YEARS OF intense lobbying by Australia’s rail industry for funding to upgrade the worst sections of the east coast interstate main line have finally been rewarded. The budget for the year commencing on July 1 tabled by Federal Treasurer Peter Costello on May 11 includes a one-off grant of A$450m to Australian Rail Track Corp towards upgrading the Sydney - Brisbane interstate line.

Freight operators using this corridor are seriously hampered by short passing loops, obsolete train control, sharp curves and steep gradients. ARTC manages a substantial part of the interstate main line track, and is about to assume responsibility for NSW infrastructure outside the CityRail area (p353). With road hauliers hit by rising fuel costs, rail’s competitive position could be improved substantially on a route where its market share is under 20%.

On June 7 Federal Transport Minister John Anderson is expected to publish a white paper setting out an A$11·4bn transport package that the government claims will transform the way roads and railways are funded. The AusLink package will include an A$1·9bn increase in road and rail spending.

Anderson said his white paper would ’set out a series of major new land transport projects beyond the ones detailed in today’s Budget.’ He noted that ’the government’s forecasters predict that the amount of freight on our roads will double over the next 20 years, interstate road freight will almost triple, and passenger travel is forecast to rise by 40%. It is essential that we increase the proportion of freight carried by rail, particularly between Melbourne and Brisbane, where it only accounts for 20% of the land transport market.’

The A$450m grant comes on top of A$872m that ARTC expects to spend on the NSW interstate and Hunter Valley rail networks over the next five years. These funds will be used to improve transit times along the line in northern New South Wales and to improve sections of the heavily-used Hunter Valley coal network. The money is being released by the agreement between the Commonwealth and the state of New South Wales (RG 1.04 p5), under which ARTC will lease the state’s main line track for 60 years, commencing on July 1 2004.