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Ongoing Travel and Sustainable Freight Sagas: Confronting Affordability and Accessibility Barriers

By Denis Bright

Recent problems with Jetstar flight bookings to Bali are the tip of the structural problems of maintaining affordable passenger and sustainable freight movements.

In Brisbane, the Eagle Farm rail freight link which once carried bulk fuel from portside refineries to regional centres has been sold off to property developers during a temporary state LNP Government over twenty years ago for the construction of housing units and shopping facilities.

More recently, the arrival of COVID-19 has left airlines struggling to recover financial losses. High season fares to Europe for 2023 are more than twice the pre-2019 levels. Cost estimates for high season travel to Europe are already up by 27 per cent on last year’s prices on my own search for Qantas fares to Southern Europe for June-July 2023.

Such price rises and environmental hazards from dependence on road freight services are necessary to cover the enormous losses to the airline industry and to struggling road freight services in a continuing neoliberal era. The latest Australian Industry Reports on projections Australian aviation project a return to profitability by the mid-2020s at the latest as the general public are required to address past losses from the COVID-19 era in higher prices for commodities delivered by air and road freight services on those long hauls across Australia.

Ben Butler has summarized the level of essential assistance given by the Morrison Government in essential assistance to the aviation industry during the COVID-19 crisis (The Guardian 22 July 2021).

Qantas is also in receipt of financial support from the three state governments in Mainland Eastern Australia in both tax breaks and tourism funding and this support is not included in The Guardian’s Assessment of financial support for the airline industry from the Morrison Government.

The previous and current Australian governments also offered generous subsidies to maintain regional air services and airport maintenance through local councils particularly in NSW regional centres in National Party heartlands. These welcome commitments in support of Australian domestic aviation should of course be balanced by infrastructure commitments in support of other forms of affordable and accessible travel options.

The high concentration of the Australian population along the coastal corridors between the Sunshine Coast and Adelaide should have justified a greater diversity of affordable recreational and business travel options. The post-2013 LNP Governments failed to consolidate the advances made on both sides of Australian politics with more diversified transport initiatives.

Rail fares can compete with air travel on shorter routes like Canberra to Sydney where some quite generous concessional fares are available. Even the one way adult fare of fifty dollars is quite competitive for the distance. The inconvenience generated by the current travelling time of four hours between Canberra and Sydney’s CBD is offset by the absence of parking fees for car travel.

Deterioration of regional rail tracks has given a higher profile to Trainlink Bus Services on some routes close to Sydney. A strong case could be developed by an incoming Labor Government in NSW for federal financial support for regional rail services which are supported in NSW by NSW Trainlink Coach services under the transport model established by previous NSW Labor Governments.

As Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King has acted co-operatively with NSW in particular to diversify future affordable transport options for both passengers and freight through the federally funded Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and the newly formed High Speed Rail Authority (Media Release 24 November 2022):

The Parliament has today passed the High Speed Rail Authority Bill 2022, an important first step in the Albanese Government’s commitment to establish the High Speed Rail Authority that will guide the development of a high speed rail network in Australia.

A high-speed rail network along the east coast of Australia will be a transformational project that has the ability to touch the lives of all Australians, particularly our regions…A high-speed rail network could allow passengers to travel between major cities and significant regional cities at speeds exceeding 250 km/h.

The passage of the Bill delivers the Australian Government’s election commitment to establish the Authority which will get to work on the $500 million down payment for the planning to secure corridors and commence early works for the Sydney to Newcastle section of the high-speed rail network.

The federal government’s professionalism in working towards co-operative public transport infrastructure with the NSW Government is to be commended. High Speed rail can be implemented in stages. Commitment to the Sydney-Newcastle route is a fantastic start.

The federal LNP allowed vast sways of urban Australia such as the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland to become totally dependent on road freight.

There was no certainty about funding for rail freight connections between Bromelton near Beaudesert, some 80 kms south of Brisbane and the Port of Brisbane. The possibility of heavy freight trains trundling across southside Brisbane to the Port of Brisbane was not finalized before the 2022 federal election.

