I was concerned to read a week or so ago a media release from the new Minister for Ports in the NSW Government announcing in effect that one new rail freight service to Port Botany by P&O Trans Australia would solve not only the local traffic problems we have, and will have, but also that the service would ease congestion on the M5East.
Then, last Sunday, our Premier announced the State Government’s Metropolitan Transport Plan Connecting the City of Cities. In it, is the statement that there are to be improvements to the Botany and Enfield rail yards to support increased movement of containers to and from Port Botany.
I welcome that statement. Improvements to the Botany and Enfield rail yards were commenced last year. The rail yard work is heading rapidly towards completion and is being undertaken by Australian Rail Track Corporation, the Commonwealth owned national rail track provider, utilising Commonwealth funds.
The Metropolitan Transport Plan also states that the rail yard works will assist in meeting “our State Plan target of 40 per cent of containers by rail.”
The Premier, who knows this area and this issue better than most, restates the government’s policy target of 40 per cent by rail. This was the figure used by Sydney Ports Corporation in its Environmental Impact Statement for the Port Botany Expansion in November 2003 – going on for six years ago.
Despite repeated conversations with this State’s bureaucratic advisors, the 40 per cent seems to have become an almost mythical figure, restated in print in successive State Government documents and reports.
When the 40 per cent was first announced, rail accounted for 25 per cent of container traffic. As Council is all too aware, the current rail proportion of container movements is somewhere around 17 per cent. Even with the Botany and Enfield rail yard upgrades and the long term duplication of the Port Botany to Enfield rail line, achieving 40 per cent with the current port transport access charges and policies is really a bridge too far.
We know 80 per cent of the containers coming across the wharves at Port Botany are slated for delivery within the growing Sydney metropolitan area. We know that road transport has a distinct price advantage to rail and that competition within the trucking industry is such that this price advantage will continue to grow.
What we also know is that the number of containers will rise inexorably to 3.2 million containers allowed by the consent for the Port Botany expansion.
That expansion is well underway. All you need to do is go down Foreshore Road and have a look. Hills of sand, giant concrete revetment pieces, the new boat ramps, the overbridge and much, much more. It’s all there to see.
This is on schedule for commencement of operation in 2013. The operator has been selected and one can imagine spots already booked for container vessels and freight forwarders.
About a month ago, the Minister for Ports announced that for the six months up to December 31, almost a million boxes passed through Port Botany.
A week before he made that announcement, the same Minister announced that the new P&O freight train service would relieve truck congestion. Some 136 truck trips would be deleted every day by this new service, which the Minister described as a “milestone”.
Emissions would be reduced, M5East congestion relieved and the world would be rosy.
Let’s look at the facts. Forty per cent of boxes by rail mean 1.9 million boxes still go by road. If the figure hits 20 per cent, then 2.5 million boxes on the road. And, by road, I mean Foreshore Road, Bunnerong Road, Southern Cross Drive and the M5East. They are the only routes for container trucks – and they all have their origins in our City.
With 40 per cent rail we would still have over 5,000 truck movements a day. If it was 20 per cent then it means over 6,800 trucks a day. And in light of this, 136 trucks less a day is certainly no panacea. Whilst any reduction is an improvement, the numbers must be put into proper perspective.
If you add to this indication of traffic doom for our City, research by the National Health and Medical Research Council on vehicle emissions then the situation gets worse. In the past I’ve used the research by the NH&MRC (one of the most respected and credible national research centres) to warn of a pollution nightmare. NH&MRC states that the emissions from one heavy truck equal that of 10 to 15 cars. Extrapolate this for the daily truck movements based on 20 per cent rail then the emission we would have each day would be equivalent to 85,000 plus cars – and that’s on top of what we already have.
Bureaucrats continue to misinform Ministers – something when it comes to Port Botany is all too familiar.
But, putting aside government claims, what did concern me about the Premier’s weekend transport plan is that the doubling of lanes in the M5East has been shelved. There are a lot of good initiatives in the Premier’s transport plan for Sydney overall – and they are to be welcomed.
However, scrapping the M5East duplication means that another solution must be found to the congestion, which the Premier acknowledges is costing NSW $3.5 billion a year – and is growing.
Putting aside the costs on congestion in dollar terms, we need to look at the cost in human terms and in environment costs.
In the end, port related road congestion will only be solved with the involvement of the Australian Government. The Prime Minister acknowledges this as too does the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Even on Monday of this week, Australia’s Infrastructure Co-ordinator Michael Deegan placed unlocking port bottlenecks via better road and rail services as a major priority.
What troubles me the most is that everyone talks about the problem and everyone knows about the problem but nothing is done.
In the meantime, the Port Botany expansion continues unabated, there is no decision on new intermodal operations and the people and environmental costs are not addressed.
Even though we are but a small player compared with the State and Australian governments, we still have a voice and we still need to be able to represent the views and aspirations of our residents. We’re not NIMBY’s. Indeed, this issue goes beyond our City’s boundaries. If it is not addressed then Sydney traffic will become chaotic and with a continuous cloud of pollution overhead.
I want to get SSROC involved as a means of involving and co-ordinating local government. I want our local Member of Parliament Michael Daley involved and I want the federal Minister for Infrastructure involved. I recommend that we do this via SSROC – and we do it quickly.
If we don’t, the legacy we leave the future residents of the City of Botany Bay – and the people of Sydney – will totally destroy the ideal of all generations to leave things better for future generations.