The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) was a company created as a result of the Commonwealth and mainland State Governments Inter-Government Agreement in 1997 for the establishment of a 'one-stop shop' for rail operators seeking access to the interstate standard gauge rail network between Brisbane and Perth. The company organisation commenced operations on 1 July 1998.
"In the early 1970s, all publicly accessible rail services in Australia were operated by government agencies.""Over a number of years, these 'break of gauge' links were progressively converted to standard gauge.""The first private rail operator to gain access to a part of the interstate network, was Specialised Container Transport which started a Melbourne to Perth freight service in July 1995."
While the ARTC has its present day origins in the Australia wide competition reform agenda of the 1990s, the evolution of the organisation can be traced back to rail reform initiatives of the mid 1970s. In the early 1970s, all publicly accessible rail services in Australia were operated by government agencies. To improve the efficiency of Australia's rail authorities, the Commonwealth Government of the day offered to take over all the state owned entities and create one national rail operator.
Only the States of South Australia and Tasmania took up this offer and their rail operations were combined with the existing Commonwealth Railways operations that linked the eastern states with Western Australia.The new organisation came into being in 1975 known as Australian National Railways (ANR). On the mainland, AN had responsibility for a rail network that stretched from Broken Hill, just inside New South Wales to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. This line which formed a transcontinental east-west link was constructed to standard gauge throughout, but AN had also inherited both narrow gauge and broad gauge interstate tracks.
Branching off the standard gauge route at Port Augusta, was a standard gauge line that headed north to Marree where passengers and freight were transferred to a narrow gauge (3'6") line for the journey to Alice Springs. This was the original route of the legendary Ghan.
Over a number of years, these 'break of gauge' links were progressively converted to standard gauge. The narrow gauge route of the Ghan, which was notorious for its many delays often due to flooding, was replaced with a new all weather standard gauge route in 1980.
This branched off the transcontinental line at Tarcoola some 550km west of Port Augusta and headed almost due north to Alice Springs. In 1982, the broad gauge route from Port Pirie to Adelaide was converted to standard gauge and the broad gauge route south from Peterborough was subsequently closed to interstate traffic.
It was another 13 years before the broad gauge interstate route to Melbourne was converted to standard gauge in 1995. Finally all the major Australian State capitals were linked by one standard gauge rail network.
However, freight that was travelling from one side of the continent to the other still had to contend with up to five different government owned rail authorities, not to mention a plethora of different safeworking systems and operating rules.
In order to overcome some of these obstacles and in parallel with the development of rules on national competition policy during the early 1990s, the first moves were made in government circles to establish a national track authority, primarily for the interstate standard gauge network.
Australian National was also being readied for privatisation and to accommodate the open access requirements of competition policy and partially as a forerunner to privatisation, a separate business unit known as AN Track Access was set up within AN to administer access to the interstate track under AN control.
The first private rail operator to gain access to a part of the interstate network, was Specialised Container Transport which started a Melbourne to Perth freight service in July 1995. To achieve this, SCT had to have access agreements in place with AN Track Access, The Public Transport Commission (Victoria) and Westrail. With the sale of AN completed in November 1997, the track in Tasmania and intrastate lines in South Australia were leased to the new owners.
With the commencement of operation of the Australian Rail Track Corporation Ltd, the new company acquired the old AN interstate standard gauge track and a lease management of the Victorian interstate standard gauge.