In comparison, Catherine King’s media release (25 November 2022) noted that the Moree-Narrabri section of Inland Rail was about to handle grain freight from the current harvest.

While the previous federal LNP Government dithered on port access for the Inland Railway in Brisbane and future connections to Central Queensland from Toowoomba, the Queensland Government set about improving freight access from freight terminals in Brisbane to Toowoomba and Western Queensland. Eleven rail tunnels on the Little Liverpool Range and the Main Range have been upgraded to carry a greater diversity freight including containers, livestock, coal and grain (Media Release from Mark Bailey, Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads 8 February 2018).

There were no signs of federal funding for freight interchanges between Inland Rail and Queensland Rail during the last term of the LNP Government after the 2019 federal election. There was no advocacy on this issue from local federal coalition representatives.

The Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Local Government and Planning, Dr Steven Miles took the initiative in achieving business support and state funding to complete the freight interchange at Charlton just outside Toowoomba (Media Release 23 November 2021 and image from InterLinkSQ):

 

 

Future demands for such affordable travel and sustainable freight initiatives will surely accelerate and justify initiatives from progressive state and federal governments. Having carried the financial burden of Cross River Rail in Brisbane without federal funding, the Queensland Government has put the rail extension from Varsity Lakes to the Gold Coast Airport at Coolangatta back on the agenda to reopen the transport link which carried passengers and freight until its closure by the state LNP in 1961.

From the southside of the Gold Coast in the Northern Rivers and Central Coast of NSW, Labor victories in just some of the conservative state parliamentary seats on Gold Coast to Hunter Valley corridor on 23 March 2023 can place the reconstruction of the Casino to Gold Coast rail and freight link back on the political agenda with federal financial assistance which was not forthcoming during the Howard ascendency when passenger and freight services from Sydney were terminated.

If the Albanese Government can become a long-serving Labor Government, the lyrics from the 5th Dimension can extend Downunder as The Dawning of the Australian Social Market while Republicans the US House of Representatives compete to support their majority to elect a House Speaker.

It looks like The Age of Aquarius has moved Downunder since the election of Anthony Albanese on 21 May 2022. Readers might work on the new Downunder Lyrics as they count the days before the arrival of Premier Chris Minns in NSW.

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
The Age of Aquarius
Aquarius! Aquarius!

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius! Aquarius!

 

Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.

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15 comments

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  1. King1394

    The propensity of conservative governments for selling off land reserved for future infrastructure development extends also to blocks of land held by Councils. And once land is sold, often for relatively little return, it is gone and the potential is also gone. It is important for people everywhere to keep a strong eye on local green space whenever a government starts suggesting that land is being wasted and finances can be improved by selling it. Old railway corridors seem particularly vulnerable but any block of land sold out of public hands is a loss. Some uses for smaller pieces of land range from places for community gardens, to areas for tree canopies and habitat restoration, and also connections for walkers and cyclists that allow them to move through towns independent of road networks

  2. GL

    King1394,

    As the old adage goes: L/NP, the best parties that money can buy.

  3. Maisie

    We definitely need more affordable passenger and sustainable freight services to minimise heavy vehicle access to our motorways and compulsive use of private cars to regional shopping centres.
    As well , efficient high speed rail could result in lower greenhouse gases being emitted if plane trips were replaced by rail on short trips eg Sydney to Canberra.

  4. Leila

    Competition between Pacific National and Aurizon for rail freight in Queensland and other states has ruined prospects for sustainable rail freight services to regional areas. Mobile cranes which once loaded containers of fruit at Tully, Ingham and Ayr are now rusting away as motorists dodge heavy vehicles on wet motorways in the monsoon season. The commercial freight providers simply do not serve most regional areas and cherry pick the profitable remnants of bulk freight.

  5. rubio@central coast

    The NSW Countrylink/Trainlink and Opal ticketing model was a great state Labor initiative.

    Alas, the Federal LNP were responsible for payment for track maintenance in regional areas through the ARTC and there have been shortfalls in maintenance on regional networks both in NSW and other states outside Queensland.

