• AvonWest hub to increase freight efficiency by slashing road train turnaround times
  • Hub will increase supply chain security in Perth
  • Carbon neutral hub to achieve carbon reductions or offsets to participating logistics companies

Empty shelves and a shortage of the bare necessities, a situation that is all too familiar to West Australians who have faced more than their fair share of supply shortages brought about by logistics failures.

While hardly an everyday affair, major disruptions have been memorable, leading to much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the locals here are denied their shopping fix.

However, it is not all about frivolous goods. Continual episodes of widespread flooding over recent years has resulted in shortfalls of dairy, meat and other groceries in some supermarkets, which is a whole order of magnitude more concerning.

The cause is due to the limited transport networks that link Western Australia with the rest of Australia as well as their vulnerability to weather disruptions.

Matters are not helped by the peculiarities related to how the three-trailer RAV (Restricted Access Vehicle) 7 road trains, which carries a significant percentage of the state’s domestic freight, are limited to certain West Australian roads.

Currently, road trains to Perth are required to break up their loads at the RTAA (road train assembly area) Northam and deliver “dog run” loads to their final destination in the city, return to collect the next load and delivering that, before returning east.

This activity and mandatory rest breaks effectively delays the driver and linehaul equipment for up to three days at Northam.

Needless to say, this is inefficient and costly with a study by TM Insight (now TMX Transform) in 2019 finding that running a three-trailer road train cost ~$4000 per day, meaning that the round trips from Northam into Perth could cost ~$12,000 each trip.


Solving logistics woes

However, a consortium led by Procon Developments is developing the AvonWest logistics and enterprise hub in Northam that seeks to address these woes and potentially build up a buffer against unexpected disruptions.

Speaking to Stockhead, Procon’s WA development director Mark Hardy said the plans to develop the hub was driven purely by the goal of building efficiencies back into freight and logistics.

“Our idea is that logistics companies and/or end users that are bringing freight in will come in and unload their trucks. In the meantime, the load that is going back east is loaded onto the road train while the driver takes their mandatory break before returning east,” he explained.

“This saves them the run going back and forth into Perth, enabling each road train to make more trips per annum.

“The attraction for us and Western Australia is getting some sort of supply chain and food security as it enables each truck to make about 15 more trips per annum.

“Each truck carries about 110t, 16 trips is 1600t per truck, per year more stock coming into the state.”

This takes a page out of similar road train assembly areas in the eastern states, which are all located outside of the cities.

The 2019 study had found that the hub, which would be built on a 63ha plot on the corner of Yilgarn Avenue and Great Eastern Highway, which already accommodated the MRWA – RTAA assembly area, would reduce linehaul costs by $540,000 per annum for a single road train and improve asset utilisation by up to 50% over the course of one year based on 60 trips per annum.

The hub will also reduce the final mile transport costs from between 6-56%, which equates to $272,790 in savings per annum based around 20 deliveries per week from the logistics hub.

Additionally, it will increase the speed to market from between 24-48 hours, greatly improving security for both trucks and cargo transiting the RTAA.

Developing this important bit of infrastructure will also significantly improve driver comfort as the current RTAA located on the estate, is a primitive unsecured site without modern facilities or amenities to support truck and road train drivers.

Such a development will also add to ongoing efforts to turn Northam into a logistics hub with CBH Group investing tens of millions to upgrade its Meenar facility at the Avon Industrial Park to make it one of its largest grain receival sites.

Planned AvonWest site. Pic: Procon Developments

“We think an important aspect to talk about is that the cost of transport passes onto the cost of goods and that WA pays more for general household items and food than all eastern states due to the inefficiency of transport once it arrives into Northam,” Hardy noted.

“The tyranny of distance cannot be removed but gross inefficiencies should be a key focus point for both industry and all sides of government.

“While final mile delivery will save very little as it is much smaller loads, making bulk interstate transport more efficient can definitely add savings to the general cost of goods.

“With pressure on all fronts in terms of cost of living it is vital that anything which reduces the pressure on household budgets is supported and delivered.”

He added that with the fragility of rail due to weather, there needed to be a better focus on ensuring that road freight is more competitive to ensure supply chain security has options.


Ticking all the boxes

Procon’s planned logistics hub will offer logistics companies the option to lease or buy blocks with Hardy pointing out that the Environment Protection Authority had already given the green light and that the company has already received significant interest.

“We are talking about it being a carbon neutral logistics park with its own microgrid and water treatment plant on site,” he noted.

“One of the caveats on the builds of warehouses and facilities within the park is that we have the rights to the roof.

“There will be about 350,000m2 of solar panels put on these roofs, and then we have a backup for growth of some available land for solar to put into that mix. That solar will then be put into batteries for backup so we have 24/7 power.

“Companies will be able to bank carbon credits just by being located at our site.”

Hardy also highlighted plans to install electric truck chargers that will charge electric trucks that will bring loads into the city.

“They will do the final destination deliveries, which stop big trucks from going into the city and keep Main Roads happy,” he added.

“The companies don’t have to use them but moving forward, Foton and other truck manufacturers have well and truly gone the path of efficient electric trucks.”

Other plans include discussions with state-based renewable energy providers, installing a 5G tower on site, and upgrading the optic fibre line on Great Eastern Highway from the east coast and working with the state governments’ JTSI (Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation).

“This is an economical solution to solving the logistics issue. We cater for growth, there’s efficiency straight of the back for companies, and also gives them some room for future expansion,” Hardy added.

The only sticking point at this stage is Procon’s efforts to get Water Corporation to run a guaranteed 200ML/a pipeline 2.5km from York Road up to the site.

“This is a privately owned equity group that we have formed to develop the hub, all we asking the government is to give us a water pipeline,” Hardy added.

“Federal and state government funding to expand and upgrade the RTAA facility at Avon West has already been secured by MRWA.”