Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Freight strategy and the environment

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-02-23

A VoxEU discussion (Transport, Competition and the Environment: How compatible are they?) provides some striking data that prompts me to suggest restructuring responsibilities for transport agencies, and taxing road freight (particularly intercity and interstate) to fund new rail infrastructure.

Trains use three times less energy than cars to transport people; six times less energy than trucks to move freight.  Trains use and emit just one-fifth the amount of carbon dioxide. Governments can help fight global warming by using competition policy and tax incentives to induce transportation customers to switch to rail.

– VoxEU 2007-10-23

The VoxEU paper points out that behavioural changes due to congestion taxes take a significant time.  If so, this can allow revenue flow to build the rail network, with the rail infrastructure coming on-line (sorry for the pun) as the traffic shifts naturally away from the road.

With construction of large freight (including parcels) terminals on city outskirts, the long-haul can be done by efficient rail, and competition increases for intra-metropolitan road transport, as local operators without interstate operations are recruited into the interstate transport markets.  This model decreases not merely the need for major disruption to metropolitan transport infrastructure in the short term, drops carbon emissions, but also cuts down on speeding (both senses) interstate truckies.

Such models would require federal government action, as the big investments and payoffs are unlikely to be achieved with state-based rail systems.

I wonder if revitalizing Whitlam’s national rail initiatives will come up as part of Rudd’s 2020 gabfest… but then, it’s not really a "new" idea, is it?


One Response to “Freight strategy and the environment”

  1. Would have to agree Mr Bath. The last Appelbaum consulting report on the national transport task (1997) agrees with your point. The only transport mode more efficient than rail is pipeline. The Australian rail infrastructure has been largely dismantled, but from memory Australia has in excess of 30,000 km of natural gas mains pipeline which leads to another interesting solution which I will add to the Garnaut Report next time I talk to the professor. Given the efficiency of rail in the transport task the next question is where can it go to make it more efficient and at the same time improve the nations energy security position. The simple solution is natural gas. Haulage rail transport operates on noisy diesel locomotion which can be simply converted to natural gas. The network is such that gas refueling points could easily be set up on national haulage routes adding to the net value of the distribution network, create employment, and enable these monster engines to carry out their business in a more greenhouse friendly way. I dont know if there is such a thing as a new idea but some goverments through accident or potential embarrasment do embrace them…thanks for the reminder…I will add it to my submission…funny word that isnt it sub-mission!

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