Our regional railway network is in poor condition but just repairing the infrastructure (such as rail tracks) won’t fix the problem says a leading researcher who has been studying the viability of Australia’s regional freight and passenger rail network.
“This year’s savage drought has seen regional rail under-utilised but, when conditions improve, the next harvest will be a reminder of how important rail is for transporting vast quantities of grain and other bulk agricultural products,” said Associate Professor Ian Gray of Charles Sturt University’s Institute of Land, Water and Society.
He said regional rail could make a comeback by combining with road transport to create an integrated system, and if planning and management was done at a regional level.
“Where trains offer a huge carrying capacity, trucks offer flexibility - so it really makes sense to combine the benefits of both,” said Associate Professor Gray.
“We need to look beyond the trains and tracks and think about the planning and management that goes on behind the scenes.
“I believe regional railways can be sustainable if planning and management are done at a regional level - rather than the old regimes that were often controlled tightly from the state capitals.”
Collaborative and ‘bottom-up’ approaches to rail systems have been successful in other countries like Canada and are being investigated in Australia according to Chairman of the Railway Technical Society’s Government Relations Committee, Andrew Honan.
“In Saskatchewan province in Canada the regional rail system has been rejuvenated and is operating sustainably - despite deregulation and privatisation - and regional organisations have been engaged to create an integrated road and rail network,” he said.
Charles Sturt University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society and Engineers Australia’s Railway Technical Society and will host a conference at the University’s Wagga Wagga Campus on Thursday, 1 February 2007 to put forward some assessments of Australia’s regional transport system and discuss regional-based solutions.
A guest speaker, Ed Zsombor from Saskatchewan in Canada will explain how their regional rail network has been revitalised following deregulation and privatisation. More information about the conference is available at http://www.csu.edu.au/research/ilws/news/frameworks.htm