Wednesday 27th Sep, 2017

Governments urged to protect key freight corridors

Train on its way to WICET. Photo: Aurizon
Aurizon train on its way to WICET. Photo: Aurizon

Freight roads and railways feeding ports and intermodal terminals along the east coast are featured heavily in Infrastructure Australia’s new policy paper, which compels Australian governments to protect vital corridors to avoid cost overruns, delays and community disruption in the future.

Seven corridors are highlighted in the report, Corridor Protection: Planning and investing for the long term, which IA believes can save Australian taxpayers close to $11 billion in land purchase and construction costs.

All bar two of those seven project corridors are relevant to the freight and bulk handling industries, with High Speed Rail, and a passenger rail line to Western Sydney Airport, representing the only exceptions.

One issue explored in IA’s report is the constant battle underway between the freight industry and residential development.

“As our cities redevelop, protecting a range of smaller ‘first and last mile’ links is likely to become increasingly important,” the paper says.

“Targeted protection initiatives may be required to facilitate the movement of freight and deliveries in the established parts of our cities.”

The issue of urban encroachment is worsened for the freight sector, due to the very nature of what it needs to use the corridor for, the report explains.

“Governments must also protect the operational integrity of major infrastructure corridors from undue constraints on their efficient use,” the paper says.

“Such corridors are vitally important for the economy and for Australians’ social well-being.

“Periodically, communities raise concerns about the operational impacts of infrastructure corridors, especially transport corridors and facilities that cause environmental impacts, such as noise, vibration and air pollution.

“The pressure from ‘urban encroachment’ to introduce curfews or otherwise limit the use of corridors is a serious concern for those in the freight and logistics sector.

“For example, NSW Ports has identified protecting its ports and intermodal terminals from urban encroachment as one of five key objectives to sustainably cater for forecast trade growth.”

Infrastructure development is, of course, a three-dimensional issue, and IA is not ignoring the potential of future projects going underground more often: “Protecting underground corridors for future tunnels will become increasingly important,” the report states. “This is especially important in the established parts of our cities, where building foundations and underground carparks can compromise the alignment of planned projects.”

Protecting land from future uses will also become more important in regional areas in coming years, the IA report predicts.

“As the use of rural land changes, the risk of land use conflicts is growing,” the report states.

“Companies are investing more in rural land to increase the productivity of farms and other rural land uses. Rural land is also being developed for new activities, such as renewable energy generation.

“Although the options for locating a rural corridor are likely to be broader than for those in and around our cities, we need to be mindful that any failure to identify and protect some rural corridors could have adverse consequences.”

The added benefit of acquiring land now, rather than later, is governments will be able to benefit from rental income in the period of time between acquisition, and the project being developed.

“These revenues will at least partially offset upfront acquisition costs,” IA explains.

“In the past, governments have pursued this approach, renting properties to interested parties, including previous land owners. Renting out the acquired properties for a productive use also minimises the risk that the community sees the land as an extension of local open space networks.”

IA says corridors which have been protected in the past have sometimes been used as open space for a long period, making it harder for a future government to then use the land for its intended infrastructure purpose.