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The short-haul urban intermodal freight landscape: Lessons for Perth

Photo by Josh Spires on Unsplash
Photo by Josh Spires on Unsplash

After many years as an afterthought in the Australian freight landscape, short-haul urban intermodal freight is becoming an increasingly important aspect of freight transport and of urban planning.

Australia has a unique set of geographical circumstances which make urban intermodal freight worthy of detailed study. As our capital cities continue to grow intermodal freight will be an important factor as a means of reducing road congestion, and of the cost of getting products to markets and consumers.

At present Sydney is the only Australian city with an extensive intermodal network serving short haul port-related freight. Melbourne and Perth are beginning to focus on developing networks, while Brisbane and Adelaide have little scope to do so, due to legacy infrastructure issues.

Related iMOVE project: Planning intermodal and general logistics infrastructure for the future needs of Perth.

The ability of capital cities to absorb ongoing population growth is a critical national issue for Australia. As our large cities become megacities, in its current state it will be impossible for our transport infrastructure to keep up, and to maintain quality of life and international competitive economic advantage. If the use of rail networks for all types of freight can be greatly increased, the pressure on road systems will be reduced.

The Planning and Transport Research Centre (PATREC) researchers have been able to assess the features of the systems in each Australian capital city, compare these with some international examples, and make recommendations on how intermodal networks –particularly in Perth – can best be designed and managed for future success.

Sydney has several new suburban terminals under construction or in design, and the NSW state government is actively supporting a major expansion of rail services for the import and export of containerised freight.

The Victorian government has recognised the potential for intermodals to take pressure off the road network, but has less favourable rail infrastructure to work with. Nevertheless, more measures are now being taken to make short-haul rail freight more commercially attractive.

In Perth, the state’s Westport strategic planning initiative provides the context for an expansion of the intermodal network and an overhaul of its management and governance. Increasing rail’s share of import/export traffic will take pressure of roads well into the future, before traffic problems becoming economically significant.

PATREC’s work has sought to bring focus onto the commercial and operational characteristics that will define successful intermodal networks in Perth, with its own legacy of railway corridors and port design.

Most importantly, the research looks at the roles played by various commercial operators in the supply chains (including port authorities, stevedores, rail track owners, freight providers, empty container parks, etc) and suggests how relationships between all these players go a long way towards predicting successful operations. Equally important is the role of state government agencies and the nature of any support being provided by these in the public interest.

The work has also produced estimates of the limits of realistic demand for intermodal services at various points within greater Perth. This work will be further developed to assist the state government in making important decisions regarding infrastructure investment and other forms of support for industry and the freight sector.

This article was co-authored by Sae Chi, a transport economist at PATREC.

Author: Tim Hoffman

Tim Hoffman has spent over 25 years in the freight and logistics sector. After long stints in state government transport policy roles and rail freight management, Tim has been in the consultant space since 2006. Tim works as a subcontractor to major consulting firms on significant projects, but also takes on smaller, focused challenges individually, or in teams with other independent analysts.

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