Glen Norris, 12 November 2015

QUEENSLAND rail giant Aurizon wants to expand its intermodal freight operations to reduce reliance on coal and iron ore but wants a more level playing field against road transport.

Chief executive Lance Hockridge told the company’s annual general meeting on Thursday that the Federal Government had to end the unfair advantage that trucks held over trains in getting goods to market.

Aurizon is a joint venture partner with Qube Holdings in the Moorebank intermodal freight facility southwest of Sydney, which will be the largest integrated warehouse rail terminal in Australia. The company is now investigating further intermodal opportunities as it faces a sluggish global commodities market.

But Mr Hockridge said that for such intermodal projects to be financially viable, as well as bigger projects such as the proposed Brisbane to Melbourne Inland Rail, governments had to change the policy settings.

“There are many benefits to getting more trucks off the road and more freight onto rail but the right policy settings have to be in place,” Mr Hockridge said.

He said that while rail freight operators paid a direct user charge to access infrastructure, truck operators primarily pay for road use through fuel excise.

The combination of low increases in excise and improved fuel technology means heavy vehicle operators are paying less in real terms for the access they are getting to improved infrastructure that delivers them a commercial benefit.

He added there was a need to implement road pricing for heavy vehicles where direct user charges genuinely reflect the cost of infrastructure, its maintenance and expansion, and ultimately, drive the best investment decisions. For example, distance-based charging for heavy vehicles has been used in New Zealand since the 1987.

Mr Hockridge said conditions in the commodities market had been challenging over the past year. “In this lower-price environment for commodities, we are working closely with customers to enable further supply change efficiencies.”

Extracted in full from the Courier Mail.