NEW TRAINS NEEDED, NOT JUST NEW TRACK
Who will buy new locomotives for Tasrail?
Community lobby group Future Transport Tasmania today called on the State Government to ensure certainty for the future of rail transport in Tasmania, after a derailment occurred near Colebrook last Friday, causing the closure of the main line for at least four weeks.
Future Transport Tasmania (FTT) said that the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, (TCCI) is quite correct that Tasmania's rail network is 19th century and needs work. However FTT noted that the upgrade of Tasmania's rail network has already begun with over $78 million being spent on upgrading the tracks, work that is already well under way, as stated by Minister Sturges.
However FTT would like clarification of the TCCI's assertion yesterday that the State Government should not be operating the railway system. The current rail operator, Pacific National Tasmania, owned by Asciano, is clearly unwilling to spend the money needed to keep trains operating competitively. FTT is concerned that a new private operator may only send its competitors back on to the roads, when ideally there should be as much freight as possible going by rail. Under such circumstances, it is clear that the rail operator should preferably be a neutral agent and not already part or wholly owned by a freight forwarding company.
Spokesperson for Future Transport Tasmania, Toby Rowallan said: 'The current locomotive fleet owned by Pacific National Tasmania (PNT) has an average age of thirty-nine years –it is no surprise that no one was willing to buy PNT, when they would immediately have had to spend at least the same amount they had paid for the business, to buy new trains. The locomotive fleet and many of the wagons, belong in a museum or a scrap metal yard. It is no wonder that these trains cannot compete with new B-double trucks.'
'The TCCI does not want the State to run the railway. But if the only way to ensure the trains keep running is that the State take over operations, then we believe that is what should happen. Asciano failed to find a buyer. The State Government's only way out of this is to find an operator who is willing to buy new trains -because after decades of rebuilding old locomotives and eking the last bit of life out of them, this is the only way to ensure rail is as competitive with road as possible.'
Future Transport Tasmania is gravely concerned that the State Government may actually prefer to pay an operator to run the trains, as well as having to buy new ones, rather than taking on the responsibility themselves.
'If this happens we could end up paying a lot more for the privilege of having a viable railway network,' said Mr Rowallan. 'We want a rail network that takes heavy road-destroying trucks off our highways and puts their loads on to the tracks. For this the railways need a complete upgrade. The 19th century formation, built by a private company, needs straightening, and the old locomotives and wagons replaced, not rebuilt. The State Government must decide very soon how it is going to fix this problem, and ensure that its plan guarantees an improved rail system.'