Privatise disgraceful, basketcase rail network: Asciano chief

By: Jason Whittaker

Australia's "basketcase" railway system should be wholly privatised to increase investment, Asciano chief Mark Rowsthorn says. In a provocative speech to

Australia's "basketcase" railway system should be wholly privatised to increase investment, Asciano chief Mark Rowsthorn says.

In a provocative speech to the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) forum last week, the former Toll executive also called for greater certainty to invest in container stevedoring, claiming more operators will stymie investment.

Asciano is the parent company of the Patrick stevedoring operation and leading rail provider Pacific National.

Rowsthorn highlighted the plight of above track rail operators in dealing with regulatory inconsistency and the poor state of infrastructure.

Rail's market share from Melbourne to Sydney has dropped from 60 percent to "something like 5 percent".

"It's an absolute tragedy," he says. "We've got a railway system that is a disgrace and a basketcase."

Rowsthorn says governments have their priorities wrong in spending much more on roads than rail. He says industry wants dual-track carriageway between capital cities, better port access and an inland line between Sydney and Melbourne.

He says rail infrastructure should be in private hands, but accepts this could only happen with a greater modal shift from road transport to make the assets more attractive.

"What we're getting is a band-aid solution, what we're calling for is a solution for the next 50 to 100 years," he says. "We need to think beyond today's horizon."

Rowsthorn says Pacific National is also hit with "unsustainable" access pricing, which makes up 30 percent of operating costs.

"The road industry has had virtually free access ... and while that's been happening the rail industry has been blighted with poor quality infrastructure and a pricing regime that basically cuts them just underneath the pricing of road," he says. "It's an unsustainable model for an above rail operator to operate in.

"Once again no certainty for us to invest in the locomotives and the rolling stock that is necessary going forward."

On the waterfront, Rowsthorn says stevedore operators cannot invest in necessary capacity upgrades at their terminals because of the uncertainty over leases and the threat of more competition.

"What we need from government is certainty of investment," he says. "What we've got, though, is no tenure on our leases, no certainty to invest and the introduction of a third operator while academically seems like a good idea will hinder our certainty in terms of investment.

"We run the risk of multitude of stevedores being introduced and once again that investment being stymied," he says.

Rowsthorn also hit out at the reporting requirements of stevedores and "meddling" from governments and the competition authority.

"We are consistently harassed and hampered and hindered and impeded in doing our job by the proliferation of reports and analysis done on our performance," he says.

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