No Silver Bullet

Catherine Baxter is a leader in making decisions which will have an important effect on the future sustainability of transport.
Catherine Baxter at the Natroad Conference, Gold Coast 2023.

Catherine Baxter is Chief Operating Officer at Team Global Express (TGE) where she is responsible for safely and efficiently operating Australia’s largest intermodal freight network, leading a team of over 7,000 direct employees and several thousand contractors.

TGE has a fleet of around 6,500 vehicles including trucks, aircraft and two ships.

With 30 years of experience in the industry, Catherine has a strong focus on safe and disciplined operations and has extensive experience and expertise in transport, having previously held executive roles in large national ASX listed businesses, including Aurizon, UGL, and Boral, and prior to joining TGE was the Chief Operating officer of Metro Trains Melbourne.

Catherine is a strong and well-regarded champion of diversity and improving gender equality in the workplace.

During her career, she has supported major change, including at Metro Trains Melbourne, where the company achieved a record 37 per cent of all train drivers being female.

Since joining TGE Catherine has been a leader in highlighting the major role the transport industry can play in decarbonisation.

“There is no silver bullet,” Catherine told delegates at the 2023 NatRoad conference.

“There is no single magical key to reducing emissions and decarbonising. We are going to need a suite of solutions to meet our needs depending upon the freight we are carrying, what it’s being carried on, how far it’s going, how much it weighs and how quickly we need the freight to get there.”

TGE is on a decarbonisation journey and facing similar challenges to everyone else, namely that sustainable solutions are often substantially more costly than traditional ways of operating.

This is something Catherine openly acknowledges. TGE is taking a multi-front approach to achieve its own environmental ambitions, starting with the transition to more efficient high productivity combinations such as A-doubles to reduce truck movements and therefore emissions, while also reducing costs.

“But it has to be weighed up against the requirement to still use diesel in the freight task, so it’s not going to decarbonise as quickly as we’d like,” she says.

“But it’s part of the larger puzzle. For light and medium rigids there is likely a need to transition to electric vehicles depending upon the weight and distance requirements. The critical focus here is highly dependent upon a renewable source of energy and how it is being consumed by the truck and where the infrastructure is based. That’s quite a challenge at the moment.”

TGE has already taken a giant first stride towards its electric vehicle future with the trial now underway based at its Bungarribee facility in Western Sydney where the first of 60 electric trucks from Fuso and Volvo have been commissioned.

Catherine acknowledges the total cost of ownership for electric trucks is currently more than double of an existing internal combustion engine truck and appreciates the $20 million grant obtained through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) which, combined with a substantial investment by TGE, has made possible Australia’s (and likely the world’s) largest trial of electric heavy vehicles.

“The trial is the first step towards having a critical mass of electric vehicles that we can test,” says Catherine.

“The good news is we’ve actually got the first of the trucks and we’re training our drivers. The feedback from them has been extremely positive and I also want to acknowledge the TWU because they have worked very closely with us and have been really supportive in the trials.”

Catherine also sees a gradual transition to hydrogen powered transport, but her view is we are not likely to see that as a large-scale reality until toward the end of the current decade.

“To reach the decarbonisation goals as quickly as possible the industry can’t solely wait for new energy sources to come available, we’ve got to adopt additional measures now,” she says.

“The OEMs we are working with are still working on making hydrogen fuel cells a reality and, in our business, we need liquid hydrogen not gaseous hydrogen. We may in fact see liquid hydrogen injection into our internal combustion engines before anything else.”

TGE’s access to multiple modes of freight transport means that rail could be an option depending upon the freight and where it has to go.

“There is a real emission saving in switching to rail but for shorter distances trucks are the way to go, and using renewable diesel is certainly a thing which will help, at least until locomotives are using batteries, and that’s not going to be anytime soon,” says Catherine.

“In the meantime we must have renewable diesel and biodiesel. These blends are critical for us going forward. With biodiesel we are hampered because of the fuel tax credits system where we can only get a maximum of 20 per cent biodiesel in the blend despite many of the OEMs saying it is possible to increase the percentage.”

Renewable diesel, on the other hand, is chemically interchangeable with the mineral diesel and as of July this year TGE will be able to accumulate Australian Carbon Credit Units.

TGE has also been taking steps in other areas to reduce its carbon footprint, from fitting solar panels to the roofs of its larger facilities, fitment of low rolling resistance tyres to its vehicles, and driver training which addresses fuel efficiency.

A new generation telematics system is being rolled out across the entire fleet over the next couple of years which will make its own contributions to sustainability by facilitating more efficient routing.

“It isn’t easy in a network business to make this sort of change when you’ve got so much complexity and different activities and different sizes and style of fleet and different ages of the fleet, but we are committed to it,” says Catherine.

“We look hard at how do we become more green, not by buying carbon credits, but how are we genuinely going to be green and make that change and work with the industry to make that change.”

The opportunity to decarbonise, according to Catherine, represents a road in front of the entire transport industry.

“The journey may not be easy but imagine the future when, not if, we get it right,” she says. “The benefits will be more than worth it.”

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