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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20501


Mr TOLLNER (2:02 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on recent developments in the construction of the Alice Springs to Darwin railway line? What benefits have and will flow from this government's vision to create a national rail network?


Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for his question and note his very real and localised interest in this. Today is quite a historic day for transport in Australia: it is the day the missing link in the Australian rail network has been found, delivered and put in place. As we speak, the final weld joining the two great lines is taking place, and the Alice Springs to Darwin railway—one of Australia's biggest infrastructure projects—has happened. This has come about through a very considerable leadership role exercised by this government, with a cont-ri-bution of $191 million—$178 million of which has been paid to date; $100 million of that, in turn, was a grant from the Federation Fund money.

This is a pretty fitting project to mark the Centenary of Federation. I think we would all say that our forefathers got most things right, but one thing that they perhaps did not get quite right was rail. Indeed, we are making tremendous progress there, with all the capital cities right across the nation now hooked up by rail and the very real likelihood that the Commonwealth, through the Australian Rail Track Corporation, will shortly be operating a seamless interstate track network covering all of the capital cities. In addition to the financial contribution, the government donated the Tarcoola to Alice Springs line, with a replacement value of $400 million. The track, which should be finally nailed down and completed next week, links Darwin into the national grid; and, on Thursday, 25 September, the nation will see the goal of this linkage of all cities finally completed.

Construction of the line has been a massive undertaking: 1,420 kilometres of earthworks and track, 146,000 tonnes of rail, and the construction of no fewer than 90 bridges. The benefits of the new railway will be enormous. It is estimated that, over the course of its life, it will boost Australia's gross domestic product by nearly $4½ billion. In the short term, it has created 1,500 direct jobs during construction, with more than $1 billion in contracts going to local companies. It creates a new trade route to the vital regions to our north, in Asia, and it has led to the development of new businesses and industries in the region already.

Extensive testing will be undertaken over the next little while; and a date to note is 15 January next year, when Freight Link will operate the first train out of Adelaide, destined to arrive in Darwin on 17 January. The inaugural Ghan trip to Darwin—I understand one of my predecessors, Tim Fischer, will be on it—will leave Adelaide on 1 February 2004. That promises to be one of the great passenger links and one of the more romantic train journeys that anybody could undertake. Indeed, the member for Grey looks like he is going to be on that trip as well. We hope you have a great trip.