    The Abbott Government wanted to sell off the ARTC to commercial freight networks and this would have resulted in luxury services only like the Indian Pacific and the Ghan with tickets quite beyond the price range of ordinary Australians.

    Malcolm Turnbull liked trains and reversed this privatization option but funding for the ARTC was never full restored. Affordable transport should be a significant policy for discussion at the NSW state election.

    On a visit to the USA, I noticed that the Amtrak Route for LA to San Diego is mainly single track and non-electrified. Compare this with the multiple tracking on the Sydney to Central Coast and Newcatle Routes. Australia wins hands down in innovative public transport infrastructure.

    The metro system in LA is more like a glorified tramway as the heavy rail network was sold off in the 1950s to facilitate property development and freeways.

    Coalition members will probably struggle to hold marginal seats in the Hunter Valley and Myall Lakes which will be served by the federal governments injection of $500 million into the fast train project for our regions through federal funding.

  6. wam

    the age of aquarius for this old cynic was 50 years ago with hair then gough? Poor old albo doesn’t have the power of the voice to sing ‘aquarious’. Who in labor has the answer to the lnp immovable hold on economy?

  7. New England Cocky

    @ wam: When metro political parties begin to highlight the too many deficiencies in regional living, and the relative ease with which regional living may be dragged up to the same standard as metro living, the many tree changers may be useful as the force causing the change. It has already occurred on the Far North Coast of NSW where the Anthony dynasty was dispossessed of Richmond, and at least two NSW electorates were lost by Nazional$.

    The main function of the Nazional$ is to insure that MDB water remains under the control of about 143 users that support the Nazional$ financially. The secondary function is to provide unscrupulous incumbent pollies with the opportunity to improve their personal pecuniary interests while maintaining the current levels of rural socialism for property owners.

    In N NSW the locals are calling for the re-opening of the Armidale to Wallangarra Great Northern Railway line closed about 30 years ago rather than make the Sydney suburban network pay its own way. (Well, there were fewer Labor voters along the GNR than in western Sydney.)

    However, the Notional$ inspired by the LIARBRALS want to dig up the GNR to make a Fail Rail Trail ….. when there is already a sealed quiet country road adjacent to the GNR along the proposed route between Guyra and Ben Lomond. Naturally this proposal would destroy the GNR as a rail freight route, much to the financial benefit of the unfinancial Northern Inland Railway being supported by Beetrooter that just happens to pass close to his two ”grazing properties’ in the Pilliga Scrub Narrabri that are reported as sitting over huge CSG deposits. So far the cost has exploded out to $1500 BILLION ….. a nice taxpayer funded production subsidy for SANTOS now that the NIR is planned to go to the CSG export Port of Gladestone.

  8. wam

    my research skills are too poor but I went to UNE in 75 and at the residential school I stayed with a darwin friend’s family they were railway people and drank me under the table both for beer and labor zeal. So I read your posts with pleasure of those memories. As for water, I hoped tanya would be gillard2 but she stayed torpid under little billy and albo hushed with water. So far she has remained torpid. Is she going to fire up after the floods???

  9. Clakka

    Deconstruction of the old rail network across Oz eastern states has been a farce. That is not to mention the lack of infrastructure planning and implementation in the centre, north and west of Oz, and the utter failure to adequately connect the north, south, east and west.

    It seems that successive arrogant fools have neglected to understand our connection to our nearest markets of Asia is via the north and west. And ironically they have even deconstructed our shipping industry. It seems such designed myopia has been driven by racism, kowtowing to British / American imperialism, and a quest to entrench land grabs and market control to the small minority of elites, despite any cost to the vast majority of the population. It is half a century ago (late 60s & 70s), up to and around the ‘oil crisis’ that scientists, technologists and big business devised plans for ‘Sustainable Development’ – it was for a relative blip in time in the press and on the fool’s putrid tongues as ‘possibly praiseworthy’. At the core of these plans was transport modality and proximity to raw resource and markets. Absolutely nothing was done relative to ‘sustainability’. Yet the rationale for the plans has not changed at all, and the ‘oil crisis’ has developed to a matter of life and death. Another essential flow-on at the core for operation of the plan was self-reliant skill development. The Hawke / Keating gov’t busted its guts to provide the facilities and promote skill development, but soon after, the toad to the feckless elite, Howard and his henchmen, came along and deconstructed it all, at its peak (read ‘by pique’) smashing manufacturing (esp the automotive industry), privatising to dysfunction vocational education, and smashing the apprenticeship system.

