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Inland rail a trifecta for Toowoomba region: mayor
The Sydney to Brisbane rail "goat track" will receive a much-welcomed straightening, as part of an $1.8 billion upgrade of the national rail network.
Goods train bypasses, overpasses and "refuges" will be built to allow traffic to flow more easily and signalling will be upgraded.
The largest portion of funding, $158 million, will be directed at easing 14 sharp curves between Newcastle and Brisbane to enable trains to travel faster.
One small project, to install a centralised train control system, is expected to cut an hour from the Newcastle to Brisbane journey.
"The existing line is a Third World goat track. It was designed for steam two centuries ago," said Piers Brogan, commercial manager at Bishop Austrans, an ultralight rail company.
"I'm very passionate about the need to fix rail," said the Minister for Transport, John Anderson.
The existing rail link is estimated to carry only 15 per cent of Sydney to Brisbane freight, leaving an unsustainable burden on the Pacific Highway. Rail accounts for only 10 per cent of freight between Sydney and Melbourne.
"We put a lot of taxpayers' money into roads, only to find that they're choked, prematurely again, by trucks, with the exploding freight task before us," Mr Anderson said.
The Auslink plan involves $1.8 billion in rail projects over five years, including the $872 million that the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will invest under its 60-year lease of the NSW interstate and Hunter Valley rail networks.
Importantly, the measures will attempt to unblock Sydney's goods rail bottlenecks with a bypass at Hornsby and early planning to duplicate the Port Botany to Enfield container route and the interstate connections to these key freight facilities at a cost of $110 million.
The Federal Government will also work with the Victorian Government, ARTC and the private sector to standardise the broad gauge line from Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga.
The Sydney-Melbourne link will also be improved with a new bridge over the Murrumbidgee at Wagga Wagga, a Wodonga bypass and a dedicated goods line from Macarthur to Chullora.
Mr Anderson said he was considering helping private investors connect and upgrade the inland freight rail corridor between Melbourne and Brisbane.
A spokesman yesterday said Mr Anderson had already given assistance to prospective tenderers, particularly the Australian Transport Energy Corridor, a consortium involving Chris Corrigan of Patrick Corporation.
On Friday he announced Canberra would lease the rail corridor for 60 years from state authorities.
Mr Anderson wants to see an inland rail corridor that would extend up through Gladstone, Mount Isa and ultimately Darwin.
The route would run through Mr Anderson's Gwydir electorate, on the Queensland border, largely following the Newell Highway.
Ken Dobinson, project director for the sustainable transport project at the University of Sydney's Warren Centre, said the renewed attention on freight rail was "extremely sound" economic policy.
Mr Dobinson's centre says a $10 billion investment for a high-speed rail link between Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong would probably pay for itself.
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