AUSTRALIAN transport and logistics group Patrick Corp announced in March that it had begun negotiations to buy FCL Interstate Transport Services, Australia’s largest rail freight forwarder.

FCL is a family-owned business with annual revenues of around A$170m that has always supported rail, backing construction of the Alice Springs - Darwin line where freight traffic volumes and revenues have proved disappointing (RG 4.05 p194). Were the deal with Patrick to go through, there could be serious ramifications for the Darwin route, not least because Patrick has consistently opposed the project and CEO Chris Corrigan has publicly ridiculed the line.

The takeover would put Patrick in direct competition with Toll Group, with which it jointly owns Pacific National; Toll is a major user of the line to Darwin, whose performance was sufficiently worrying for Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin to hold talks with Toll and Freightlink in March.

Notwithstanding the concerns over the line to Darwin, the federal government announced in April that it would fund a feasibility study, to be completed by June 2006, into the projected Melbourne - Brisbane inland rail corridor through Dubbo and Parkes. The scheme now has a price tag of around A$3bn, but Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister John Anderson told local media that the line would be needed in about five years’ time to carry increasing freight traffic over the next 15 years. In New South Wales the state government poured scorn on the project, with Labor Treasurer Dr Andrew Refshauge describing it as a ’lemon’.