Rail freight takes pressure off roads

A major transport study says rail freight is an economic way to take pressure off South Island roads. It found potential for a $20-$30 million investment in rail projects to save up to $12-$18 million annually, when wider costs are considered.

Freight movements in the South Island are expected to increase by 40% within 30 years. The forecast has councils concerned about maintenance, safety and environmental impacts - and asking what can be done now.

Rail is part of the answer, according to the study, which quantifies the costs of moving freight around the island. Carried out by Stantec on behalf of the South Island Regional Transport Committee Chairs Group, the study released by Environment Canterbury today has found substantial opportunities for shifting freight from road to rail.

The Group's chair, Marlborough District Council deputy mayor Terry Sloan, says freight mode-shift is a South Island-wide concern, and necessary to support sustainable growth.

Cost savings identified

"Road freight has more negative impacts than rail or coastal shipping, but costs are not captured in current pricing. We pay through increased congestion, crashes, air quality, fossil fuel emissions and the higher numbers of trucks on our roads causing more wear and tear."

"Chairs of the Regional Transport Committees in Marlborough, Tasman, Nelson, Canterbury, the West Coast, Otago, and Southland are collaborating to address issues that are common to us all. Better understanding the opportunities to reduce the impact of freight movement is a key focus for us."

Undertaken in conjunction with transport companies, ports and their customers, the study developed a methodology for assessing costs and applied it to eight case studies. Analysis indicated an investment of approximately $20-$30 million across the South Island could shift the equivalent of 8% of existing road freight to rail, raising rail freight volumes by about 40%.

That modal shift could result in $12-$18 million savings per year in costs to society.

Following on from the study, KiwiRail is investigating the commercial viability of one of the case studies, which looked at establishing a logging terminal in the Milton/Milburn area, 50km south of Dunedin.

The South Island generates about a third of the nation's freight, about 80 million tonnes per year, with the forecasted increase mostly due to the agriculture and mineral industries, as well as population growth.

Read the report

Read a copy of the report, Identification of the opportunity for mode shift and preparation of a mode shift implementation plan. It helps to know that tonne-km is a unit of measure of freight transport, which represents the transport of one tonne of freight a distance of 1 km. 10 tonne-km represents 10 tonnes moving 1 km or one tonne moving 10km.