Thursday, November 30, 2023

Summit explores future freight options

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South Island freight movement is under the microscope with the volume of freight carried projected to more than double in the next 40 years.
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With seaports at Timaru and Lyttleton, pictured, there are opportunities to further explore coastal shipping of domestic bulk and containerised freight. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mick Stephenson

South Island freight movement is under the microscope with the volume of freight carried projected to more than double in the next 20 years.

A special South Island Freight Summit, initiated by the South Island Regional Transport Committee (South Island RTC), explored the future of freight in the South Island with a key focus on moving road to rail while decarbonising freight to reduce the transport sector’s emissions.

Chair Stuart Bryant says the South Island RTC was established two years ago but until recently has laid reasonably low.

The committee is made up of representatives from all regional and unitary councils right across the South Island.

“We have gained more provenance in recent months due to the changing way of transport with covid highlighting the challenges ahead.

“As a group we feel we have more clout to get things done, we do believe there’s a bias to North Island projects and we do feel a little aggrieved about that.

“That’s why we have ramped up as a group to bring all the parties together and provide a high-level briefing to develop a shared understanding of South Island freight issues and opportunities,” Bryant said.

Industry stakeholders were represented at the summit including Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Authority, port and shipping companies, KiwiRail, Ministry of Transport, transport and logistics companies and Ngāi Tahu Holdings. 

Topics centred on the need to decarbonise freight, freight resilience and freight efficiency after covid exposed vulnerabilities and inefficiencies in supply chains.

Improving the efficiency of supply chains includes opportunities to optimise freight routes, equipment and vehicles and to make better use of data and supporting information sharing. 

Seaports, road, rail and coastal shipping are all in the scope as freight and supply chain efficiency and freight decarbonisation challenges seek out opportunities for a freight mode shift, in particular to rail.

Air freight fell outside the scope.

South Island freight is projected to increase substantially with 117 million tonne forecast to be carried annually in 2042, this compares to 69.3 million tonnes in the draft South Island freight plan (2015).

The increase equates to an additional 1.7 million truck trips per year or 4667 truck trips per day across the South Island network.

The fastest growing commodities by weight are liquid milk and manufactured dairy, general freight, limestone, cement and fertiliser.

“We want to place more focus on rail in areas where rail is possible, particularly in the lower South Island where there are openings with logs and milk to achieve getting as much freight on rail and off the road as possible,” Bryant said.

Reducing transport sector emissions is emerging as a major strategic driver of both central and local government investment in the transport network over the next two to three decades.

Roading was aired as a concern by regional chairs, especially in relation to the reduction of funding.  

Bryant says the event put a stake in the ground for further advocacy and collaboration, including into the proposed National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

“Attendees came away with a broad overview of the South Island freight sector – road, rail, coastal shipping and ports.

“It all takes a mode shift and time but we now have a better grasp of what is needed both collectively and for each region.

“One of the key takeaways from the summit is the need to make greater use of rail and coastal shipping and to work more effectively across transport modes.”

A value of rail in NZ 2021 KiwiRail report claims transporting freight by rail generally generates 66% fewer emissions than heavy road freight.

KiwiRail reported it is working towards improving its rolling stock with an investment of $403 million for 50 new main-line locomotives destined for the South Island, the first arriving in 2024.

The investment is expected to make a 40% improvement in fuel efficiency.

Improving rail utilisation will mean investing in more projects such as the Fairfield freight hub in Ashburton and rail sidings and spurs to link major producers to ports 

The current freight plan shows Canterbury is forecast to account for about 60% of South Island freight growth to 2042.

With seaports at Timaru and Lyttleton there are opportunities to further explore coastal shipping of domestic bulk and containerised freight for Canterbury with the regional ports of Nelson, Dunedin, Picton, Westport and Bluff also on the radar for coastal shipping.  

“By and large we are all on the same page and prepared to work together going forward and following on from the summit we plan to meet again in May,” Bryant said.

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