The Privatisation of Australian National's operations in South Australia ...

SA Rail
This was the name given to the remaining operating AN freight traffic division after National Rail Corporation took over the through runs. Like the track access division, it had only really existed at managerial level before. Now employees were being transferred to specific loss-making "companies" such as this, and as the monolith came unglued, varying degrees of panic swept its greatly reduced employee pool.

The few members of the public who understood and foresaw the eventual outcome were continually refused answers as it became more and more apparent - nay obvious - that all interstate passenger services were likely to suddenly cease, without any warning, and more and more freight cartage had been lost - possibly permanently - to the road truck transport industry, a major road user which paid very little towards its abuse of the road infrastructure which taxpayers subsidised at an horrendous and mainly concealed amount per capita per week.

Passenger transport within the country areas having already stopped, that was likely to be that. A very dismal future seemed assured, and nobody wanted to speak about the complete erosion of assets that the public of South Australia had never been asked permission to sell by an elected so-called socialist government which had in the opinion of many people been grossly mismanaged.

Before it collapsed completely, a seperate body had been set up within the AN operation to assume responsibility for providing locomotives and crews for the operating of both freight and passenger trains, and to perform maintenance on locomotives; this unit was located at the Dry Creek MPD and named "Powerail".

These two operational areas, apart from the passenger services, were just about all that was left of Australian National as most of the workshops staff at Islington had been removed or retrenched. This, then, was what the succesful tenderer for what was left after the passenger services were sold would inherit.

For Sale - Going Cheap - Any Offers?
The "Office of Asset Sales" of the Commonwealth of Australia eventually moved, like the tortoise that government departments can be, and called for tenders for the various components into which Australian National had been formed. There was the passenger services, now running just the three titled trains into and through Adelaide from outside of South Australia. There was the "Powerail" division, basically the Dry Creek (south) Motive Power Centre, its assets and its staff - who supplied most of the short-haul operations in the Adelaide metropolitan area. Then there was the freight side of things which was spread over many miles across this geographically large State, but with few employees because of the dwindling ability to provide a service, a "Catch-22" situation.

Tenders received
It would have been nice to have been able to record for posterity the amount of interest that was expressed world-wide, and who had actually tendered for what bits, without the divulging of any confidential information about dollars and staffing levels, but an approach in mid-1998 to the General Manager of what was left of Australian National (the six people employed to wind it up and sell the EL class locomotives) produced the rather amazing reply that he had consulted with the Commonwealth Department of Transport and had been instructed by them to say nothing to anybody - rather reminiscent of Sergeant Schultz's famous catch-phrase in the TV mini-series epic "Hogan's Heroes"! Had it not been serious erosion of assets owned by the people of Australia, it would be laughable.

Passenger Service Privatisation
The first portion to be carved up was the passenger services which changed hands at midnight on Saturday 1st November 1997.

Great Southern Railway was the name of the consortium which bought the passenger services, lock, stock and barrel. While the Commonwealth Transport Department did not allow me to be told who the various tenderers were, I have since discovered that the Victorian privatised passenger service operator "West Coast Railway" put in what could be thought of as a more realsitic tender, ceratinly a different one, and some details of which are recorded in its own chapter.

Illustrations various

Freight service and infrastructure privatisation
What was not required by the new passenger service provider and the interstate freight carrier was then left "up for grabs", and several interested parties made offers, based on each's perceived future profitability, and how long it was liable to take, and whether or not the patronage could be "grown" economically. The assets changed hands from the people of Australia to a privately owned business, and this is no reflection on the company which bought them, but at no time in the procedings were the public ever involved in deciding if they should be sold or to whom. This statement is just as true for the transfer twenty years earlier from the state of South Australia to the Commonwealth. Elections have been faought (and lost) over lesser issues.

The succesful bidder would be responsible to administer the area and would have ongoing access to all the facilities which could in turn be sub-leased, and this has seen the emergence of what could be described (in comparison to the original activities there) as the development of a number of lucrative "cottage industries" in the railway maintenance and refurbishment industry, an area of considerable potential as those who have started to develop these areas have already found out.

Australia Southern Railroad
A consortium headed by the American short line and switching speciallists, Genesee and Wyoming Incorporated was the succesful tenderer.

Tasmanian Operations
This is outside the scope of this article, but the Tasmanian operations of Australian National were sold to a joint venture between Wisconsin Central Railroad in the United States, and Tranzrail, the privatised New Zealand Railways, which is owned by Wisconsin Central.

Further details of each of the succesful bidders' operations can be found under the "Current" section of the menu bar to the right.

It was obvious to many that AN's downhill slide was irreversible, and that its demise was not a question of "if" but "when". Some voiced the opinion that it might have to just cease operating without any warning at all, unless speedy decisions could actually be made by the politicians at State and Federal level. It was progressively partitioned into several business units, one assumes for the purpose of selling it.

After what was nothing less than procrastination by a handful of politicians who held the balance of power in State and federal politics - whose tardiness did nothing but produce a greater and greater loss to the taxpayer - tenders were eventually called, and the passenger business (including the Keswick terminal complex including trackwork) changed hands at 0001hrs Saturday 1st November 1997, the remaining infrastructure, intrastate freight, motive power, and marshalling yards exactly a week later, both to succesful consortia each of which included overseas interests. Those trains which commenced their journeys before that midnight were still Australian National ones until their arrival at their destinations on either the Saturday or the Sunday.

Created Saturday, April 3rd, 1999