Queensland Railways has stood aloof from the chaotic ’liberalisation’ process under way on Australia’s standard gauge interstate network - until January 23, that is, when the National Competition Council revealed that Carpentaria Transport Pty Ltd had initiated an open access bid. The TNT subsidiary wants the right to run its own trains between Brisbane and Cairns, although it is already a major user of QR’s services. TNT Chief Executive David Mortimer said ’we move freight by dedicated trains but they are operated and provided by QR - we would like to do it ourselves. Rates for delivering freight in Queensland are higher than what one would expect in a competitive market.’

The NCC will consider TNT’s request and make a recommendation by May 2 to the Queensland state premier, Mr Borbidge. Should he agree, QR will have to grant TNT a seven year access agreement. If he does not, TNT may appeal to the Australian Competition Tribunal which can overrule the premier’s decision. QR Chief Executive Vince O’Rourke said he was ’intrigued’ because Carpentaria was ’seeking access to facilities and services which they have used for more than 20 years.’ Despite this air of injured innocence, O’Rourke claimed to have ’always stated that we were looking forward to the challenge of on-track competition.’

Meanwhile, interest among American railways is evident as preparations for selling National Rail and the still twitching corpse of Australian National proceed (RG 1.97 p8). Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and L/E/K Partnership are cataloguing the assets and operations of the two operators, and drafting proposals for restructuring in advance of the sales.

A stable-door inquiry by the Senate into the deplorable handling of the AN affair was told on January 28 by General Manager Andrew Neal that the company was left with no income to support a A$250m debt, a A$70m annual interest burden and huge overheads when the former Labour government created National Rail. ’I get rather angry when people criticise AN management and the Commission because it was not our fault; we were left as the victim of circumstances.’ Noting that another 500 staff would have to go by June 30, he warned that if AN’s assets were not sold quickly ’there won’t be any business left.’ o