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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Rail pressure builds

The Mercury: Rail pressure builds [30sep05]

PREMIER Paul Lennon must get involved in the rail crisis, Tasmania's peak business group said yesterday.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Damon Thomas's call comes as the Federal and State governments scrap over Auslink -- a national road and rail funding arrangement.

Mr Thomas said it was a critical issue for Tasmania which should be dealt with by Premier Paul Lennon.

"Mr Lennon has the influence and needs to have input," Mr Thomas said.

He said industry was willing to join a task force including state and federal politicians aimed at thrashing out the problems

Rail operator Pacific National Tasmania has announced it will cease services on the Hobart-to-Burnie route unless track upgrading is funded.

Such a move is expected to result in 2000 more truck movements a week on major highways.

t is understood newsprint maker Norske Skog is particularly concerned about having to transport logs, coal and newsprint by road.

The rail issue appears to have been subsumed in an ongoing battle between the Federal and State governments over Auslink funding.

While the Federal Government has demanded the State sign a bilateral agreement, the State has refused to do so unless $100 million due to be spent on a replacement Bridgewater Bridge can be diverted to the construction of a southern road bypass.

Infrastructure Minister Bryan Green said yesterday he had received a proposal from Pacific National yesterday which required a response in a fortnight.

But he said: "We are not going to be forced into making any deals when Auslink discussions are at a point where it is crucial we get a good deal for Tasmania."

It is understood the Pacific National proposal would include federal and state contributions, with the rail operator also providing funding.

Mr Green said the Federal Government was unfair in its approach to rail funding.

"Why is it that the Australia Rail Track Corporation own or lease rail tracks in other parts of Australia and not here?" he said.

"We deserve fair treatment and the Federal Government are holding a gun at our head."

Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck said Mr Green had to sign the Auslink bilateral agreement by today to have a chance of receiving funding.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union called on the Federal Government to release Auslink funds so that rail infrastructure could be upgraded -- a call echoed by the TCCI's Damon Thomas.

"The Federal and State governments spend $100 million a year on Tasmanian roads but nothing on the rail network," he said.


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