Feb 28, 2011

Question without notice – Investment in rail

Mr CROOK (Member for O’Connor) – My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. In light of the closure of the trans-Australian railway as a result of yet more flooding, this time on the Nullarbor Plain of Western Australia, could the minister advise the House as to what action the Australian government is taking to reopen this vitally important transport link and when we can expect the backlog of trains to commence operations once again?

Mr ALBANESE – I thank the member for O’Connor for his question. I’m glad I can get question from the other side somewhere! Indeed last Wednesday there was another heavy downpour in the region of the honourable member, some 500 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie, resulting in the main east-west line being cut. I am advised that the flooding occurred over an 80-kilometre section of track, with 12 separate locations becoming impassable, some under more than a metre of water. This caused damage to the track, but I am pleased to advise that today I have spoken to John Fullerton, the head of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, and they have acted swiftly and reconstruction work has already commenced.

On Saturday the material to rebuild the track arrived on location by special trains. Customers have been advised of the suspension of services and they are being briefed on a 12-hourly basis on the progress of the track recovery. I am advised that the ARTC is aiming to reopen the track late on Wednesday afternoon. ARTC has plans in place to restart services and clear the backlog of trains which has built up on the network and it is hopeful that by the end of next week operations will have returned to normal.

Of course the member would be aware that the government committed over $120 million of investment to upgrade the track through re-railing and also installing passing loops around the Kalgoorlie area. That has made a big difference. Travel time between Sydney and Perth has been cut by almost an hour already.

By the end of the process we will have rebuilt more than a third of the national network, reducing travel times, increasing productivity but also—and very importantly given today’s debate—as part of the whole-of-government response to dealing with climate change, getting trucks off the road and getting freight onto rail. That is more productive, good for the economy and also good for the environment.