Queensland hunts for new freight rail operator

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The Queensland government is looking for a new freight rail operator as the state’s already busy large goods transportation network picks up momentum.

The move follows the Campbell Newman government’s assessment that freight volumes will double by double from 871 million tonnes to 1741 million tonnes before 2026 and require an operator which can handle heavier and more frequent loads.

The call to the market means that present operator, Queensland-based Aurizon, will need to re-contest its contract as the government has started negotiations with Australian and international train freight operators to deliver the next round of rail freight contracts.

It comes as the government prepares to deliver on its Moving Freight strategy, which involves significant upgrades to the management and upkeep of the state’s 9,550km of freight rail line, 13,600km of road, 15 trading ports, three international airports as well as multiple domestic airports and freight terminals.

Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Scott Emerson said following a recent Expression of Interest process, the government will now continue discussions for new contracts to be in place before 2016 to ensure plans for future growth and revitalising front-line services.

“Aurizon was originally awarded the contract by the previous Labor Government in 2010 following the separation of the freight division from Queensland Rail,” Mr Emerson said.

He said the existing contracts currently support approximately 6,000 services per annum.

A key driver in the government’s plan to “[get] these contracts right” is to sustain existing freight volumes on rail as well as promoting rail growth in “new areas” for agricultural freight to markets.

The latest announcement by the Queensland government was preceded by a notice from the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) in February 2014 that it was investigating the prospect of incorporating Queensland’s freight rail network into the national rail system.

If the lines are integrated, the move would help overcome Australia’s infamously incongruous rail gauges by getting Queensland’s narrow rail gauge to conform to the rest of the national freight rail network that have frustrated industries operating across state borders in Australia for more than a century.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) believes that new gauges should and can be built to match the standard of the rest of the network.

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