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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Mercury: Truss to talk with PN over rail crisis [05jan06]

Truss to talk with PN over rail crisis [05jan06]


A SOLUTION to Tasmania's rail crisis may come from a meeting next week between federal Transport Minister Warren Truss and rail operator Pacific National.

The meeting was requested by PN's joint venture bosses, Toll Holdings managing director Paul Little and Patrick Corporation chief executive Chris Corrigan, who wrote to Mr Truss wanting more details of a $118 million rescue plan on the table.

The request has sparked hopes of progress towards solving the state's beleaguered railway, with fears freight could disappear from rail altogether if no agreement is reached.

Mr Truss has made no secret of his impatience at delays in having the rescue package accepted by PN, with a bitter takeover battle between Patrick and Toll thought to have been holding up negotiations.

But next week's meeting could advance discussions on the package which would see the Federal and State Governments pay $118 million for rail track if PN invests $38 million in locomotives and rolling stock.









A spokeswoman for Mr Truss, Kylie Butler, said the meeting request was a positive step given that the warring PN board was not due to meet again until next month, meaning further delays.

"The Minister is frustrated that this process is taking so long given that the governments have met all the deadlines imposed by Pacific National," she said.

Ms Butler said Mr Truss would expedite the meeting in a hope there were no excuses for any further delays.

At a board meeting before Christmas, PN failed to decide on the package, saying significant issues were still to be negotiated; a softening of previous in-principle support.

The meeting is expected to discuss terms for a handback of PN's 50-year Tasmanian rail track lease and resultant access fees, along with negotiations of an expected term and of required service levels.

While Toll Holdings has been positive about the package, Patrick Corporation has been seeking the breakup of PN as part of its takeover defence.

State Infrastructure Minister Bryan Green said he welcomed the opportunity for further talks aimed at maintaining the railway.

But he said he found it odd that PN was

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