QUEENSLAND RAIL’S subsidiary Interail has launched a regular container service between Casino in New South Wales and the Port of Brisbane, QR Chief Executive Bob Scheuber told the AusRail conference on November 17. Referring to the imminent arrival of Pacific National on the QR network, Scheuber emphasised that the ’phoney war’ period of interstate rail competition had ended. ’This year, it got real, as we always knew that it would.’

Scheuber confirmed QR’s interest in purchasing Freight Australia, noting that the number of major interstate rail freight operators will soon be reduced from four to three. Also understood to be bidding for Freight Australia are Pacific National and Australian Railroad Group, the joint venture of Wesfarmers Ltd and Genesee & Wyoming which runs trains in WA, South Australia and on the new line to Darwin (p20); estimates suggest the sale could net A$400m.

While on-rail competition is important, Scheuber emphasied that the key question is rail’s total share of the transport task. ’Even the most robust competitors must work together to have rail acknowledged as a key player in the transport market’, he warned.

He added that rail will struggle to improve its market share without upgrades in infrastructure, largely in Victoria and New South Wales (p5), ’where rail operators are trying to run 21st century services on 19th century infrastructure’. Meanwhile, QR continues to break records, hauling 156·5 million tonnes of freight during 2002-03; almost 139 million tonnes of this was coal, 50% more than just five years ago.

Pacific National is 50% owned by Patrick Corp, whose Managing Director Chris Corrigan said on November 23 that government should let the private sector sort out the rail business. ’Frankly, I think government ought to get out of the business of regulating rail’, he told Channel 9’s Business Sunday programme. ’Rail is the transport medium of the future for significant distances of more than 1000 km, and I think the country desperately needs to have that turned around’, he said.