Welcome and thank you for the opportunity to talk to you all today.
This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the internet. Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, invented the World Wide Web in 1989. And many of you may know that the web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world and in 1993 it was launched publicly on a royalty-free basis.
Back then it was quite sparse by today’s standards. But it changed everything, and in such a short time. Who can imagine the world without the Web today? What a magnificent platform for innovation it has been.
Thinking about all the changes made possible by the internet, it should remind us that it was not the first time the world changed so dramatically, and in such a short time. I am thinking, of course, about the coming of the railway—another technology that changed everything.
And that’s a point made by well-renowned academic and historian Dr Tony Judt (1948 to 2010) who said that “no competing form of transport, no subsequent technological innovation, no other industry has facilitated change on the scale that has been brought about by the invention and adoption of the railway.”
That’s grounds for a good debate – what technology has had the biggest impact on the world we live in today – railways or the internet. Maybe that is one for another day.
For the purpose of today’s address, let’s talk about railways in Australia.
There is no doubt that they did play a big part in the initial economic development of Australia – as they did in most countries. Like the internet everybody wanted to be connected. They were the leading technology and they continuously innovated to get better at what they did and they prospered.
They were the backbone of both primary and secondary industries – it was the only way to move people and goods. Rail was the supply chain.
But something happened.
Whilst there was no argument that rail was the superior transport mode for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – a new ?freight-moving? technology called a road, truck and bitumen started to appear and they did not miss a beat in becoming better and better at what they did.
Rail to its failure didn’t respond and simply sat on its record and became technologically and commercially antiquated. And, rightly so, they were ridiculed and seen as yesterday’s technology. The rot had set in.
And we would all know that much of the general freight rail network crumbled and fell into decay, financial losses became entrenched and investment plummeted. The question became in the 70’s and 80’s – what should we do with it.
The answer was the industry had to change, it had to innovate on many levels through regulatory reform, consolidation, privatisation, cultural change and of course it needed to develop a commercial intent with a preparedness to invest, embrace technology and chase best-practice in the operations of the business.
It did and many of the legacy issues and structural issues have now been addressed – but we are only at the beginning of what we need to do as a modern competitive transport mode in order to play a bigger role in the general freight sector.
And there are lessons for us when we look at the heavy haul rail sector of Australia. We are world-leaders in heavy haul freight, operating some of the longest and heaviest freight-trains around the globe. Increasingly we are seeing technology and innovation leading to driverless trains, new steel for rail, heavier axle loads, increased safety and more efficient technology being deployed across our heavy haul bulk rail networks.
It is this embrace of technology and innovation that will help us to dramatically increase the market share of the general freight sector, in particular the sector we call non-bulk containerised freight. And this involves freight movements both interstate and intra-state, in particular import/export activities through Australian Ports.
As I mentioned, there has been a dramatic transformation of the general rail freight industry over the last two decades. We have come from a government-owned collective of state-based rail systems that were built to service another age to a modern, commercially-orientated industry far more determined to succeed.
Just over twenty years ago locomotives and train crews were changed at most state borders. There were different maintenance and loading standards for rolling stock in each State that often meant that wagons were detached from trains at border entry points. And it was estimated that the interstate rail freight business collectively was losing $300 million per annum in the early 90’s.
With the advent of these reforms we have seen enormous change in the rail landscape whereby our economy depends, to a much greater extent, upon an efficient and effective rail network.
Privatisation within rail commenced in 1997; not many of the original private owners are still the owners. There were some good and bad experiences during this process and that was all part of the inevitable transition.
But what we have today is a rail freight industry that has never been stronger. The industry participants are strong and competitive, they have commercial resilience and investment capacity and we now have an industry that’s commercially and operationally mature.
Rail operating companies such as Asciano, Aurizon, SCT Logistics, Genesee & Wyoming and Qube Logistics are names we now associate with the industry. Many are publicly listed and all are searching for ways to grow and be more successful. Companies such as us (at ARTC) and Brookfield Rail are rail infrastructure companies with similar ambitions.
This means that as an industry we are now well placed to press on and innovate, and to modernise and expand our activities.
It is no easy task as our main competitor, the road industry, has not stood still either. The Australian road industry remains the most efficient and cost-effective in the world and is constantly innovating and striving to improve its productivity.
As much as rail has made a welcome comeback and is beginning to re-establish its credentials it is going to be technology and further innovation that will consolidate its foothold as the dominant freight carrier.
This is where we need some future thinking in the way we use research and develop solutions and ideas that make the case for rail more compelling. A case that offers outstanding benefits to our customers, the economy and to the community.
I know this to be the case because the research we have undertaken with rail end-users has clearly said that whilst they would like to use rail more for all its benefits the industry is still not seen to be progressive enough, not customer-focused enough, not reliable enough, not technologically advanced enough and not responsive enough.
And that is our challenge – we need to get back on top and re-capture the mantle again.
At ARTC we are not immune from that industry feedback. We need to respond to the concerns of the freight owners and do more to be more proficient, to be more reliable and to do it at a lower cost.
And technology and smart ideas must be a key pathway.
One such example for ARTC is the deployment of communication-based safeworking systems. It is fundamental for rail’s journey and we a doing a lot to develop a system that can achieve great things for the industry in terms of safety and productivity.
ARTC’s own version of a communication-based safeworking system is ATMS or the Advanced Train Management System. This technology has the potential to be a game changer for our customers and the rail industry.
After completing a Proof of Concept process with Lockheed Martin, ARTC intends to test and trial the system between Whyalla, Port Augusta and Tarcoola in South Australia in early 2014.
Using GPS and special navigation technology, train drivers can see where they are on a digital display, where other trains are and how close they are allowed to get to each other.
Operators in control rooms will be able to see the whole network under their control and issue movement authorities electronically to trains. Importantly, if trains get too close to each other remote enforcement action can occur that will slow them down or bring them to a stop.
ATMS will eventually replace track-based signalling to let drivers know where it is safe for them to proceed or whether they need to stop or move to a passing loop for example. It removes the prospect of human error making it far safer for track workers, train operators, passengers and the general public.
This technology will not only vastly improve the safety of the network, but it will transform the rail industry in Australia by substantially increasing capacity and avoid the need to build additional tracks and sidings. The productivity benefits of this investment are huge.
The system will also potentially lower costs for rail operators through reduced fuel consumption, less wear on wheels and brakes and fewer train crew hours.
When ATMS is rolled out on the Interstate and Hunter Valley networks, it will transform the rail industry and the businesses relying on it. It will help build an image for rail for the 21st century.
This is just one example of the things we need to be doing and we all have a role to play.
My vision for rail in 10 years’ time is an industry that has enormous community and political appeal and is recognised for its customer service excellence, its essential role in supply chains and its embrace of technology and innovation.
And I think it will be an industry that will be operating the latest and best of locomotive and rolling stock technology, trains will be highly efficient, they will be primarily single driver with some driver-less operations.
We will have new intermodal terminals built within new modern freight precincts with the latest freight handling technology. And I am sure it will translate to lower transport costs and higher living standards of living for all Australians.
And the roads will be less congested and safer and the environment cleaner.
Rail will be seen as a smart place to invest.
Rail has done it before and can do it again.
We can be encouraged that many businesses are seeking ways to use rail more because they understand the longer term strategic value of rail and the need to be ready and able to use it to a greater extent.
It is really up to the industry to foster this sentiment and make rail more attractive and appealing.
But it needs smart ideas and the commitment to apply them.
And that is up to you.