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RAIL freight giant Pacific National is yet to give an undertaking it will pass on any savings it makes after $1.4billion of public money is spent upgrading the main eastern rail route.
The development comes as another substantial customer of the train company, which operates a near-monopoly on the rail network from Brisbane to Perth, claimed poor service and price favouritism.
The freight forwarder, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Weekend Australian he was moving containers back to the roads, even across the Nullarbor, because his company could not rely on Pacific National service and sometimes could not even get space on trains.
He said he had discovered certain other freight forwarders were getting preferential rates, sometimes up to 5per cent lower, from the rail operator. A Tasmanian freight company said this week it was being charged substantially more than Toll Holdings on Pacific National trains.
Pacific National, co-owned by Toll and Patrick Corporation, has been accused of using its rail dominance to gouge freight customers. Toll is the largest user of Pacific National trains for its own freight operations.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation, the commonwealth body that owns the rail network used by Pacific National, yesterday awarded a $560million contract to rebuild stretches of the Sydney-Melbourne rail corridor as part of its $1.4 billion upgrade of the rail system from Melbourne to Brisbane.
Janet Holmes a Court's John Holland construction group will lead a consortium given the task of laying 220km of duplicate lines to allow trains to pass at speed rather than wait in sidings. This will allow locomotives to haul trains 1.8km long, rather than the present limit of 1.5km. New signalling will be installed.
When completed in three years, this will slice 4 1/2 hours off the transit time between the two state capitals.
Pacific National controls about 80per cent of freight traffic between the NSW and Victorian capitals.
ARTC chief executive David Marchant said yesterday train operators would save at least 8 per cent of their costs once the improvements were completed on that sector.
Mr Marchant said the corporation had sought an assurance from operators they would pass on the savings to freight forwarders. "We're still in discussions," he said.
Pacific National issued a one-sentence statement when asked if it was planning to give undertakings on freight rates. "With the vigorous competition by road on the Sydney to Melbourne corridor, the benefits of this investment will be distributed by normal market forces." it said.
As reported by The Australian this week, the ARTC said in a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that Pacific National's actions on the line between Perth and the eastern capitals had ended rail's growth on the route, and it feared the same would happen on the main north-south corridor in the eastern states.
The freight forwarder said he was running trucks from Melbourne to Perth because that was the only way to ensure on-time delivery. His company had found that if it won business from "a certain competitor", the slots on the Pacific National train were retained by the competitor.
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