There's no doubt the ARTC at start up had questions of funding and sustainability, not to mention the costs of melding components from three different rail systems into a single entity...costs carried in part by government assistance. However after 17-years the current ARTC (if its reporting is to be believed) is sustainable, is making money and can service the debts of its current network improvements. The ARTC has self funded $670-million worth of improvements in NSW since 2004 with no government assistance. If a vast network extension was needed, sure, the ARTC probably doesn't have the cash, but for incremental improvements to the existing network, the ARTC now functions outside the sphere of Federal funding and makes a sizeable profit - clearing $163-million from $716-million in revenue is pretty good.
You need to look at the longer term financials - say over the last decade. When considering profit relative to revenue you also need to consider the nature of the business.
The majority of capital put into ARTC over the last ten years has been via equity injection - $2.5 billion from 2004 on. On top of that there was about another $1.5 billion of grants. Loan funding runs third - a billion or so.
There has been a pattern over the last ten years of an equity injection resulting in money going towards "improving" a part of the network, followed a year or two later by an impairment against that part of the network, reflecting the fact that the improved network is unlikely to earn enough income to cover the cost of the improvement work.
Consequently, over the last ten years ARTC has made a cumulative $900 million dollar loss.
There is sufficient revenue from operations across the network (and probably this is the case for each segment of the network, but I don't know for sure) to cover year on year maintenance and operating costs, but, outside the Hunter, not necessarily the long run replacement of the asset. These big improvement spends do "improve" the network compared to what it was prior to the project, but the reality is that without those big spends, eventually the network would cease to exist - some part of the spend is actually asset renewal. This is consistent with bing's post on the first page of the thread.
In the absence of further shorter-term major capital projects on the interstate network, I'd expect that last years financial figures are representative of what you will see for the short to medium term. But things will then get exciting again in about ten years time, when another round of asset renewal investment is required or big projects, such as the Fassifern to Stroud Road deviation, come into play as a result of community pressure and capacity restrictions.
There are marked differences in the characteristics of Aurizon's Central Queensland Coal Network and ARTC's Hunter network, and ARTC's general freight network, that need to be considered when making comparisons. The coal networks are monopoly providers to capital intensive projects, with a rate of return on any sensible capital investment that is essentially guaranteed by regulation. They are pretty low risk "utility" style investments. The general freight network has serious competition from road (and perhaps coastal shipping) and an ultimate customer base that can be far more fickle - capital investment in the network is pretty much completely at the risk of the asset owner. Putting your customers' shareholders' money at risk is a very different proposition to putting your own shareholders' money at risk.