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Massive Australian freight data study draws to an end

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Australia is carrying out a series of large scale studies into its domestic supply chain; one study currently underway is into the nation’s freight data requirements. ( Photo: Shutterstock).

A large-scale study of Australia’s freight data requirements is due to conclude by the end of this month. The study is part of the behemoth National Freight & Supply Chain Strategy, which is being formulated to help industry cope with Australia’s growing freight task for the next 20 years.

The purpose of the study is to “identify and articulate the data requirements of the freight and supply chain sector” in Australia.

The objectives of the study are to identify the freight data required for governments and industry to improve freight-related planning, operations and investment; to identify how these requirements can be satisfied from existing data collection and what extra data is need; how the extra data might be obtained; and how it should be stored, analysed and disseminated.

Ian Christensen, the managing director of iMove CRC, which has been contracted to carry out the study, spoke to FreightWaves and gave insight both into the study and the pressures building up in the Australian freight system.

He explained that Australian politicians are under pressure to improve freight access from voters who live in rural electorates. Rural voters particularly need access to the eastern coastal strip, which is where the majority of Australian voters live. There is also pressure to link with the Inland Rail mega-project, he explained. FreightWaves notes that voter pressure may be particularly important as 2019 is a Federal election year. Although the exact date has not been set, experts suggest a date sometime in May. However, the current administration could call a Federal election at any time.

“The pressures on freight are growing strongly; import volumes of box freight are growing and are likely to continue. Increased growth will make everything more problematic. We have a freight transport system that’s not a system at all; it’s an aggregation of assets under pressure from changes in manufacturing, the import-economy and e-commerce. The world is changing and the data and technology revolution is coming. Ultimately most cars, trucks and people will be connected. In that world, there’s a lot more visibility, real-time, in the supply chain than ever before. We should use it to reduce truck queuing, time-wastage, empty trips and better manage supply-demand,” he told FreightWaves.

He explained that industry is clamouring for information and data but apparently cannot articulate what data and information is needed. Accordingly, iMOVE was “basically asked to inquire,” Andersen said.

The organisation set out to identify what the demand for information actually is, how it might be prioritised, how industry could take advantage of the information revolution and how to make the data available.

The study started in about mid-October 2018 and has received hundreds of responses. Three of six focus groups have been completed and around 40 face-to-face interviews have been done. A wide range of industry players have been surveyed including trucking operators of various sizes, shippers, manufacturers, transport authorities, regulators, a plethora of industry associations, grain handlers, government departments, freight forwarders, logistics providers, airports, reefer operators, airlines, dangerous goods handlers and many more.

“It will give us a decent sample to work with,” Andersen told FreightWaves.

The plan is to have a final report sent to the project sponsor, the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities (which is part of the Australian Government), by the end of the month.

Alas, it is highly unlikely that the general public will be able to see it anytime soon. It is up to the Department as to whether it will release the report and that’s not likely because of the imminent Federal election.

The work of the freight data requirements study builds on the recommendations of the expert panel Inquiry into Australia’s National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities. This panel included some very well-known names in the Australian freight sector. It is comprised of Maurice James, the managing director of integrated road, rail and ports operator, Qube; lawyer, management consultant and freight expert, Nicole Lockwood; Marika Calfas, the CEO of NSW Ports, which manages the ports of Botany, Kembla and the intermodal terminals at Cooks River and Enfield; and David Simon, the executive Chairman of Simon National Carriers, which operates over 100 prime movers and 60 rigid trucks.

The key finding of the inquiry was that Australia is just not doing enough to meet the total supply chain challenge.

“Analysis conducted for the Inquiry suggests that while the freight task is projected to double in the next 20 years, that even with extra investment, the Australian transport infrastructure will be hard-pressed to meet this demand,” the report of the Inquiry states.

The final report of the expert panel recommended 54 priorities which can be summarised – at a very high level – as follows:

  • Australia needs a nation-wide, consistent and integrated approach to freight

  • Measurement of freight performance (including capital expenditure and maintenance) is required

  • Planning for current and future needs and for integration in land, sea and air planning systems in the Australian states and territories

  • Action to deliver the priorities including freight precincts to have adequate capacity to handle expected future volumes along with freight access to the precincts that are protected from encroachment by other uses

  • Communication of the importance of freight to the general public along with training and education to “teach matters relevant to freight”.