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Pillar 4: Maximise opportunities for freight and heavy haul manufacturing

Australia has considerable expertise in freight and heavy haul rail, developed in response to challenges posed by its extreme environment and heavy load requirements. In Western Australia, a focus on innovation and local manufacturing, supported by the WA government, has seen the freight and heavy haul manufacturing sector grow. For example, Perth-based company Gemco Rail will build 100 iron ore railcar wagons for Rio Tinto – 40 wagons initially, followed by 10 every year over the next 6 years. It will also repair and refurbish key wagon componentry.

A feasibility study in Western Australia (DJTSI 2022) highlighted the importance of: 

  • innovation by local manufacturers to improve the efficiency and performance of wagons 
  • environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations in decision-making. For example, local employment, First Nations training, employment and business engagement outcomes
  • the potential for reducing carbon emissions through less reliance on overseas suppliers
  • a collaborative approach to research, development and innovation from the major resource companies operating in Western Australia. This could address a range of common issues, including reducing rail carbon footprints and improving wagon design and longevity

Queensland also has substantial heavy haul rail networks which are supported by local manufacturing and maintenance services. A recent study looked at the use of batteries and hydrogen in Queensland’s heavy haul rail (Knibbe et al 2022), concluding that batteries could support the decarbonisation of heavy haul rail. This may present diversification and growth opportunities for adjacent manufacturing sectors.

It is anticipated that rail freight will grow with improvements to inland rail and port connections, and as companies seek to decarbonise their supply chains by shifting from road to rail transport. The emerging critical minerals industry will also drive demand for heavy haul capacity.

Action 1: Build evidence base: map and assess domestic capability of freight and heavy haul rail manufacturing 

Sub action Indicative timeframe (calendar year)

Identify Australia’s expertise and domestic capability in freight and heavy haul rail manufacturing – building on existing evidence base, business cases and research.

This work will provide input to the assessment of domestic rail manufacturing capability to be undertaken in phase 2 of the NRMP.

By end of Quarter 4, 2024
Identify existing policy levers and initiatives across jurisdictions. Consider options to link work underway and drive a collaborative national approach. Identify growth opportunities in domestic and export markets. By end of Quarter 4, 2024

Action 2: Develop priority growth plan to grow and strengthen the freight and heavy haul rail manufacturing sector

Sub action Indicative timeframe (calendar year)

Develop and publish a priority growth plan to support the freight and heavy haul rail manufacturing sector. 

Note: This delivery of this action is dependent on assessment of existing policies and initiatives undertaken in Action 1.

By end of Quarter 2, 2025