A joint submission by the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and the Freight on Rail Group (Forg) to the Australian federal government’s review of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy shows that disruption to freight services and train accidents have cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

ARA CEO, Ms Caroline Wilkie, says that at a time when cost of living pressure is hitting millions of households, the price Australia is 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,” Wilkie says.

“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% 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, as rail freight generates 16 times less carbon emissions than road.

Research conducted by ARA and Forg confirmed significant costs arising from a lack of investment in rail freight and provided the following examples:

  • washouts on the east-west main line in South Australia last year cost the economy $A 320m ($US 203m), 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 closures, with 26 return services impacted each week, costing the economy $A 35m
  • flooding in the Parkes region from October to December 2022 resulted in multiple track washouts, 90 days of line closure and repairs in 18 areas, costing the economy $A 37m, and
  • flooding near Inverleigh in Victoria resulted in a train derailment in November 2022, closing the line for seven and a half days, cancelling 84 services and costing more than $A 16m to the economy.

The submission states that upgrading the interstate rail network would not only improve climate resilience, but also reduce speed restrictions and increase maximum train weights and provide greater capacity for longer, heavier trains, thereby driving down freight costs and improving safety.