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THE mining industry yesterday welcomed a landmark agreement to transfer the NSW freight lines to commonwealth control - and a promise to overhaul a costly Hunter Valley rail bottleneck.
Under the deal announced yesterday, the Hunter Valley line, which was designed more than a century ago, gets a $170 million upgrade to lift the capacity of the gateway to the lucrative coal fields.
Federal Transport Minister John Anderson said the arrangement was part of an $870 million rail boost under the "Auslink" transport renewal program, which will be detailed on Monday.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell Hooke welcomed the agreement yesterday but said the Commonwealth must agree to keep the track up to date.
"We are optimistic that the signing of this historic agreement will now enable government and industry to work together to address repairs and maintenance and improve track, rail sidings and the intersection of coal services with passenger and general freight services," he said.
Over recent months dozens of ships have been banked up off the coal wharves at Newcastle, costing the industry $100 million in maritime costs alone, because the track is rated to carry only 78 million tonnes - while average demand is more than 88 million tonnes.
Supply problems among other coal-producing nations, such as Indonesia, have increased demand at a time of good prices, but suppliers can't keep up.
In yesterday's deal, the Commonwealth will lease selected NSW freight lines as part of national rail network.
"The lease signing brings to an end the fragmentation that had dogged Australian rail freight for 150 years," Mr Anderson said.
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