Their submission, part of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy review, reveals the economic consequences of underinvestment in rail infrastructure and its impact on consumers' cost of living.
Recent data highlights the mounting costs linked to underinvestment in the rail freight network. Caroline Wilkie, CEO of ARA, stressed that with households facing increasing cost-of-living pressures, the price we pay for the lack of investment in rail freight is excessively high. Extreme weather events affect the freight network, demanding urgent investment in resilience projects to boost efficiency and keep supply chain costs low, thereby shielding consumers from rising prices.
The submission underscores the need for a greater focus on resilience and decarbonisation as part of the national strategy. Rail freight is environmentally friendly, generating 16 times less carbon pollution than road transport.
Research by ARA and FORG exposed the substantial costs incurred due to inadequate investment in rail freight infrastructure:
- In regional South Australia, washouts on the east-west rail line in the previous year cost the economy $320 million, causing severe product shortages and empty store shelves.
Flooding in New South Wales in March 2022 resulted in 200 days of track outages, impacting 26 return services each week and costing the economy $35 million.
Flooding in the Parkes region from October to December 2022 led to multiple track washouts, 90 days of closures, and 18 areas needing repairs, totalling $37 million in economic losses.
A train derailment near Inverleigh in Victoria in November 2022 resulted in a 7.5-day line closure, cancelling 84 services and costing over $16 million to the economy.
Investing in the interstate rail network would enhance climate resilience, reduce restrictions, and increase capacity for longer, heavier trains, ultimately reducing freight costs and improving road safety.
The rail industry's call for urgent investment aims to strengthen the resilience of the rail freight network, ensuring a more efficient and cost-effective supply chain while alleviating the financial burden on consumers in the face of rising living costs.