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A PUBLIC project rivalling Australia's ambitious Snowy Mountain Scheme will overhaul freight-carrying on the east coast.
Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson yesterday unveiled his plan for the country's transport industry -- a move welcomed by freight giants Patrick Corp and Toll Holdings but not Linfox.
Mr Anderson valued the Auslink program at $11.8 billion, with $1.8 billion designated for the east coast rail network including the standardising of gauges.
A key tenet of Mr Anderson's plan is to allow more freight to be moved by rail, meaning that more trucks would be taken off interstate highways between Melbourne and Brisbane.
Auslink will also aim to link the nation's ports more effectively with rail transport.
The country's peak employer group backed the plan, saying it would improve national logistics and boost efficiency and productivity.
But Mr Anderson's vision is unlikely to have impressed trucking magnate Lindsay Fox, who has already asked the competition watchdog to rule out Toll and Patrick's $285 million takeover of Freight Australia.
Mr Fox did not return the Herald Sun's calls yesterday.
"From Patrick's perspective, I am pleased that the plan recognises the need to rebuild rail networks, which are antiquated and inadequate for the freight task today," managing director Chris Corrigan said.
"There is a great deal to be done if we are to have a rail network which can move freight efficiently and Auslink should provide a planned approach to that challenge."
Macquarie analyst Paul Huxford said the Federal Government plan confirmed the bank's positive view for Patrick and Toll's stock.
Mr Huxford said the plan would have both short and long-term impact on the two stocks.
A further $714 million will be spent completing the duplication of the Hume Highway from Melbourne to Sydney by 2012 and another $765 million on the duplication of the Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane by 2016, in partnership with NSW.
Mr Anderson insisted he was not anti-trucking.
"But, with that sort of increase, the sort of increase we're talking about in freight volumes in this country over the next 20 years is going to be more than enough for an expanding truck industry," he said.
"But you'll all take the point, as I know motorists do, that rail must be able to compete for a fair chunk of the transport task."
Toll shares added 9c to $10.64 and Patrick rose 6c to $4.96.
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