EXPRESSIONS of interest were due to be submitted by August 14 for the sale of Australian operator V/Line Freight Corp. Bids were called on July 31 by Victoria’s Transport Minister Robin Cooper and Treasurer Alan Stockdale, who said privatisation would give Victoria ’a vibrant, competitive railfreight industry so that farmers and other bulk producers can compete effectively in their markets.’ The government will shortlist applicants for the final bidding stage, and expects to complete the sale in around six months.

Corporatised in 1997, V/Line Freight operates on 4000 route-km in Victoria and New South Wales, with a fleet of over 100 locos and 2 800 wagons. The sale will include a 15-year renewable lease of Victoria’s intrastate country rail infrastructure - track, signalling, train control facilities, country terminals and sidings. The government will retain ownership of the network, and the lessee must provide access for V/Line Passenger and other passenger operators. It must also offer access to competing third-party freight operators ’on fair commercial terms’.

Stockdale said the sale would ’release V/Line Freight from the limitations imposed on publicly-owned rail freight operators, allowing greater access to capital and freedom for innovation.’ However, the new owner ’will be required to maintain the Fast Track parcels service in its current form’. o