Australia: The federal government has granted a 30-year access agreement to the Asia-Pacific Transport consortium which has been selected to build the Alice Springs - Darwin railway.

NSW FreightCorp is preferred bidder for a 10-year contract to move 6million tonnes of coal a year from Blackwater to Gladstone in Queensland, a task for which QR did not tender. FreightCorp must negotiate track access rights, and purchase four locos and 100 wagons for the 1067 mm gauge operation.

China: Electrification work has started on the Harbin - Dalian line, where an Adtranz/Siemens consortium is installing 2900 track-km of overhead, 17 substations and Scada, for completion in 2001.

Europe: The Belgian and Netherlands transport ministers have agreed to the reopening on a temporary basis of the 'Iron Rhine' freight route from Antwerpen to the Ruhr, pending completion of the Betuwe line. Trains will start running next year, but during daytime only to minimise noise pollution.

Germany: DB has approved the widening to three or four tracks of the Karlsruhe - Basel Rheintalbahn route.

Great Britain: GB Railways officially launched a freight subsidiary on April 14; GB Railfreight Ltd has won an eight-year contract to haul infrastructure materials for Railtrack, using seven General Motors Class 66 diesel locos to be leased from HSBC Rail. Worth at least £4·8m a year, the haulage contract will start on March 31 2001.

Freightliner's automotive division Autoliner has started trials with the Car-Rac vehicle carrying container and unloading system, moving Renault cars from the CAT UK vehicle preparation depot in Southampton to Coatbridge.

India: The Railway Ministry is creating a telecommunications subsidiary to exploit the potential for installing optic fibre cables alongside the tracks of IR's 62000route-km network.

Japan: Trading house Mitsui, which leases part of its 10000-strong wagon fleet to the US market, has launched internet-based tracking of US freight movements. The service is aimed at improving availability and transit times so that customers, mainly power utilities, can reduce their coal stocks.

Kazakhstan: European Development Bank funding of 2m euros has been granted towards the cost of upgrading facilities at the Aktau terminal of the trans-Caspian rail ferry to Baku.

Mexico: Canadian Pacific Railway has opened an office in Mexico, following a 25% growth in its Mexican traffic since last November's start-up of the CPR-MEX service for through freight movement via Union Pacific lines.

Russia: On a visit to Sakhalin in March, railway minister Nikolai Aksyonenko pledged finance for resumption of work on a rail tunnel connecting the island with the mainland. The project, started in the late 1940s, was abandoned after the death of Stalin in 1953.

South Africa: Spoornet has appointed British consultant Halcrow Rail to advise on the implementation of its Turn Around restructuring programme, aimed particularly at returning the freight business to profitability.

Spain: Renfe is to invest Pts9·8bn to raise line speed between Tarragona and Vandellós, part of the work under way to reduce Barcelona - Valencia journey time from 3h to 2h 15min.

Sweden: BK Tåg is to buy rival private operator BSM Jårnvåg, adding to the services operated from its southern base at Nåssj