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Friday, December 02, 2005

Firms go green to save rail

The Mercury: Firms go green to save rail [03dec05]

IN an unholy alliance, Tasmania's major business organisation has called on green groups to join it in pleading with the State Government not to let Tasmania's rail services be axed.

Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Damon Thomas said yesterday that saving the state's railways was the most important decision faced by the Lennon Government this year.

Mr Thomas said it was a disastrous situation with only 10 days left before the last train might run.

"If the Government has got a deal or a plan at least tell us straight away because at the moment there are a lot of businesses that use rail who feel like this juggernaut is bearing down on them and about to hit," Mr Thomas said.

The TCCI declared it was even prepared to consider a levy on Tasmanian businesses if that would save the service.

Mr Thomas called on the State Government to critically assess the future of freight transport in all lights, given that the end of rail would impose huge cost, safety and environmental burdens on the roads if all container traffic was shifted to trucks.

It has been estimated that 2000 extra freight and container trucks a week would use the Bass and Midland highways if trains were scrapped.

Mr Thomas said now was the time for green groups to make their voices heard, because rail was a much more environmentally friendly option than road trucks.

"The game's not over yet, but we can't afford to let it be over," Mr Thomas exhorted yesterday.

"There's not going to be another game to follow. Once the railways are closed, that's it."

Pacific National, the company which runs Tasmania's rail freight service, has said it will cease operations in 10 days unless separate meetings of federal and state cabinets on Monday, December 12, come up with an acceptable solution.

Pacific National's Tasmanian chief executive Neil McKinnon said last night that $78 million was needed over 10 years to bring the track back up to modern standards.

Another $40 million over 10 years was need for on-going maintenance.

But Premier Paul Lennon told Parliament on Thursday he was not inclined to spend $118 million of taxpayers' money bailing out a multinational company like Pacific National.

Mr McKinnon claimed it was nonsense to talk of handouts and bailouts.

"We're saying that if it is left like it is, we will cut our losses and stop all rail services immediately," he said.

"But if the $118 million over 10 years can be found, they can either give it to us to put it straight back into the track, or they can choose to take over the ownership and maintenance of the track themselves."


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