The trucking industry has always had a problematic relationship with the railway industry, or more specifically, the rail freight industry as road versus rail tensions continue. A lot of this is historical, dating back to the time when state governments limited licenses for trucks to carry freight in order to drive business onto the state owned railways.
This kind of restriction on trade lead to massive inefficiencies and high costs. Over the years, the trucking industry has grown fast, as regulation has eased to the point we are now where road transport handles over 80 per cent of the freight task and rail cannot even contest the vast majority of the business, due to the inflexibility of its system.
Much of Australia’s recent economic growth, or a proportion of it, can be put down to the ever increasing productivity of the road transport sector. This is something of which the trucking industry can be proud and should be shouting it from the roof tops. Unfortunately, the rest of Australian society is not interested and not listening, as long as there are Corn Flakes on the supermarket shelves.
The high productivity and competitiveness of road transport has also helped stimulate a radical improvement in productivity in the rail industry. There is also a substantial increase in the level of competition in rail as the state rail companies have morphed into the current line-up of rail operators.
The fierce competition for lucrative rail freight contracts, especially those with the mining industry, has spilled over into the wider community lately. Aurizon lost a contract carting copper from a mine in Mount Isa to Townsville with Glencore. The rail company refused to sell or lease the rolling stock, needed to get the work done, to the new contractor, Pacific National.
Tooling up for these multi-million tonne freight contracts is a major capital expense and rolling stock often changes hands from operator to operator as contracts swap around. This time the relationship has soured and the position is in a deadlock.
What happens as a result? The trucking industry steps in and starts hauling the copper out of the Isa to the port by road. Yet again, the trucking industry demonstrates its quickness on its feet to jump in and save the day and get the job done.
Of course, it does help when we have surplus capacity lying around in paddocks due to the overall mining construction slowdown. Even so, those trailers sitting idle in the Port Hedland area, for example, could be on the job, on the other side of the country in a couple of days. This would not be possible for any rolling stock, due to rail connection and gauge issues.
This one event should bring home the point which needs to be made regularly to and by the trucking industry. We are the major player in the freight industry and, as a consequence, need to be listened to by governments and regulatory bodies.
There needs to be less of this road vs rail business and taking our eye off the ball and more asserting our rightful position at the table as a unified industry. Oh yes, and we can bring our little sibling, rail, along, when the situation demands it.