The funding package was included as part of an agreement reached in June between the NSW and Federal governments in the interest of creating a more competitive national rail freight network. Under its terms, responsibility for managing the NSW interstate track and Hunter Valley rail freight corridors has passed to the Australian Rail Track Corporation.
“The signing of a rail agreement between the NSW and Australian Governments is significant on two counts,” said MCA chief executive Mitchell Hooke. “First, for its commitment to upgrading critical transport infrastructure in servicing burgeoning global markets, in particular for Australian coal. Second, for its integration of a key link in a truly national rail transport system, which has been a major failing of Australia’s rail system since Federation.”
Most pleasing for the MCA was the commitment of $152 million over five years for upgrade works, including track strengthening and debottlenecking, on the strained Hunter Valley rail network. According to Hooke, the works were much needed to align the network’s carrying capacity more closely with the loading capacity of its main port, Newcastle.
“The rail system is currently transporting around 85 million tonnes of coal, in excess of its normal operating capacity of around 78Mt,” he said. “The port of Newcastle’s current loading capacity is in the order of 90Mt, but could be increased to around 100Mt annually, were rail capacity similarly increased.”
Hooke said infrastructure upgrades such as the one planned for the Hunter Valley were critical if Australia was to capitalise on the demand for raw materials from rapidly industrialising nations such as China and India.
“Just as Australia’s minerals exports to Japan and other industrialising economies since the 1960s underpinned the country’s wealth creation, the industrial and economic growth of China and India in particular stands to generate future wealth for all Australians,” he said.
“Our capacity to meet this demand cannot be constrained by limited infrastructure.
“The industry has demonstrated over many years its capacity to invest in essential infrastructure and to gear its production capabilities in partnership with the government to respond to the market.”