolitan areas. It is claimed that this will reduce the fleet size by 30% and that will represent a saving of 22% for operators. It was emphasised that a failure to introduce super vehicles will see more trucks not less on the road.
- Rail, Road and Sea transport will be integrated through the creation of three transport hubs at Dandenong in the South, Laverton in the East and Donnybrook in the North. This will decentralise the movement of freight away from the ports and create specific sites for the distribution of imports and exports. Port freight and local freight will be road and interstate freight will be rail.
- These new inter-model centres, which will be managed, by private operators and new industries will be concentrated around them thus creating viable employment/employment programs.
- In the metropolitan and suburban residential areas night constraints on the movement of freight will be lifted as will restrictions on vehicle size in metropolitan and suburban areas.
- Constraints on the last mile will be lifted and Super B-Doubles and Triple –B Doubles will be able to enter, at night, metropolitan and suburban shopping centres and malls.
- A community education campaign will be developed to counter the negative connotation of road trains and psychologically re-brand large vehicles as efficient, quite, clean and green. The Minister noted that it was important to take the community with us on this as it was easy to wipe up fear around truck size and that the government would need a strategy to sell larger vehicles to the community in order to leverage greater efficiency for the transport industry.
- An education campaign will be developed to convince councils of the benefits of lifting council by-laws relating to night access and large vehicle constraints in inner city and suburban residential areas by illustrating that the new trucks will be quieter, cleaner and safer.
- Green house reductions and sentimental issues would be addressed by using larger and new vehicles which met environmental performance standards, were quieter than current trucks and met current exhaust emission standards. Operators would not be permitted to re-design existing vehicles.
- New rural road services and truck routes will be opened up Intra-Victoria
- All road, rail, port and terminal services will be managed by private operators.
There is much that is of concern in these proposals but specifically the total lack of governmental vision and leadership at a time when sustainable, alternative and innovative transport networks need to be developed is most evident.
The failure, in this forum, to address issues around the continued use of fossil fuels, the government’s willingness to place standardisation of the Victorian rail network in the too hard basket and it’s eagerness to please the road lobby and continue the privatisation of Victorian community assets and services may well be a fatal flaw.
- Freda Watkin
Yarra Campaign Against the Tunnel