A few weeks ago, Newsroom published a fantastic interview by Rod Oram with Don Braid, the Managing Director of Mainfreight. I thought it was particularly open and insightful about the business but more importantly there were a few crucial comments related to many of the issues we discuss.

I’ve transcribed a few aspects I thought were particularly interesting.

Oram 5:00 – What are the main issues here and particularly where does the government need to invest in infrastructure?

Braid – I think we’ve lagged and the growth of the country has outstripped the infrastructure investment, and both from a roading perspective and from a rail perspective. What we know is that we just can’t continue to build more roads, we need to use rail as an alternative. And we see it as the second corridor really, and not just for freight but for passenger. And those debates around light rail to the airport are an example here in Auckland City are important, and I think it’s a way to actually take away that congestion we’ve got on the road.

But we’ve found rail to be extremely accommodating and extremely effective way to move freight in this country and we can get the same service levels that we have by road, and I think the country is now seeing with the earthquake and with the amount of freight that has had to transfer from rail to road to get around the earthquake zone between Picton and Kaikoura, our roads just can’t handle that volume. So for us, it’s important we have a rail infrastructure that continues to be invested in and continues to be effective. The government needs to think about that railway more than just more roads.

I think many automatically assume that companies involved in using trucks to move freight around will only push for more roads to be built so it’s refreshing to see Braid’s comments calling for a more balanced transport system. That this also extended to investing in public transport was even more pleasing. As I’ve long said when discussing transport with people, the two key tasks of our transport system are to move people and freight. One of the reasons we need to focus on providing a network like the Congestion Free Network is to give people realistic options so they don’t have to drive. That then allows us to focus the use of our road network on those who don’t have an alternative, like moving local freight.

It certainly sounds like we’d agree with him on much more than we disagree. I guess this is the difference between a trucking company and a logistics company.

Next we have

Oram 10:00- One of those new directors is Sue Tindall who is also Chief Financial Officer for Auckland Council. Mainfreight has a lot to do with Auckland Council, so how do you ensure there is no conflict of interest should it issue arise.

Braid – Well we’d like to have an interaction with the Auckland Council but we wouldn’t haven’t had their transport business/division/executives here ever so there is no relationship. So there is no communication with the Auckland Council to be perfectly honest. So I don’t see any conflict arising. Hopefully Sue will understand the difficulties that our business has trying to get around the Auckland City and brings some pressure to bear on the Auckland Council for the betterment of everybody

Oram – So over all these years you’ve never had someone from the council, in strategy or planning, come and ask you what you need as a major transport company here in Auckland.

Braid – Never, I mean the good thing is we had Phil Goff come and see us but he was on the campaign trail, have we seen him since, of course not.

While I certainly don’t think the council or AT should be personally going to each company individually on every issue, it does seem crazy that not once have they been engaged by either organisation. Perhaps one of the challenges is that there are multiple groups advocating for different slices of the trucking industry so maybe it’s assumed they cover Mainfreight too, when they don’t. Given Mainfreight are the biggest logistics company in NZ, perhaps they should be more involved to help present a more balanced view.

As I said at the start, I thought it was a very open and insightful interview.

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17 comments

  1. Yes it seems that Mainfreight are the biggest because they have made some smart decisions and take the blinkers off to see beyond trucks to using rail.
    The thing with rail is that the more it is used the better the service becomes (critical mass if you will), each train becomes more efficient and additional services mean that A to B time reduces as there is less waiting time. The whole rail operation would then become more productive and profitable meaning that it can keep it’s costs down resulting in more growth (a virtuous cycle).
    Now if only the government would invest in electrifying Papakura-Frankton-Tauranga + Palmerston North-Waikanae we could have efficient fast electric trains moving most of our freight without needing to import costly fuel.

  2. Mainfreight aren’t the only logisitics company that use rail extensively. AT should be working with these companies, as part of the transport planning process, the same goes for NZTA. Wonder if either talked to these companies before embarking on projects like East-West link?

    1. The east west link is designed to take the traffic off Neilson St, Neilson St is also the only access to the only public road to rail transfer point in Auckland. Make using rail too hard and it will be used less, make it easier and it will be used more. Most freight companies use rail when possible due to it being cheaper, it takes longer but if the owner of the freight is not in too much of a hurry rail is a cost effective option provided the time it take to deliver to rail doesn’t exceed the time you could get past Hamilton (something that is common at the moment).

