Report highlights: Rail freight and Greater Sydney

What the report is about

The movement of freight contributes $66 billion annually to the NSW economy. Two thirds of all freight in NSW moves through Greater Sydney, and the volume of freight moving through Greater Sydney is expected to increase by 48 per cent by 2036.

This audit assessed the effectiveness of transport agencies in improving the use of rail freight capacity in Greater Sydney, and to meet current and future freight demand.

What we found

Transport agencies do not have strategies or targets in place to improve the efficiency or capacity of the metropolitan shared rail network for freight.

The transport agencies acknowledge that they do not have sufficient information to achieve the most efficient freight outcomes and they do not know how to use the shared rail network to maximise freight capacity without compromising passenger rail services.

The Freight and Ports Plan 2018-2023 contains one target for rail freight - to increase the use of rail at Port Botany to 28 per cent by 2021. However, Transport for NSW (TfNSW)'s data indicates this target will not be met.

Sydney Trains records data on train movements and collects some data on delays and incidents. TfNSW collects data for the construction of the Standard Working Timetable and third-party contracts.

However, a lack of clarity around what data is gathered and who has ownership of the data makes data sharing difficult and limits its analysis and reporting.

The Freight and Ports Plan 2018-2023 includes the goal of 'Reducing avoidable rail freight delays', but the transport agencies do not have any definition for an avoidable delay and, as a result, do not measure or report them.

TfNSW and Sydney Trains are appointed to manage and deliver the Transport Asset Holding Entity of New South Wales (TAHE)'s obligations to allow rail freight operators to use the shared rail network. There are no performance measures in rail freight operator contracts or inter-agency agreements. This limits transport agencies' ability to improve performance.

TfNSW’s Freight Branch is working on four freight-specific strategies; a review of the Plan, a freight rail strategy, a port efficiency strategy and a freight data strategy.

TfNSW has not yet determined the timeframes or intended outcomes of these strategies.

What we recommended

Transport agencies should:

  • commit, as part of the review of Future Transport 2056, to delivering the freight-specific strategies currently in development and develop whole-of-cluster accountability for this work including timeframes, specific targets and clear roles and responsibilities 
  • improve the collection and sharing of freight data
  • develop a plan to reduce avoidable freight delays
  • systematically collect data on the management of all delays involving and/or impacting rail-freight
  • develop and implement key performance indicators for the agreements between the transport agencies.

Fast facts    

  • 288 million tonnes of freight volume predicted to pass through Greater Sydney in 2036, up from 194 million in 2016 (an increase of 48%)

  • 54 trucks that can be replaced by one 600 m long port shuttle freight train    

  • 26,671 freight trains that passed through the metropolitan shared rail network between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021

Further information

Please contact Ian Goodwin, Deputy Auditor-General on 9275 7347 or by email.