Australia’s new freight capital?

Parkes on track2 copy

This feature appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Logistics & Materials Handling.

Uniquely positioned to support the movement of rail freight between the east, west and south of Australia – and soon, with Inland Rail, north too – Parkes in New South Wales has set its sights on becoming the hub of choice for the country’s logistics operators.

For a regional town 350km inland from Sydney in New South Wales, Parkes has done a remarkable job of putting itself on the map. The town, named for Australia’s ‘Father of Federation’, Sir Henry Parkes, hosts ‘the Dish’ – an iconic radio telescope, and a hugely popular annual Elvis festival. Its ‘next big thing’ is to become the keystone in the country’s freight logistics network.

On the verge of something big

Parkes Shire Council has long recognised the strategic advantage that Parkes’ location at the crossroads of major road and rail freight routes provides logistics operators. “The Council has been mindful of preserving corridors for future development,” explains Anna Wyllie, Economic and Business Development Manager of Parkes Shire Council. “Over 10 years ago, we set aside land for the Parkes National Logistics Hub, meaning we have very good buffer zones in place with no urban encroachment.

Anna Wyllie, Parkes Shire Council.
Anna Wyllie, Parkes Shire Council.

“We have been preparing for opening our doors to investment for a very long time, and have looked very strategically at how we plan.”

Following the FY17 Federal Budget allocation of $8.4 billion for the Inland Rail project, it was announced that construction will begin at Parkes in 2018, for the Parkes-to-Narromine link. “The Melbourne-to-Brisbane Inland Rail will intersect with the east-west line at one place, Parkes,” says Anna. “Can it get any more central than that?”

Location, location, location

Parkes Shire Council recently created a cheeky social media pitch to Amazon that attracted close to one million views and highlighted the fact that 80 per cent of Australia can be reached by road from the town, though Anna notes that its intermodal capabilities set it apart.

“Parkes is in an amazing position,” says Anna. “At the moment, rail can go east, west and south, and when the Inland Rail comes, you’ll be able to go north from Parkes, too – this means that there will be access to all major ports. We have great road train and B-double access, and are right on the Newell Highway – in fact, New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services is looking at doing a bypass of the Newell Highway at Parkes. We also have a large regional airport with three passenger flights to Sydney a day, and the capability for air freight.”

Anna shares that the town is excited to add ‘rail capital’ to its identity. “The first section of the Inland Rail, between Parkes and Narromine, will be the catalyst of change for the way in which freight moves in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria – the whole of Australia,” she says. “We’re a really proactive council – we don’t claim to be experts in transport and logistics, but we’re really good facilitators. Parkes offers some fantastic opportunities for companies looking for efficient, low-cost logistics solutions.”

In good company

Several major logistics operators have already made Parkes home, including third-party logistics (3PL) company Linfox and interstate road and rail transport company SCT Logistics, which has run its intermodal terminal in Parkes for over a decade. “SCT moves merchandise from the eastern states across to the west via Parkes,” says Anna. “They truck their goods in, put them in the warehouse, load them into high-top containers trains and take them over to Western Australia twice a week.

“It’s the first place they can run a 1.8km train and double stack containers on the route from Sydney to Perth.”

When asked what his vision was for the Parkes National Logistics Hub, Glenn Smith, CEO of SCT Logistics, said: “SCT has been here for about 10 years and Parkes has been a great hub for SCT for that period of time. But with the announcement of the Inland Rail line, we see SCT opening the door to importers and exporters and general freight carriers who need to move freight efficiently anywhere in the country, or import or export out of the Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney ports.

“I see Parkes’ future as a great import/export hub. I see two trains a day servicing exporters and importers into ports around Australia. I also see opportunities, being so centrally located, for wagon maintenance, locomotive maintenance, possibly even manufacturing of rail equipment.”

In October 2017, rail freight operator Pacific National committed $35 million to the development of its own terminal in Parkes, at the intersection of the east-west line with the Inland Rail north-south line. “It will be approximately 600m long, but its final form will be 1.8km, making it one of the largest sidings in Australia,” adds Anna. “Pacific National’s CEO, Dean Della Valle, expects the terminal to be operational by 2019, and we can already see the efficiencies in the market by using Parkes.”

Forward planning

In 2006, with approval from the New South Wales Government, Parkes Shire Council rezoned 516 hectares of agricultural and industrial land on the western edge of the town for the development of the Parkes National Logistics Hub, with an additional reserve of over 100 hectares. The site has been specifically designed for the 24-hour, seven-days-per-week operation of a multi-modal transport facility.

“In the coming years, we will have one of the biggest transport and logistics hubs in Australia,” says Anna. “We have a 600-hectare greenfield site, which is on the western side of town, with plenty of room to grow.”

According to Michael Kilgariff, Managing Director of the Australian Logistics Council, Parkes’ location sets it apart. “As well as being directly on the line between Port of Melbourne to the Port of Brisbane, there’s already existing connections through to Newcastle, Sydney and Kembla,” he says. “More importantly, it’s also on the rail link over to Adelaide and Perth and even connections to Darwin, so Parkes is really set to become Australia’s largest inland rail hub.”

Reaping the benefits

Anna is excited to see Parkes flourish as a key intermodal waypoint. “Inland Rail will bring a new diversity and prosperity to the economy in Parkes,” she says. “The agricultural industry in the region will absolutely benefit from it, with the cost of getting goods to port set to drop by $10 per tonne.

“We’re in a rich agricultural area with amazing fresh products. We can see the potential, not just for our national domestic markets but for the incredible growth of Asian markets.”

She notes that Inland Rail will be good for consumers, regional communities, transport and logistics operators – with transport and logistics operators able to choose the right load for the right mode of transport.

“Parkes is proud to support these benefits spreading to the nation as a whole.”