Claims that millions of dollars in coal exports were being lost because of delays in signalling and train control upgrades were described as ludicrous by the CEO of Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), David Marchant.
“When the line used as the example of the alleged problems is one where ARTC provides capacity for seven trains a day but the train operators use only four or five, then the arguments not only tend to lose some strength but are shown up as ludicrous,” Mr Marchant said.
“If the train operators actually used all the capacity ARTC provides, then over 100,000 tonnes of coal could be shipped each week.
“The simple fact is coal exports are not affected by signal and train control upgrades on the Ulan to Muswellbrook line in the Upper Hunter Valley.
“Rather than ARTC restricting coal exports, ARTC is laying the foundations for a massive boost in exports by spending millions upgrading signalling, train control and track all through the Hunter Valley coal rail lines, as it is on the main interstate lines.
“The Ulan upgrade is scheduled for completion by December this year and the delay that has occurred is due to the extreme demand ARTC is placing on signal and track contractors as we revitalise and restore rail tracks in NSW,” Mr Marchant said.
The number of train paths available on the Ulan line for export coal is seven a day, but only two were being used for export coal while another two were used to ship domestic coal. A third train path was used only every second day.
“There are, in fact, two additional train paths available each day for export coal, but they are not being used,” Mr Marchant said.
“The two unused paths could be used by train operators for 91 wagon trains, carrying 8,500 tonnes each.”
The upgrade program, costing $17 million, which will see the 1920’s rail signals along the Ulan line replaced by a modern Centralised Train Control system, will enable even more coal to be carried each day. When fully operational at the beginning of 2008, it would enable even more coal and farm products to be moved down the Ulan line.
“But to ensure the rail lines are used to their full economic benefit, the train operators must invest in the rolling stock we need to move the coal and primary products because rolling stock underinvestment has been an inhibiting factor in coal exports.”
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