PLANS to privatise Australia’s principal standard-gauge freight operators have been shaken up by a surprise proposal to sell the New South Wales owned Freight Corp. Despite earlier commitments not to privatise the business, the NSW Labour administration voted on September 7 to dispose of Freight Corp to whichever bidder is selected to take over Commonwealth-owned National Rail Corp. Freight Corp is valued at around A$1bn.

The sale of NRC, announced in August 1997, has been delayed by disagreement between the state governments over whether to allow bids by state-owned operators. Both Queensland Rail and Freight Corp had expressed interest in buying NRC, which owns no tracks and operates over the interstate network controlled by the Australian Rail Track Corp. Victoria opposed the state involvement, but NSW and Queensland were in favour (RG 11.99 p727).

The NSW proposal would merge the two largest standard-gauge freight carriers to create a near-monopoly on interstate operations. It would also block QR’s attempt to take over NRC, leaving only private bidders such as Toll Holdings, Lang Corp and various US operators.

The NSW government plans to keep the infrastructure and passenger services in state ownership, and to provide a subsidy of A$170m a year for freight operations on selected routes. It would also guarantee employment of 2200 Freight Corp staff for ’a number of years’.

  • Open access interstate operator SCT Transport has cancelled its contract for Australia Southern Railroad to haul its thrice-weekly Melbourne - Perth service. From November the trains will be worked by Victoria-based Freight Australia, using 10 G Class locos which are to be uprated from 2220 kW to 2600 kW with new US diesel engines.

    NSW-based locomotive leasing group and open access operator Austrac has gone into voluntary administration, citing problems in competing with a subsidised Freight Corp.