IN A MOVE that will be seen as highly significant, New South Wales Transport Minister Michael Costa announced on April 30 that ownership of the infrastructure used by Sydney’s regional and suburban passengers trains would be transferred on January 1 2004 from the Rail Infrastructure Corp back to the State Rail Authority. In 1996 State Rail handed over the network to Rail Access Corp, which subsequently merged with the Rail Services Authority responsible for its maintenance to form RIC.

At present, State Rail is exclusively a passenger operator through its CityRail and Countrylink subsidiaries. CityRail provides services to 306 stations on 1018route-km of which 650 km is electrified at 1·5 kV DC. RIC currently owns and maintains 8851route-km including interstate lines to Melbourne, Brisbane and Broken Hill.

Costa said he was setting up a working party to draft NSW’s response to a bid by the Federal government to transfer management of the interstate lines to the Australian Rail Track Corp formed in 1997. However, he does not want NSW to lose control of the profitable Hunter Valley lines over which coal is hauled to Newcastle for export.

For the time being, the rest of the network will continue to be managed by ’Country RIC’. Costa described the ’fragmentation of management between RIC and State Rail’ as ’an impediment to effectively running the metropolitan rail network’, and said ’the current structure can’t deliver the level of service passengers expect.’ But on country lines, open access for freight to promote competition is still seen as more important than vertical integration.

The move to re-integrate management of infrastructure and operations in metropolitan Sydney was triggered by an engineering report condemning the Menangle bridge on the Sydney - Melbourne line as unsafe, leading to its closure on March 27 (RG 5.03 p243). The bridge was re-opened for single-line working with a 23 tonne axleload limit on April 24, following strengthening of the wrought iron spans. Costa did not say when it would be rebuilt.

A further change announced by Costa would see the Office of the Co-ordinator General of Rail abolished when RIC is split. In the aftermath of Menangle, Costa appointed Vince Graham to take this position over from Michael Deegan. Graham has therefore handed over his responsibility for investigating the bridge closure.