Semi-trailer on the freeway.

Semi-trailer on the freeway.

Rail companies Aurizon and Asciano want trucks to be charged at rates that better reflect their road use by using satellite technology to track the distances they travel.

The listed transport companies claim investment in the country's railways will be hamstrung until heavy vehicles are charged at rates that reflect their use of the roads.

Aurizon and Asciano have called for trials of what they describe as ''direct mass-distance location'' charging over the next year. Under the proposed model, global positioning systems and other technology would be used to set charges linked directly to the size of heavy vehicles, the type of road they drive on and the distance travelled.

The companies are part of a group that has called for changes to road charges in a submission to the Productivity Commission's inquiry into public infrastructure. Other members are the Australasian Railway Association and the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

They claim the present charging system for road use has numerous deficiencies, such as not charging truck operators enough to cover the cost of their road use.

The group also said the existing system did not link the funds raised from road charges with the investments that state and federal governments make in roadways.

Local councils, which bear a large part of the costs from heavy vehicle use of roads, did not have a ''funding arrangement that reflects the actual costs of usage'', the group said.

The federal government collects a fuel excise from truck operators, while state and territory governments charge an annual registration based on vehicle size.

''As long as the cost of road investments is not accurately reflected in road prices and cross subsidisation between heavy-vehicle users continues, it makes commercial investment in competing rail infrastructure very challenging,'' the rail companies said in the submission.

''Because the charges are calculated for the national network as a whole, there is no direct connection between the amount of road-user charge paid per kilometre, and the condition or capability of the road being used.''

The rail group said heavy vehicles bore only a ''minimal proportion of joint costs'' for the upkeep and development of the roads.

The Australian Trucking Association said while ''theoretically fair'', charges based on the actual cost of roads would be too high for users of regional roads. Marginal-cost road-user charges would cause ''unintentional welfare effects due to the vast population spread in Australia''.