WITHIN the next six months Australia’s federal government intends to sell most of Australian National to the private sector, along with its 45% equity stake in National Rail Corp. Only the interstate trunk routes will remain in public ownership, to be managed under an open access regime by a ’national track company’ yet to be established.

Announcing the plan on November 22, Federal Minister for Transport & Development John Sharp said AN’s losses for the year to June 30 1997 were expected to reach A$250m. The government would assume responsibility for debts and superannuation costs totalling A$1·36bn, and the total cost of preparing AN for sale was likely to reach A$2bn.

A report by former rail executive John Brew (RBR 97 p35), recommended carving AN into separate businesses before selling them off or closing them down. The government is taking advice on the form of the sale, and expects to invite bids very shortly. Macquarie Bank has emerged as a key player in the sale, and is already packaging bids.

AN provides freight services on three gauges within South Australia and Tasmania, and operates workshops at Port Augusta, Adelaide and Launceston. There are also three passenger routes: the Indian Pacific, Ghan and Overland. Despite large deficits, Sharp described the government as ’committed to their development as tourist attractions in their own right.’ He was also optimistic about freight, claiming that privatisation would create the ’right environment’ for construction of the long-planned link between Alice Springs and Darwin (p7).

  • A bill introduced in Victoria with support from both major parties would see two new organisations carved out of the Public Transport Corp. V/Line Freight Corp would carry intrastate rail freight, and Victorian Rail Track Corp would be responsible for all non-suburban infrastructure including the train control function. o

    CAPTION: Two of the 120 NR class diesel locos being built for National Rail Corp were rolled out of A Goninan & Co’s Newcastle works on November 28 (above) for inspection by Australian Prime Minister John Howard (left)