Rail freight offers clear advantages in providing safe and sustainable transport. But despite its appeal, the sector continues to face persistent challenges that must be addressed to support greater use of rail to meet our growing national freight task. At the heart of almost every challenge is one key issue: interoperability.

Interoperability issues affect more than how operators move across borders and how workers navigate multiple networks – they impact productivity and efficiency.

The ARA held its first Interoperability and Regulation Working Group workshop last month to help address this critical issue. The working group was formed as part of the ARA’s recently released Rail Freight Action Plan and will define priority issues limiting rail freight productivity and identify ways industry and government can address them.

One Rail Australia Chief Commercial Officer John McArthur leads the working group, which brings together representatives from a range of major multi-jurisdiction above-rail operators to unite the industry’s advocacy efforts.

Five themes have already emerged as priorities for further research and discussion:

  1. Rollingstock and equipment approvals – Different requirements between states and across networks, and a lack of meaningful national standards, create a major challenge which limits innovation.
  2. Inconsistent environmental regulation – Environmental regulation governing rail freight differs by jurisdiction.
  3. Communications and signalling – There are different communications and signalling systems requirements between states and across networks. As a result, in-cab systems need to cater for these different approaches, adding cost and complexity to driver training and mobility. A failure to address this will continue to hamper innovation and make it harder to adopt automation on networks where it is not currently in place.
  4. Driver requirements – Single or dual driver requirements differ across jurisdictions, making it harder to manage rail freight workforces and impacting productivity.
  5. Network investment and connectivity – The lack of a national approach to rail infrastructure investment and network connectivity impacts the efficiency of the network as a whole, and can lead to investment decisions at a state or territory level that do not always consider wider benefits for the national network.

Addressing these issues will be the working group’s key focus as we identify industry-led solutions and government proposals to improve the interoperability of the network. We are now developing a detailed issues paper to support further consultation with the industry to progress the working group’s agenda.

The creation of the working group is one of several ways the ARA is working with industry to deliver on the Rail Freight Action Plan and champion the benefits rail freight offers to the economy and community.

For further information, please contact ARA General Manager – Rail Freight, Georgia Nicholls at gnicholls@ara.net.au