NSW rail freight transport and infrastructure

2 Jul 2015

This briefing paper summarises the 2015 New South Wales freight task, and the administrative, industrial and legal framework that underpins its operations.


The NSW freight network is an extensive series of rail lines, roads, ports, airports, and intermodal terminals. In 2011, the NSW freight network carried 409 million tonnes of freight, comprising over 72 different types of commodities. The State's rail freight network, which primarily carries bulk freight such as coal and grain, transported 136 million tonnes of freight, equivalent to 33% of the State’s total freight task.

Freight and related logistics activity bring considerable economic benefits to the State: according to the 2012 NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan, they contribute as much as $58 billion annually to the NSW economy.

The freight task is expected to nearly double between 2011 and 2031, creating long term capacity issues. Rail freight faces its own unique challenges, including scheduling conflicts with metropolitan passenger services, poorly maintained regional infrastructure, and unrealised capacity on regional lines.

This briefing paper summarises the 2015 NSW freight task, and the administrative, industrial and legal framework that underpins its operations. It outlines the State’s freight network, including rail, and discusses the long term capacity issues faced by the rail freight network. The paper then outlines several NSW Government strategies that address these issues, and discusses key rail freight infrastructure.

The NSW rail network is a broad and complex sector, with a freight task that varies immensely in its impact on each local community it affects. While an increase in Sydney’s rail freight task may well herald a reduction in emissions and bring with it significant economic benefit, an increase in coal freight in the Hunter Valley risks exacerbating existing environmental and health issues. Such challenges will undoubtedly continue into the future as NSW governments attempt to expand the freight network in a manner that balances economic growth with community expectations and environmental impacts.

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