TRANZ RAIL shareholders voted at the company's Annual General Meeting on March 9 to approve plans to return ownership of the New Zealand rail network to the national government. With Toll Holdings controlling 84% of the company, the motion was passed in just 3min.

Under an agreement reached last December, the government will buy back the infrastructure for NZ$50m and spend a further NZ$200m on upgrading work. In return, Toll has committed to investing NZ$100m in improvements to the Tranz Rail loco and rolling stock fleet. Tranz Rail Chief Executive David Jackson said the company was working towards a handover date of July 1.

Transport Minister Paul Swain told a freight summit in Auckland on February 27 that the deal with Toll Holdings 'is part of our commitment to ensuring rail continues to play a vital part in our land transport infrastructure for freight'.

Toll also confirmed at the end of February that it had sold Tranz Rail's 27% stake in Australian Transport Networks to Australian interstate freight operator Pacific National, which it owns in a 50:50 joint venture with Patrick Stevedores. Pacific National has also bought the 36·5% stakes in ATN owned by Fay Richwhite and Berkshire Partners, giving it control of TasRail and ATN's open access operations in Victoria and New South Wales at a total cost of A$40m.

TasRail has 39 locos and 668 wagons, and operates the 780 km 1067mm gauge network in Tasmania under a 50-year lease. It was sold to ATN for A$22m during the break-up of Australian National in 1997.