The State Government should buy back the lease for the state’s broad gauge rail network from private operator Pacific National, the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) said today.
“Privatisation of the regional rail network has failed dismally,” said PTUA regional spokesman Paul Westcott. “Pacific National, and Freight Australia before them, failed to invest in the infrastructure or provide competitive access to other rail operators. It’s time to bring this natural monopoly back into public hands.”
The State Government has laid some of the blame for cost and time overruns in its Regional Fast Rail and rail standardisation programs on lack of co-operation from the private rail operators. The Government has also come under pressure from groups such as the Victorian Farmers Federation and the Railway Technical Society of Australasia to re-take control of the network.
Rail access arrangements also came under the spotlight during an inquiry into transport congestion conducted by the Victorian Competition & Efficiency Commission (VCEC). In it’s response to the draft VCEC report on congestion, the PTUA stated:
“The current rail access regime is inhibiting growth in rail freight. Arrangements with the below-rail operator are not delivering value for money to the government or ensuring adequate track maintenance. Control of the rail infrastructure should be brought back into public hands to safeguard equality of access for all above-rail operators and to ensure a longer term view is taken on track maintenance.”
“Under current arrangements, the rail network has been left to decay,” said Mr Westcott. “Freight trains frequently face farcical speed restrictions due to the abysmal condition of the track, and Pacific National makes it very hard for competing operators to access the network. As a result, local roads around the state are bearing the brunt of additional truck movements.”
Mr Westcott also called on the Government to fulfil all its undertakings on regional passenger services. “The Government has made good progress on restoring regional rail services and increasing frequencies,” said Mr Westcott. “We hope the government will return services to places like Mildura and Leongatha in the near future.”
“High fuel prices make good quality passenger and freight rail services more important than ever. Under public control, rail maintenance and restoration would be less vulnerable to the whims of private monopoly operators and hence more cost-effective,” concluded Mr Westcott.