Productivity Commission urged to focus on Interstate Railway Access

The Railway Technical Society of Australasia (RTSA) will urge the Productivity Commission to seize the opportunity to improve interstate rail access, when it appears before the Commission’s National Access Regime inquiry hearing in Sydney (Medina on Crown, Fitzroy Room, 359 Crown St, Surry Hills), this Wednesday.

The RTSA’s Government Affairs spokesperson, Dr Philip Laird said today that the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry while not totally neglecting rail, had largely ignored the issue of access to the interstate rail network.

Dr Laird said, “The issues of interstate rail freight operators gaining adequate access to NSW mainline track, and the substandard state of the NSW interstate track have dragged on for too long. These issues deserve more attention than was given in the March 2001 Position Paper of the Productivity Commission in its Review of the National Access Regime.”

“The RTSA will submit to the Productivity Commission on Wednesday that it should agree to address the above issues relating to interstate rail access within the scope of the current inquiry. The Trade Practices Act would seem to require nothing less.”

The RTSA submission will also outline the poor state of the Albury-Sydney-Brisbane mainline track, with suggestions as to how the access issue may be resolved, and the track upgraded.

“New South Wales appears to be the recalcitrant child when it comes to the issue of rail freight reform. The establishment of seamless access to the interstate rail network is seen as a cornerstone of the reform process, yet NSW has doggedly resisted attempts to see this established,” said Dr Laird.

“The focus of the NSW Government on rail issues is quite clearly on the urban CityRail network, often to the detriment of interstate operators. There appears to be little logic in this continuing resistance to giving up a degree of control over parts of its non-urban network.”

Dr Laird concluded, “It is clear that a national rail access regime is not working effectively. Minister Anderson said last year that if a national rail access regime was not working effectively by mid-2001, the Government would consider further options, including Commonwealth legislation.”

“The time for words has passed and it is now time for the Minister to take action and adopt a bigger carrot and stick approach to break this deadlock between the Commonwealth and New South Wales. Australia can no longer afford the ongoing failure to resolve the issue of interstate access whilst delaying much needed investment into the NSW rail network.”

Interstate Rail Access & Investment

An Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) in November 1997, in theory paved the way for a ‘one-stop shop’ for open access for inter-city freight trains to the Nation’s interstate rail network. The States were to work cooperatively to ensure that train operators could gain seamless access to the interstate standard gauge rail network between Brisbane and Perth.

In July 1998, the Commonwealth established the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to own and manage former South Australian and Commonwealth owned interstate tracks. The Victorian Government has since leased its interstate track to ARTC, which now controls the interstate network from Albury to Kalgoorlie.

Since 1998, the ARTC has progressively upgraded the Albury - Melbourne - Adelaide - Perth track. However, the NSW interstate track via Albury, Sydney and Brisbane remains in substandard condition.  Examples include the condition of the 1880-built bridge over the Murrumbidgee slowing trains down to 20 km per hour and antiquated safe-working systems, along with steep ruling grades and excessive curvature.

Negotiations with New South Wales to establish a Wholesale Access Agreement whereby ARTC would purchase train paths from the Rail Infrastructure Corporation and provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for operators have been stalled for well over a year.

The recent National Track Audit outlined that the East – West corridor linking Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, is working well, but the North – South Melbourne-Sydney-and Brisbane rail axis is un-competitive because of lack of investment.

Investment on the rail track linking Australia's three largest cities has been very limited, partly as a result of the ongoing inability to resolve the track access issue. Federal Transport Minister John Anderson announced on May 22 that he would withhold $110 million in Commonwealth funding earmarked for the NSW part of the interstate network until some resolution is found. 

However, three Federal Government inquiries have found that the Commonwealth should increase its investment in interstate track, with the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport calling again, in May 2001, for the Commonwealth to show more leadership in this issue. The RTSA suggests that this should extend to the Productivity Commission.

June 2001

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