    Through the second half of the 20th century, the LNP, despite the drive and ingenuity of the citizens of Oz, has failed to heed the reconstructive and modernisation processes in Europe, opting for the self-serving myopia of cigar puffing and pink gin sucking with its olde world aristocrats, learning their guile and honing their wiles and those of their unimaginative, greedy, flunky lawyers. They have increasingly privatised everything they could lay their putrid mits on, sought to systematically dumb down the toilers, and ignore the scientists, economists, engineers, environmentalists and social experts.

    Over 70 years they have hijacked the efforts and outcomes delivered by the toilers, falsely laying claim that it was as a result of their good governance, whilst at the same time concealing that their every manoeuvre was solely designed to facilitate their noses in troughs and their patronage to and from the elites.

    In 2022, it reached its zenith. The gaff was blown and they were ditched. Public debt is off the planet, private debt per GDP is the highest in the world. There’s a massive shortage of skilled trades, a massive housing shortage, an energy systems hotchpotch, a supply chain nightmare, over-crowded and dysfunctional cities, 3rd rate, unmaintained regional infrastructure, and the world’s least affordable residential property. The only fortunate are the select locals given free rein on the country’s minerals, the foreign capitalists, and those hanging from their coat-tails.

    So much for sustainable development, more like an imported soft war against us orchestrated by the LNP. It’s been deconstruct and/or sell it off, take advantage and feed the trough, to the extent of abject wreckage. Including of course the fundamental national, interstate and intrastate rail systems and proposals that have not been integrated and in their design and implementation corrupted from the get-go. It will take years and big bucks to fix the stuff-ups and many decades to get it right.

  10. Tessa_M

    Good to see the Northern Rivers and the Gold Coast on Denis’ reporting radar.

  11. James Robo

    Urban sprawl contributes to a terrible shortage of affordable transport for passengers and freight. The federal government’s transport initiatives are a better way forward with a great start on high speed rail from Sydney to the Hunter Valley.

  12. Indigo

    Nice article Denis – love the tune!

    The coast corridors from the Sunshine Coast to Northern and Central NSW are now major Australian urban centres. Urban sprawl has of course contributed to the current global warming problems along the Pacific Coast.

    The federal LNP left these areas without access to sustainable rail freight services. Virtually all freight to the Gold Coast with its current population projections of around 750,000 is road freight.

    Our local federal and state LNP members say nothing about this issue and were into gingles about holes in Labor’s budget at the 2022 federal election.

    The bleak bleak forecasts have not eventuated. Trade and tourism with China have improved to rectify the situation for us all but Australia is still stuck with those nuclear submarines that really make a hole in our budget recovery.

  13. Stella

    Thanks for your article Denis, it would be good to have more freight being transported to regional Queensland by rail transport.

  14. Natasha

    Great article Denis!

  15. Clakka

    Yeah, in my rant (above) I forgot to mention – great article Denis.

    Great to read about what’s happening up north (Sydney & beyond). Being essentially from Melb, and having many years involvement in rail projects (amongst others across the country), it’s great to be able to say, “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.” In Melb (on the underground loop) we used to say, “It’s the 4 o’clock from Jolimont.”

    Anyway, I rattle on. Whilst there’s much underway in greater Melb by way of improving rail infrastructure, there remains dire need for further improvement in the Vic regions, and for getting on with interstate interconnects.

    There remain huge unmet efficacious trade freight (and passenger) demands for all of Oz, to and from north to south, east to west. I look forward to a better world of rail infrastructure based upon proper market demands, logistics, engineering and economics, rather than protectionism and pork-barrel boondoggling of the past.

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