  3. From time to time you have guest contributors on GA.
    I would like to suggest in this election year more of our elected representatives and other people with an interest in transport issues be invited to give their views to GA. People from the trade unions, Business leaders, School Principals, students association, Medical association, AA, Architects, Bus companies, National , NZ First, Greens, Labour, Truckies etc would I’m sure like to send in their policy if asked.
    In Auckland the main debate is about traffic congestion and the enormous cost. The NZTA and AT must be wanting to inform the public about their plans and explain how Auckland is making progress and I’m sure Michael Cullen, Simon Bridges and Mayor Goff and others would like to explain their plans to as many as possible.
    Auckland Council has a large department (over 100) continually surveying the population on items such as library staff, events in the parks, bus routes and patronage and the results in a democracy should always be made available. Some of the outcomes are published in the monthly “Our Auckland” magazine. NZTA has many people counting traffic flows, accident rates etc and would surely want to inform us on the issues.

  4. It would be unethical for Auckland Council to ask a private, profit-seeking enterprise what their needs are. However it would be ethical for them to tell Mainfreight what their strategy is.

    1. Why would that not be ethical? I’m sure that kiwirail ask the Ports of Tauranga what their needs are. The council asked developers what their needs were as part of the unitary plan. We ask private companies on streets what their needs are when we look to change the layout on those streets. Asking what their needs are isn’t the same as building what they want.

    2. I would have thought it was unethical not to consider their needs, however balancing those needs with other stakeholders to ensure equity to the entire society would be part of the democratic consultation process.

    3. That may be true if you are an iron-fisted socialist dictator ruling by fiat. However in our society government is there to serve, and derives its mandate from, the citizenry. So yes, absolutely find out what the companies that are run for, by and of citizens want and need.

  5. I find it interesting that “the Trucking Companies” are painted as the bogey man calling for rape and pillage of our environment in support of monstrosities like the East-West link. However the transcript about would sort of suggest not. So who really is calling for the East West link?

    1. Mainfreight is an international logistics company, they are about moving freight doesn’t matter how.

      This is different from medium sized trucking companies who push motorways.

      1. Bouquet for Mainfreight – who gets brickbats? They might change their tune if they can’t hide behind the label of “medium sized trucking companies”

        1. From the RTF’s website on its purpose:
          “Actively promote measures to encourage further development of the road transport sector with key policy setting and enforcing Government departments”

          So while the Police enforce the law, the truck lobby enforce the law makers.

      2. Harriet, around 50 freight companies, big and small, use rail. They all see it the way Mainfreight does.

        The East-West Link is primarily driven by the road construction sector, who need something big to continue with in the aftermath of Waterview and NW upgrade.

  6. What an enlightened and practical guy. Sees what is needed in terms of logistics. Also sees that increased passenger rail will free up the roads for other users. It’s not rocket science.

    How come Ak Council hasn’t asked what their needs are? Very surprising. Although I would hope the government and NZTA have.

  7. Its odd how someone like Braid, who tripped around on Key’s “Airforce One” and clearly rubbed shoulders with Nat politicians in more ways than one, somehow could not connect this blinkered government to the advantages of rail. Their 2047 airport light rail connection speaks volumes on how clueless National are.

    But perhaps the fact the myopic imbeciles didn’t close down rail in some parts altogether may be down to Braid!

  8. My company pulled out of using in-house linehaul operations around NZ 15 years ago and since then have used sea and rail as the primary options with road freight a (necessary) last resort. However dealing with Kiwirail can be difficult with consignments frequently bumped and schedules changed.

    There’s a whole host of reasons to use rail – cost – environmental – security but it can be a difficult option.

  9. Out of pure interest probably…does anyone have or know if there a document containing a list/map of all the rail sidings that are currently used in Auckland or anything related to this. Which companies to where, would be quite interested. Sitting at Sylvia Park station the other day noted on way somewhere & back again Mt Wellington Oasis freight getting shunted to I guess Westfield or Metro Port? I did a brief temporary job back when The Warehouse was just set up, working for Mainfreight in a team to split up the imported goods into the right count for each shop branch. Based at the older Southdown Lane location with siding there, saw some very weird and wonderful shaped goods loaded into the carriages while at it. Almost first flippen job was gym weights for goodness sake, followed by swiss balls!

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